Flexible, more technologically advanced learning spaces coming to UBC

This year's renovation budget includes upgrades to several classrooms, learning spaces and technological systems at UBC.

On Wednesday, January 21, Vice Provost and Associate Vice President, Enrolment, Angela Redish, and Senior Facilities Planner with UBC Infrastructure Development, Jodi Scott, gave a presentation to the UBC Senate that outlined the current usage of and future priorities for classrooms, teaching labs and informal learning spaces on campus.

According to Redish and Scott, three reports have recently been conducted regarding the use of general and restricted classrooms, as well as the physical condition of those spaces. They found that large lecture theatres are used more frequently than smaller classrooms, and they employed a Work/Learn student in the summer of 2014 to do an audit to determine the condition of the various rooms.

Leanne Feichtinger, one of the students who worked on the classroom audit, went into all of the general use classrooms and did a check for basic equipment and maintenance issues in the rooms. Some of the items on her checklist included whether each room had whiteboards or blackboards, tripping hazards, broken furniture that needed repair and functioning clocks, to name a few.

“Most of the [general use] classrooms were in pretty good condition and there was nothing to impede learning,” said Feichtinger. “But it was really eye-opening to see that some of the rooms really needed work done.”

She used a classroom rating system of 1-5, with rooms rated one and two having higher maintenance issues such as cracked seats, missing stair treads or large stains, and thus in greater need for renovation.

“We look at what are one and two rooms and what we can do to move those up [to a higher rating],” said Scott. “Four and five rooms tend to be the newer buildings that have either been renewed or are brand new, and the majority [over 80 per cent] of classrooms are in that middle category with a three rating,” said Feichtinger.

Some of these newer buildings with highest-rated classrooms include the Earth and Ocean Sciences building, Pharmacy building, Allard Hall, Sauder building and the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. There have also been revamped classrooms in the School of Population and Public Health, Woodward, CEME and ongoing renovations in Buchanan building.

Still, not every classroom at UBC is equally conducive to student learning. Gul Gunsen, a fourth-year Arts student double-majoring in political science and sociology said that she would give a three on this rating scale to the Buchanan lecture halls.

“I would give it a three because of the cramped spaces and small tables, but definitely top-notch in terms of its cleanliness and clear sight of the instructor,” said Gunsen.

Another audit done this year revealed that several classrooms that have been revamped have much better ratings than they had in previous years.

According to Redish, the university is working on three different renovation projects in the upcoming months, one of which includes Hebb Theatre.

“The larger classrooms are most heavily used, and it’s hard to upgrade them because it’s expensive, but it’s necessary,” said Redish.

Redish also said that an ongoing effort that is less expensive than revamping every large theatre is to change some of the smaller classrooms to include furniture that can be moved around to suit both group learning and a lecture hall layout.

She pointed to some upgraded classrooms in Leonard S. Klinck as an example, where the tables have different heights to accommodate different learning styles. This way, students can stand if they learn better that way, and have optimum sight lines of the front of the classroom no matter where they sit. The rooms are also brighter, with more colour and have had a lot of positive feedback from instructors and students, she said.

Although smaller classrooms often go unscheduled, they often serve as great study spaces for students. For some students, the layout of the study space can influence their study behaviours.

Chamberlain Chen, a third-year Sauder student, said that the professional layout of the rooms in Sauder motivate him to study and work hard.

“The rooms are well-equipped, very clean, bright and [generally] a very pleasant environment to work in and the [flexibility] to book study rooms 24 hours a day is great," said Chen.

According to Scott, most of the renovation budget still goes to technological upgrades as part of a third and ongoing project that is expected to finish around 2019.

“The biggest push right now is moving from analog to digital,” said Scott. “Most of the modern equipment can’t plug into the classrooms unless the switching is changed.”