Improving space utilization is increasingly a top priority at higher education institutions. Colleges and universities looking to reduce carbon footprints want to avoid new construction yet still provide top educational experiences. Financial constraints on state governments means limited or reduced funding for public institutions, so use of existing space becomes all the more important. Many studies have documented classroom use. We think there’s more to space utilization than how often a room is occupied. What happens inside an occupied room is just as important.
In a previous post, we talked about the growth of Scale-Up Classrooms. Scale-Up, or Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies, is in use at more than 250 higher education schools. The classrooms look like restaurants, with round tables for student seating. There’s no professor behind a podium at the front of the room, lecturing, while students sit side by side in chairs—a classroom design in place since medieval times. Indeed, there is no “front” of the classroom at all. In a Scale-Up, or active learning classroom, students work in small groups as teachers roam among them.
At face value, Scale-Up classrooms may not hold as many students as lecture halls, but as I found there is more to space utilization than just counting seats. This can be an issue for some schools.
To explore the issue of space and Scale-Up, I interviewed Robert Beichner, the physics professor who pioneered the Scale-Up classroom in the mid 1990s at NC State University. He brings new considerations to the space optimization equation. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.