The provision of both traditional teaching desks AND computer terminals in the same space is a pet hate of mine, although from a purely teaching perspective I can see how and why this practice has become embedded in many institutions. My problem with this set-up, is that it wastes a huge amount of space as only a proportion of the room is ever being used at any given time.
For example, the following teaching room has an actual capacity of 25, with 13 standard size computer terminals and 12 seminar style workplaces at traditional teaching tables. However, the room will seldom be used or timetabled for more than 12 students as the class will only use one or the other at any given time i.e. 12 using the computer terminals, or 12 using the tables/chairs. If the room layout was changed to only include teaching tables, this room could accommodate classes with up to 24 students – doubling the size of the classes using the same size space and therefore enabling the institution to get twice as much out of the space.
Simply replacing all the furniture with traditional tables or computer terminals however, won’t address the teaching pedagogy that has resulted in this mixed function teaching room. One of the main advantages from a teaching perspective of having both traditional teaching tables and computer terminals, is that it allows the class to perform two different activities within the same timetabled slot in the same room. A 1 hour class may spend half the lesson in a lecture format, therefore using the traditional desks, whilst for the second half the class works on what they have just learnt via the computer terminals. Having both these facilities in the same room, means the lecturer can keep track of all the students progress and ensure all students remain focussed on the task at hand, without being distracted by external influences (i.e. other students).
These points are important, as they are a fair argument for having both facilities in the same room due to the traditional layout of educational institutions. If classes move to areas with PC’s for the second half of their class, these areas may be a 5 minute walk away or in another building neither of which are ideal for moving large numbers of student quickly from one place to another without breaking the flow of the class.
Even if there is a PC room very close, more often than not this room will room will be open access resulting in the class either sharing the space and all the distractions this brings with it, or asking the other students to leave – wasting further time. Not only this, but the size of the room is just as important, if the PC room is the same size (i.e. NIA m2) as the room they have just vacated then has this move actually saved space? No it hasn’t plus its wasted time. Finally, even if the class does move to another PC room, that is close by and a good class size fit, is another class actually going to use the classroom they have vacated for the final 20/30/40 minutes? With most timetable and class structures this is highly unlikely and therefore moving has actually wasted more space than if the class had just stayed in the same place.
The problem is that the traditional estate layout, teaching room provision, teaching class structure and therefore timetable no longer reflects the teaching style. The teaching style has adapted to include technology (i.e. PC’s/Mac’s), but in order to keep with the traditional teaching class structure (i.e. 1 hour class in the same room) teaching rooms have had to take on two functions in order to cope. This has therefore resulted in both traditional desks and computer terminals being placed in the same room, reducing the maximum teaching capacity of the room resulting in huge amounts of space wastage.
What’s the solution?
The following solution doesn’t require any change to teaching class structure, the timetable or the estate – and that’s the use of flip-top desk furniture in rooms such as those installed by Aberystwyth University and supplied by the furniture supplier and designer, Top-Tec. This successful installation of flip-top desks has been met very positively within the University, with one professors feedback stating that the room “provides a hugely professional learning environment that is entirely fit for purpose. … Well done to all the team involved.”
This type of furniture is durable and designed to withstand the daily strain teaching rooms have to put up with, no larger than a standard computer workstation and importantly creates dual functionality without taking up more space than a traditional computer terminal. (Just to let you know – I have no affiliation with furniture suppliers, I just genuinely think this is a great solution!)
These flip top desks, enable a teaching room to be used as both a traditional teaching room and a computer room all within one furniture solution. The main benefit of this from a space perspective, is that be replacing the furniture with the flip top desks the timetable capacity can increase significantly, this has been shown below using the same example room as before.
By changing the furniture provision to these flip top desks the room can now accommodate 24 students all being able to use their workplace as either a table top or as a computer workstation, enabling the timetable to book larger classes into the space than before, improving its utilisation and getting the most out of the space available.
From a teaching perspective, as shown in the example above the room layout can be designed so that the students and the teacher are always facing the direction that benefits the teaching style. For example, the furniture could be set up in rows for traditional styles of teaching, or in clusters to suit group teaching. With the traditional layout, the computer workstations would typically all face the walls with the traditional teaching tables in the centre of the room resulting in students moving from one style to another when they needed to use a table or a computer. By having all the furniture in one layout, with the computer terminals no longer facing the walls, the lecturer now has an improved ability to continue engagement with the class even when the computer terminals are being used.
This type of furniture solution addresses the traditional space issue that the demand for computer terminals and traditional teaching tables has, whilst also catering for the teaching pedagogy requirement. As shown, the effects on the maximum capacity are considerable and can make a significant difference to how an institution utilises its space so if you have teaching tables and computer terminals in the same spaces at your institution, this type of furniture solution is definitely worth a consideration.
What do you think? It would be great to hear from you if this is a problem that effects you or you have anything extra to add. I believe the right furniture used well can go a long way to improving space utilisation, the rooms usability and the student experience so I would also be very interested to hear from anybody who has used this or a different furniture solution to solve this type of problem.
Interested in teaching space design? Nigel Thomas, Learning Spaces Design and Development Manager at Aberystwyth has a great blog with lots of information on teaching space design which I highly recommend taking a look at – Learning and Teaching Environment Design
All the best