This article is the second part of the The Pros And Cons Of Department Only Teaching Space discussion, this time looking at what factors should be considered before allocating departments their own teaching space. The first article explored the benefits and downfalls of department only teaching space, whilst this article considers 6 factors that if implemented can maximise the benefits your institution receives from department only teaching space.
1) Proven Demand
The department must be able to prove that it has demand for the type and size of teaching space it is requesting, this can be ascertained from the current timetable data and projected student numbers/teaching requirements over future years. Likewise, the central team should also be sure that it can accommodate one of the central teaching rooms becoming department only, gain this can be done using projections. A timetable model that includes these projections will help to clarify the impact and measure whether the planned change of teaching room is feasible and what impacts there will be.
If there is a demand, but not enough to warrant an entire teaching space , then it may be worthwhile looking at whether the department and central team can share a teaching space (see point 5). If there is a proven demand, the departments existing space should first be looked at. Is there underutilised space that the department currently has allocated that could be used for this purpose? Even if there is underutilised space that cannot be used for this purpose, its underutilisation should also be investigated as this space could be used for other purposes that could benefit the institution and/or the students.
The objective is to ensure that reallocating a central teaching room to a department only room, is the best approach. Considering the short and long term future demands and implications will help to accomplish this.
2) Location, Location, Location
Department only rooms, should be located in the building/area that the students associate with this department. One of the main benefits that department rooms bring is their ability to keep students focussed in the area associated with their department. As discussed in the previous article this builds a relationship between the department and each student, helping engagement and the student experience.
Having a department room in a building that isn’t associated with the department, removes this positive influence from the equation. The student is no more likely to carry on engagement with their department before or after the timetable lesson than if they were in a central teaching room, as the room isn’t located within the departments area.
3) Timetabling in Department Only Rooms
When creating the annual timetable as well as for adhoc bookings, the departments timetable activities should be focussed into their department only rooms. This will benefit both the department and the central teaching room availability, as the department should want its timetabled activities within its own teaching rooms (due to student experience benefits) and by focussing the departments bookings into the department only rooms first, central room availability can be maximised.
However, it is also important that the size of the classes being timetabled into the department only rooms are monitored. If the room is having to be used for a lot of classes that are comparatively considerably smaller than that of the room size, then this is evidence that the department may not have the demand for a department only teaching space. As discussed in a later point, if this is the case, there may be room for negotiating a space share enabling the department and the central teams to share the use of two space of differing sizes ensuring both benefit and limit the possible negative occupancy effects.
4) Teaching Space Type, Equipment and Furniture
The room reflects what the department and its students, require from a teaching room. If simply swapping a central room, it may well require funding for refurbishing the space or changing the equipment provision. If funding is available, what equipment would this space benefit from? Is there a demand for a different type of layout or furniture provision?
This space should not be assigned to the department if there is a lack of funding for upgrading or maintaining this space to the required standard that will benefit the student experience. The teaching space must remain or be upgraded so that it at least matches the central provision. This should form part of the agreement of this department using this room.
Funding must be present to keep this room to a certain standard as otherwise the room can fall behind the other teaching rooms within the institution. This can lead to the room no longer being wanted by the department and the central department having to spend funding on refurbishing the space back to central standards before accepting back into the pool.
5) Comparable Utilisation
Department only teaching rooms must be utilised similar or better than that of central teaching rooms of the same space type. If not, department only use is re-discussed as the department cannot prove it is requires this space. A shared use scenario, could still benefit both the department and the central timetable. For example, the department could have priority over the departmental room until the final timetable has been produced, at which point all other departments could request to use the vacant slots. Or, the department could be assigned a proportion of the timeslots or days for using this room whilst those not assigned to the department could then be used centrally. I have seen this work very well, although room management issues i.e. department or central responsibility for equipment and cleaning?, must be agreed upon.
It is not best practice to monitor department (or central) teaching room utilisation solely using timetable data as rooms can be booked and not used, or the classes using them be much smaller than that timetabled. A departmental and central teaching space utilisation survey that runs over at least 1 week per year, will however create a reliable data set as it is recording actual usage rather than timetabled – and there can be a considerable difference. Using this data, department and central room utilisation targets can be set up and agreed upon for the coming year and revisited each year, post space utilisation survey, so all departments and the institution as a whole know what their’s and others target utilisation rate are
The consequences of not meeting these target rates, should also be clearly defined and understood by both department and central teams. If the penalty for a department not meeting their target rate is the room being taken away, this is likely to promote poor practice with the room being booked and/or used when not truly needed – especially during a survey week (this may sound pessimistic, but it is often the case). Therefore, thinking through the process from start to finish, for if and when this does occur and creating a staged process i.e space sharing or swapping, will help to keep everyone onside and working in the same direction.
Plus it is really worthwhile promoting the positive impact an improved space utilisation will have, this is a topic for another time, but an improved utilisation alone won’t typically be seen to benefit the department or the students – therefore, can you or the institution promise to spend funding on teaching space (or something similar) if a certain utilisation rate is met? The space savings of improving your utilisation rates are considerable (Look out for a future article on this) so this is something that is worth investigating and will be a great tool for getting everyone to work together.
6) Specialists Space Control
If the teaching space is being refurbished into a specialist teaching space, this can cause real problems for the institution if it is then proven at a later date to be underutilised. Short and long term teaching forecasts and student numbers should be looked at in order to ascertain whether there is a demand for now and in the future.
If at this point, the demand for this space is proven to be justified it is worthwhile considering what happens if the space is shown to be underutilised at a later date. The target utilisation rate for this space and the cost implications of centralising this space if underutilised should be considered and agreed upon, prior to allocating any space to the department. Otherwise, if a space is proven to be underutilised funding may have to be found to refurbish the space in order to make it suitable centrally again. The consideration over where this funding comes from can really slow the process down and weaken efforts to improve the utilisation rate for the institution.
If each of these factors are considered before creating department only teaching space, this will go a long way to ensuring that the institution maximises the benefits department only teaching spaces can have. It is typically best practice to have these factors included within a formalised strategy that considers the role of department only teaching space. This strategy will help to ensure that the entire process is understood and agreed upon throughout the institution, helping to provide clarity over what happens if a room does becomes underutilised and importantly, why this happens.
As discussed in a previous article, communication is often key to successfully implicating timetable and space strategies, therefore involving all stakeholders that may be effected in the discussions that form this, should be seen as a must and will again help the institution to work together and maximise the benefits.
So what do you think? Have you found this useful helpful? Please let me know your thoughts and questions via the comments field at the bottom of the article and remember to sign up to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter to receive more free information and articles like this direct to your email account. Also if you do like this and other articles posted on this blog, another great way to show your support is sharing and/or like via LinkedIn or other social media as this really helps to spread the word.
If you are interested in creating a teaching room strategy to manage your teaching space space and would to talk about this further, please feel free to contact me directly I would be happy to help.
All the best