Frequently Asked Questions
Last updated February 12, 2019
Q: What is the impetus behind the Flexible Learning Spaces Initiative?
A: The need to modernize our classrooms is driven by two primary factors. First, a growing number of faculty members and graduate instructors are adopting diverse teaching and learning methods and need learning spaces that can easily accommodate them. Secondly, much of our classroom furniture is well past its useful life and is beginning to fail en masse. For more information, see the proposed Master Plan for Modernizing Classrooms.
Q: How are flexible learning spaces expected to benefit teaching and learning?
A: The primary design goals for flexible classrooms under this initiative are to facilitate:
- High quality interaction (e.g. sustained eye contact) among students;
- The ability of instructors to interact directly with all students in the classroom;
- Transitions between lecture, group work, full class discussion and other instructional methods;
- Use of a variety of instructional methods and space configurations.
Q: What kind of features can I expect to find in flexible learning spaces?
A: Updates included a new generation of mobile furniture, more shared writing surfaces, and in some classrooms floor/wall finishes to improve space acoustics. Some of the larger classrooms will also see additional monitors that allow instructors to display multiple content sources and students to share their work wirelessly. Some classrooms have received technology upgrades to support students participating remotely. During pandemic, nearly half of general classrooms have been updated with ceiling microphones and cameras to facilitate remote student participation.
Q: How have UNC students and instructors responded to flexible learning spaces that already exist on campus?
A: The University began experimenting with flexible learning space design in 2010. More than twenty flexible classrooms have come out of this initial effort. Each of the classroom design prototypes has been assessed and evaluated by faculty/staff teams led by the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE). The response from students and instructors has generally been positive. Lessons learned will inform classroom updates for the Flexible Learning Spaces Initiative. You can learn more about instructor and student feedback on these classrooms at the CFE’s website on flexible classrooms.
Q: How will classroom renovations affect my teaching? For example, can I still lecture in a flexible learning space?
A: The design goals for these classroom updates are to support a wider range of teaching methods, providing instructors with greater instructional choice. If you are teaching in a classroom with mobile furniture, you may choose to arrange the furniture in rows and use a screen at the front of the room to facilitate a traditional lecture. If you are interested in using interactive and collaborative teaching methods, your students will be able to reconfigure the classroom furniture quickly and easily.
Q: I’m concerned that the mobile furniture makes the classrooms look more cluttered.
A: In a flexible learning space, the furniture configuration is largely up to you. If you find that the aesthetic of loose seating is distracting, your students can quickly and easily rearrange the chairs into straight rows. According to survey data gathered during the evaluation of other campus classrooms using mobile furniture, most students and instructors adjust to the looser feel of these rooms over the course of the semester. This is especially true when instructors and student perceive instructional benefits.
Q: How are decisions being made about which classrooms to update?
A: Initial priorities include classrooms that 1) have the space capacity to accommodate mobile furniture and greater instructor movement throughout the classroom, 2) are equipped with furniture in greatest need of replacement, and 3) serve a wide range of buildings and disciplines.
Q: How can I find out which classrooms on campus are already flexible learning spaces?
A: You can search for flexible classrooms through the ITS Classroom Hotline site (see Interactivity and select Flexible). There you will also find additional information about each classroom, including a list of classroom equipment and 360-degree panoramic previews.
Q: Should we expect to eventually see all General Purpose Classrooms converted to flexible formats?
A: No.Because flexible learning spaces generally require more square feet per student, converting a traditional classroom usually results in the loss of some number of seats. Due to overall capacity restraints, there is a limit on the number of seats the University can afford to sacrifice. In the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that more than 40% of General Purpose Classrooms can be updated with flexible classroom features.
Q: Does this initiative impact department- and school-managed classrooms?
A: No, this initiative only impacts General Purpose Classrooms scheduled by the University Registrar.
Q: What is the timeline for classroom renovations?
A: The schedule for implementing the Flexible Learning Spaces Initiative program was spread out over five years. Most of the updates to small and mid-sized classrooms were made during the 2018-2019 academic year. Renovations to larger classrooms in Carroll, Sitterson, and a third to be determined will require more planning and construction; work on these classrooms will be staggered between now and 2025.
Q: Who oversaw these renovations?
A: The Classroom Policy Steering Committee (CPSC) is the University’s central coordinating committee for the oversight of General Purpose Classrooms. The group is chaired by Vice Provost Rick Wernoski and includes representatives from a variety of campus stakeholders. Throughout the implementation phase of the Flexible Learning Spaces Initiative, the CPSC receive regular input from the faculty-led Classrooms Modernization Advisory Group.
Q: How much input have faculty members had in developing these plans?
A: Most of the design goals for the University’s flexible learning spaces were informed by the results of the 2012 faculty survey on classrooms and subsequent faculty recommendations. Many of the flexible classrooms that have been created to date have benefited from the direct involvement of interested faculty members and student representatives. Throughout the Flexible Learning Spaces Initiative, the new faculty-led Classrooms Modernization Advisory Group provided input on key design decisions and faculty support programming. Finally, we always welcome faculty, student and staff input on campus classrooms. Please use the Classrooms Comment Form.
Q: What are some examples of teaching methods that work well in a flexible learning space?
A: While many traditional classrooms are geared toward presentation, flexible learning spaces can support and enhance most classroom activities. When lecturing, you will be free to move about the classroom and have easier access to each of your students, not just those in aisle seats. The ability to easily reconfigure classroom furniture can also help encourage student compliance with the Honor Code during exams. In flexible classrooms, eye contact among students and instructors is generally enhanced, resulting in greater student engagement during discussion. Mobile furniture allows students to transition easily into and out of groups, making group work easier to manage and less disruptive to the flow of the class. To take advantage of this feature, try posing a think-pair-share question, then asking each pair to connect with another dyad to compare their answers. Increased access to whiteboards means that more students can simultaneously work on concept mapping, diagramming, problem sets, and case studies. You may consider using a technique like a gallery walk to allow students access to the whiteboards. These shared writing spaces can also be used to promote peer-to-peer teaching, known to enhance learning outcomes. For more information on how to implement some of these techniques, consider attending workshops that are part of the CFE’s new Making the Most of Flexible Classrooms series, or peruse our list of Active Learning Resources.
Q: Can I provide feedback on my experience in flexible learning spaces?
A: Yes, instructor and student feedback is welcome and encouraged! While the Classroom Policy Steering Committee will be conducting formal evaluations on many of these classrooms, soliciting user feedback will be an ongoing component of the Flexible Learning Spaces Initiative. You can share your comments and questions through the Classrooms Comments Form.
Q: How can I reserve one of these classrooms for a course I teach?
A: Ask the scheduling officer for your academic unit to request a classroom through the University Registrar’s Scheduling Office.