RESCCU Logo RESCCUŽ -- Registrar & Enrollment Services Consulting for Colleges & Universities


Find out why RESCCU is the right choice.
We offer the complete solution set
Meet our Associates
See what people say about us.
Industry and Academic links
Contact Page
Home Page

E-mail Us


Main Office
275 13th Street NE, Ste. 1111
Atlanta, GA 30309








Evelyn R. Babey, PhD

University of California, Davis

A paper presented at the Society for College and University Planning South Central Region conference on DESIGN AND RENOVATION OF CLASSROOMS FOR THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, November 4, 1993.

Creating and maintaining a classroom environment that facilitates teaching and learning is so important that we should wonder why we even have to discuss it.  It is axiomatic.  Halstead (1974), however, in his classic book on state planning in higher education says:

The design of the physical environment of the learning task is often neglected yet science has established a close correlation between the amount of work people do and where they do it.  It stands to reason that a student sitting in an unbearably hot, stuffy room listening to a lecture on cryogenics would not learn as much as he would in a cool, comfortable space.

Unfortunately, most college buildings have been planned to impress people from the outside, not necessarily to provide comfort of the users (p. 485).

The Davis campus has been interested in the physical environment of its classrooms and their fitness for teaching and learning for some time.  The campus completed its first environmental analysis of its classrooms in 1979.  A survey instrument asked faculty and students to evaluate the 110 general assignment classrooms and their suitability for teaching.  The results showed that 30 percent of the faculty found classrooms, in general, "ill-suited for their teaching purposes" (Estabrook, 1989, p.5).  Ventilation, temperature and aesthetics were indicated as particular problems.

Students rated classrooms higher than faculty did, however, one third of them found them ill-suited for test-taking purposes (Estabrook, 1989, p. 8).  Students also indicated that the rooms lacked storage space for their belongings.

The "problems" uncovered by this study were somewhat remedied over the years by Physical Plant and the Instructional Media Center. No on-going, coordinated, monitoring function, however, other than Physical Plant's twice yearly inspection for broken furniture, blinds, missing chairs, etc., and painting when needed, was established.  The Office of the Registrar was considered the "owner" of general assignment classrooms but had no budget to improve them.  If something was wrong in a classroom, a faculty member might call the Office of the Registrar to complain and the Office would then contact Physical Plant to fix the problem.  Numerous times, however, Physical Plant would say they had no money in the budget to make a repair.  If it was to be done, the Office of the Registrar would have to pay for it.  So it didn't get done!   

This lack of coordination was addressed in the Fall of 1988 when UC Davis' then chancellor established an Instructional Facilities Work Group.  The Executive Vice Chancellor, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget, and the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities formed the original workgroup.  Last year I replaced the Executive Vice Chancellor on the workgroup and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology, a new position, was added to the workgroup.

The workgroup decided that it needed a systematic way to evaluate the quality of our classrooms environments particularly as learning environments.  There were lots of anecdotal stories and grumbles about the poor conditions of our classrooms but nothing definitive except that our classrooms were overcrowded.

The workgroup with the support of the Chancellor decided to establish the Instructional Space Advisory Group better known as ISAG, to advise workgroup members in a formal way about current classroom environments and future needs.  ISAG membership includes representatives from the Teaching Resources Center, whose representative chaired the ISAG until this year, and conducted the 1979 classroom study, the Registrar, who is the incoming chair, the Academic Senate Committee on Academic Planning and Budget Review, the Academic Senate Committee on Teaching, the faculty at large, Information Technology, the Office of Planning and Budget, Architects and Engineers, Physical Plant, and two undergraduate and graduate students.  All of these people in one way or another are involved with our classrooms and are interested in improving them as teaching and learning spaces.

Our appointment letter from the Chancellor stated:

The group is being established to monitor, on an ongoing basis, the conditions of classrooms and otherinstructional facilities.  It would propose corrective action to remedy deficiencies and establish design criteria for consideration in the construction of future instructional facilities.

The Chancellor further said: 

I see the work of the Instructional Space Advisory Group as critically important in addressing concerns that  are central to the instructional mission of the University. ISAG began meeting in December, 1988.  Since we had no current data on the state of our classrooms, we decided that the most appropriate form of action would be to again survey the primary users of classrooms, i.e., faculty and students, regarding classroom quality.  Did our classrooms provide good environments in which to learn and teach?

A faculty survey instrument was designed by ISAG that was much more comprehensive than the 1979 survey.  The survey consisted of twenty items to be rated on a 5 point scale ranging from excellent to very poor, five items asking faculty to indicate what features (furniture, equipment, etc.) they need or prefer to have, and one item asking the faculty to identify the factors that contribute to lack of cleanliness.  Furthermore, faculty were also asked to comment and offer suggestions for improving classrooms (Estabrook, 1989, p. 1).

