SFU’s “My Classroom” project creates opportunity for students and instructors to shape the future of their learning environments

January 02, 2020

By Ray Sharma

What does your ideal classroom look like?

This was the question posed at SFU’s ‘My Classroom’ open houses last month as students and instructors from across the Burnaby campus gathered to have their say in shaping the university’s future learning environments.

A collaboration between SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence, Facilities Services, IT Services and Student Services, the My Classroom project aims to identify classroom furniture options with the potential to transform learning spaces into flexible, integrated and connected spaces for students and instructors.

“Our goal with the My Classroom project is to enhance education on all three campuses in spaces where teaching and learning occur,” says Elizabeth Elle, vice-provost and associate vice-president, learning and teaching.

From Dec. 3–5, the My Classroom project set up stations at the Burnaby campus to showcase flexible chair and table options to collect feedback from instructors, students and staff on their ideal classroom setup. Committee members received more than 120 insightful submissions from visitors.

“Students and instructors should help decide what our classrooms look like, because they are the ones learning and teaching in the spaces. We know that how classrooms are furnished is central to the student experience and how instructors can support their learning” says Elle. “It’s time to modernize our classrooms, to improve student inclusion and accessibility, and to act on what we hear instructors want—flexible classrooms that support innovative teaching.”

The classroom demonstrations presented various flexible furniture options and setups. These included desks arranged in a triangle facing each other, chairs with built-in storage spaces, desks and chairs with adjustable heights, and desktops of varying shapes and sizes; all furniture either had or could be ordered with wheels for easy classroom re-configuration.  “It’s great that we can voice our opinion,” says Johanna Al Brecht, a third-year business student. “This project lets students influence the future of their classroom environments.”

Moving forward, the Learning Space Design Committee - consisting of members from SFU’s Registrar's office, faculties, student representatives, Facilities Management and IT Services, and the Centre for Educational Excellence - will use the feedback to select furniture for learning spaces in the Academic Quadrangle and other locations on the Burnaby Campus.

In fall 2018, the Learning Space Design Committee embarked on the initial phase of the project to work with Diamond Schmitt Architects, leaders in learning-space design.

In 2018, the committee conducted nine workshops and three surveys with stakeholders including students and instructors. The feedback from instructors made it clear that the ability to change the layout of teaching spaces was important to them, as it accommodates different teaching modalities, enhances group work, and allows for greater connection and collaboration in the classroom. Responses also indicated that both students and instructors want more adaptable, accessible, and inclusive learning spaces, much of which can be accomplished by updating furniture.

Following the evaluation of SFU’s learning spaces, Diamond Schmitt Architects recommended that the university adopt a common set of learner-centered design principles that include the following elements:

- Collaborative: in the classroom, university and beyond

- Welcoming: convenient, easy to find, visible and hospitable

- Ready and consistent technology experience: through easy access and control

- Supportive, accessible and inclusive: to enhance learning

- Fit for Purpose: in buildings that are safe, accessible and support current teaching and learning practices

- Flexible, adaptive and intuitive: furniture and technology that support multiple teaching modalities

- Integrated: with SFU’s vision, academic strategy and campus planning

Next steps for the My Classroom project include prioritizing spaces for renovations, furniture upgrades, and technology upgrades based on the information in the response report. This will be done in the context of planning for space use across all three campuses.

Students, instructors, and staff who did not attend the open house sessions can view the furniture and share their opinion until January 15 using the online feedback form.

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