On Feb. 22, UNC announced its Flexible Learning Spaces initiative, a five-year plan to modernize as many as 50 general purpose classrooms. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin announced the master plan to begin updating the classrooms.
“The primary changes being made to smaller classrooms (with fewer than 60 seats) are mobile furniture, additional whiteboards and acoustic floor coverings where appropriate,” said Bob Henshaw, information technology services liaison to the Center for Faculty Excellence. “A few of these classrooms may also get additional technology.”
UNC has 205 general purpose classrooms that were designed for traditional lecture-style teaching. Almost one-third of classrooms contain outdated furniture, some of which has been there for more than 20 years.
“I’ve been in some where the classrooms are very nice, and I’ve been in others where they’re just kind of dingy, and the desks and things aren’t good quality and they’re kind of falling apart,” said sophomore Hailey Wall.
The initiative goes beyond just replacing old furniture.
“We know that more active environments provide students with more opportunities to engage with the materials, each other and the course instructor,” said biomedical engineering professor Devin Hubbard, who teaches in one of the updated classrooms.
The updated classrooms are being called flexible classrooms or active learning classrooms.
Some rooms have already been updated, including Alumni Hall 203, Carolina Hall 213 and Peabody Hall 220 and 306.
One of the most striking aspects of the flexible classrooms is mobile furniture. Desks are attached to rolling chairs that allow professors and students to arrange themselves in unique setups.
“The flexible classrooms make the class easy to configure and truly allow me to create an environment that caters to the students and my teaching style,” Hubbard said. “Generally, the courses in the flexible space seem to result in more engagement and a more exciting classroom vibe.”
Henshaw said the University experimented with many flexible classroom designs before settling on a final plan, getting feedback from students along the way. The original idea to change to active classrooms came from faculty requests for more flexible learning spaces.
“I teach several courses, one is large format, the other is a team-based design course. In each, there has consistently been more productive discussion, interaction with the course instructor and perhaps most importantly, students demonstrate better understanding and generate better questions,” Hubbard said.
Most of the smaller classrooms that will be updated will be changed over the summer. There are also plans to update three large lecture halls. The specific updates to those large lecture halls have not been planned yet, and the updates will take several years to complete.
The initiative will cost almost $6 million and the Campaign for Carolina is participating in fundraising efforts.
“Paying tuition for this school, I feel like the people who go here should be entitled to nice school equipment, desks, classrooms and things — just to help them by providing them with the best resources possible,” Wall said.
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