The survey was sent to the 1600 members of the Academic Senate and 300 lecturers.  They were asked to complete a survey for every room in which they taught during the Winter 1989 quarter.  We received responses from some 400 faculty members.  This represented between 30 and 40 percent of the faculty actually teaching that Winter quarter.  The 400 responses resulted in 308 useable ratings of 101 of the total 109 general assignment classrooms.  In addition, we received responses on 170 non-general assignment classrooms.  Table 1 summarizes average faculty ratings on survey items for general assignment classrooms.

The responses showed that 55 percent of the faculty evaluated their classrooms as good to excellent teaching environments and only 16 percent evaluated them as poor to very poor teaching environments, an improvement over the 1979 survey results.  The average rating of all classrooms as teaching environments was 3.45.  In 1979, the average rating was 3.1 (Estabrook, 1989, p. 4).

Table 1

Faculty Ratings of 101 GA Classrooms*

**Percent of faculty rating rooms:

 Classroom Feature  Excellent/Good OKPoor/Very Poor    Mean

l. Visibility of students      66     21      3     4.16 

2. Acoustics              67     24      9     3.83 

3. Freedom from noise

   (a) ventilation equipment   73     16     12     3.91

   (b) outside noise      53     23     24     3.49

   (c) adjacent rooms     67     20     13     3.88

4. Lighting

   (a) overall lighting level  64     29      7     3.86

   (b) switch location    55     30     15     3.59

   (c) dimming capabilities    43     20     47     2.98

5. Window coverings

   (a) ease of operation       44     30     36     3.14

   (b) blackout capabilities    45         25     29     3.18

6. Temperature/Ventilation     43     30         27 3.20

7. Chalkboard

   (a) placement          75     20      5     4.10

   (b) quality            67     27      6     3.95

   (c) quantity           69      23    8     3.98

   (d) cleanliness        43     35     22     3.24

8. Aesthetics             23     35     42     2.66

9. Maintenance (cleanliness)   39     36     25     3.15

10. Size of room for class     57     27     16     3.69

11. Suitability for A/V   45     31     24     3.32

12. Overall evaluation of

    room for teaching     55     29     16     3.45

*There were 308 respondents.  The percentages and ratings are based on the actual number of responses per item which ranges from 270-308.  Since many classrooms have no windows, item 5a and 5b generated lower responses (145 and 123 respectively).  Similarly items pertaining to A/V (4b, 4c and 11) were left blank by non-AV users for a response range of 184-228.**For the purpose of analysis, ratings of Excellent and Good were combined as were those of Poor and Very Poor.

The survey did identify, however, four major problem areas.  A problem area was defined by ISAG as 25 percent or more of the faculty rating a feature as poor or very poor.  Two of the identified problem areas were the same as those identified in 1979--aesthetics, and temperature and ventilation.  The other two problems areas identified were cleanliness and dimming and blackout capabilities.

The aesthetic quality of our classrooms was considered the number one environmental problem area by faculty.   The overall average aesthetic rating of general assignment classrooms was 2.66.  Of the classrooms that received an aesthetic rating, 29 rooms (29 percent) received average ratings of 2 or less and 75 percent of the rooms received evaluations of 3 and less.  Rooms were described as ugly, stark, cold, grim, spiritless, windowless, and colorless.  Compared to the 1979 findings, there was a ten percent increase in the number of rooms rated as lacking aesthetic value.  Halstead (l974) discusses the importance of aesthetics in the teaching/learning process when he says:

To a greater extent than perhaps any other type of institution, colleges and universities need to create environments suitable to living and working.  The largely indoor pursuit of teaching and learning requires that the character of instructional space--its shape, climate, lighting, color, acoustics, and seating--be conducive to the highest level    of communication and mental productivity (p. 501). 

Styne,(1990), addressing the needs of office workers said,  "People are greatly influenced by the visual aspects of their environment. . . . People are able to perform best when they are visually comfortable" (p. 78).  The data from the survey strongly indicate that our faculty and students are not visually comfortable in their classroom environments and this can lead one to conclude that they are not performing at their best.

Dimming and blackout capabilities were also identified as problems.  Faculty were particularly frustrated because they could not dim rooms leaving sufficient light for students to take notes and at the same time have the rooms dark enough for students to see the screen projections.  Poor lighting conditions in general were commented upon throughout the survey responses.

Forty-four rooms (55 percent of the 80 rooms rated) received average ratings of 3 or less for dimming capabilities and 32 rooms (46 percent of the 70 rooms rated) received average ratings of 3 or less for blackout capabilities.  We have many internal classrooms and they have no blackout problem.  This fact may help explain why only 70 rooms were rated for blackout capabilities.

Temperature and ventilation were identified as problems in numerous rooms.  One of our main classroom buildings had a noise problem caused by the ventilation system.  Faculty members with hearing aids had particular difficulty teaching in this building because hearing aids amplify sound.  Faculty teaching foreign languages also complained.  The noise levels prevented students from hearing fine sound differences in other languages. 

The campus administration already had received a petition from 15 instructors of oriental languages requesting something be done about the problem.   The heating and ventilation system of this building was scheduled for repair prior to the establishment of ISAG and that repair was completed in the summer of 1992.  The repairs have somewhat alleviated the ventilation problem, but the noise from the system was not significantly reduced.  Physical Plan and Architects and Engineers are presently reevaluating this HVAC system.

 Faculty were particularly critical of the poor ventilation in many classrooms.  In many cases they could not open windows or did not have windows to open.  If they opened classroom doors, noise from the outside created distractions.  Of the 98 rooms rated for temperature and ventilation, 4l (42 percent) received ratings of 3 and below and 19 (19 percent) received ratings of 2 and below.  This situation is far from ideal. Citing Halstead (1974) again:

It is generally recognized that high temperature and humidity produce physiological and psychological stressthat accelerate fatigue, causes people to work more slowly, exert greater effort, and make more mistakes.  The classroom climate in particular should be carefully controlled not only to provide physical comfort but also to serve as a positive factor in the learning process by engendering alertness and attention.  To maintain such a climate, the air must be treated to simultaneously controlled temperature, humidity, cleanliness and circulation (p. 503).

Cleanliness, or the lack thereof, was the other major problem identified by faculty.  The survey had two questions on cleanliness.  One question dealt with overall cleanliness of the room and the other with the cleanliness of chalkboards.  Faculty were mainly concerned with chalkboards.  They commented on dirty chalkboards, chalk dust, dust-saturated erasers and the lack of chalk.  Faculty also complained about the number of announcements marked "Do Not Erase" left on chalkboards.  Evidently faculty do not erase them!

In terms of overall room cleanliness, in addition to chalk dust, faculty were concerned with newspapers.  Inserts to the student daily newspaper were identified as the major problem.  Lack of trash cans and lack of maintenance during the day were considered problems by over 30 percent of the faculty respondents.  Table 2 summarizes faculty responses on factors contributing to clutter and lack of cleanliness in classrooms.


Table 2

Factors Contributing to Clutter and Lack of Cleanliness*


                         Percent of faculty responding:

                        *Major factor Neutral  *Minor Factor  Mean

1. Eating and drinking         33   23     44       2.66

2. Newspapers and handouts     53   21     25       3.41

3. Lack of visible trash cans      36   27     37       3.01

4. Chalkboard dust             43   23     33       3.10

5. Lack of maintenance in daytime   37   27     35       2.99


*For purposes of analysis ratings of 5 and 4 were combined under Major factor and ratings of 2 and 1 were combined under Minor factor.  Faculty responses ranged from 199 to 232.


Of the 99 rooms rated on general cleanliness, 50 rooms (50.5 percent) received average ratings of 3 or less.  Of the 98 rooms rated on chalkboard cleanliness, 40 rooms (4l percent) received average ratings of 3 or less but only 8 rooms (8 percent) received average ratings of 2 or less.

The faculty were also asked to identify features including media equipment they require or would like to have in a classroom.  ISAG was particularly interested in these responses because of its advisory role in future classroom design.

In terms of equipment, 60 percent of the faculty use or would use slide projectors and/or overhead projectors.  Approximately 40 percent indicated they would use VCR players and TV monitors and 20 percent indicated they would use 16mm film projectors and large screen video projectors for computer images.

It is interesting to note that 70 percent of the faculty responding to the question about desired type of chalkboard wanted the "traditional" blackboard.  The white, magic marker board does not appear to be acceptable in a general assignment classroom, at least as far as the UC Davis faculty is concerned.  Table 3 summarizes faculty classroom feature preferences.

The survey also solicited information about the type of furniture faculty would like added to classrooms.  No more than two faculty asked for the same thing, i.e., pointer, stool rather than chair for faculty to sit on, clock (UC Davis does not put clocks in classrooms because they have the habit of disappearing all too frequently), hook for hanging instructor coat, etc.  Some wanted things removed, particularly student chairs, to alleviate crowded conditions.

Faculty were also asked to respond to the type of student seating arrangements they prefer in classrooms.  The responses indicate that about half of the faculty want fixed, auditorium-style seating and the other half want movable seating.  Presently 18 percent of UCD's classrooms are auditorium style, and ten percent are seminar style, which is exactly the percentage of faculty that indicated they wanted seminar-style rooms.  Some ten percent of the faculty would like the continuous desk seating common in professional schools.

Table 3

Faculty Preferences for Classroom Features



Feature                   Number of Respondents     %       

1. Type of Chalkboard

   (a) standard blackboard            173     70  

   (b) marker board/chalkless white board 42        17

   (c) standard blackboard/vertical sliding    27      11

   (d) motorized/vertical sliding          4            2 

                                        246     100        

2. Type of Seating

   (a) fixed seating                    55     21

   (b) moveable student desks              121     45

   (c) auditorium style/elevated seats  63     24

   (d) seminar style                    27     10

   (e) no preference                     0             0                                                            266      100                      

3. Type of writing surface

   (a) individual tablet-arms           190       83

   (b) seminar tables                     37            16

                                          227       99         

4. A/V and Computer Equipment*

   (a) slide projector                133      59

   (b) 16 mm film projector            44      19

   (c) overhead projector             141       62

   (d) TV monitor                     85      38

   (e) VCR player                86      38

   (f) Video projector (large screen

  for computer images)           42      18

   (g) microphone                     21        9

   (h) double projection screen       12        5            (i) other                       17        7


*A total of 226 faculty responded as users of A/V equipment; 82 instructors or 27% indicated they do not use A/V equipment.  The total percent is greater than 100 since this is a multiple response item.                                                                         

The student evaluation of general assignment classrooms was conducted in the Spring, 1989 quarter.  Two classes, one morning and one afternoon, were selected for each of the 109 general assignment classrooms.  Faculty were asked to distribute the survey in class and to return the completed surveys to ISAG.  We received 3,998 student survey responses.  This is estimated as almost a 100 percent response rate since the surveys were completed and collected in class.  (See Appendix B.)

Students were asked to evaluate many of the same things about the general assignment classrooms that faulty evaluated and they had many of the same complaints as faculty.  Their number one complaint, however, was crowding in the classroom.  They were particularly critical of the space between seats, column and row.  Thirty seven (37) percent rated seating as poor to very poor.  Commenting on our lecture halls, students said their knees touch the seat in front and their arms touch the next person.  The crowding phenomenon has become more evident over the last several years as UC Davis' enrollment increased dramatically with no increase in the number of classrooms.  Although our enrollment has declined by approximately 1,000 students since the survey, many of large classes are still at maximum room capacity or above.

Crowding can have a serious impact on learning.  Tessmer and Harris (1992) state that crowding can be both a physical and psychological   phenomenon.  Students can be crowded due to their   sheer physical density in the room and/or can  psychologically perceive the room as dense. . . .   Where a room is overcrowded a group may have difficulty concentrating due to the increased temperature of crowded rooms and to the sheer press of humanity that invades the personal space of the learner (p. 29).  

The size of writing surfaces was rated poor to very poor by 28 percent of the students and 34 percent rated storage space for personal belongings as poor to very poor.  Twenty seven (27) percent rated the suitability of a room for test taking as poor to very poor Students also criticized temperature and ventilation systems.  Rooms are too cold or too hot and the noise from the ventilation systems make concentration and hearing difficult.  Halstead (1974) writes: 

"A student in the classroom is properly seated if he has a clear view of the instructor, is provided with suitable writing surface and a place for book storage, is reasonably comfortable, and is so situated that persons going to and from adjacent seats will not disturb him" (pp.506-507). 

Many of UC Davis' classrooms seem to have conditions opposite to those Halstead recommends.

A number of students complained that there were not enough left-handed desks available.  Standard classroom set up specifies that each room have ten percent left-handed desks.  ISAG is not sure if we have more left handed students, at least more than the ten percent population average.  It is possible that, due to our crowded conditions, right-handed students are using left-handed desks because that was all that was available when they came into the room.

Students were also concerned with the lack of classroom aesthetics.  Some of the comments were: "this room is kind of ugly and uninspiring for learning," "room is ugly and windows don't open," "colors clash." "this room is typical instructional blah," "a brighter, more lively colored room would be more conducive to learning," and "this classroom, like most others, is lousy."

ISAG took a few immediate actions to remedy some of the problems identified by the surveys.  The Physical Plant representative directed custodial staff to clean the blackboards, chalk trays, and erasers on a nightly basis and he arranged for an additional trash can in each general assignment classroom.

In addition, ISAG met with the editor of the student newspaper and the student director of the campus recycling program to discuss ways in which the campus might improve the cleanliness of the classrooms.  The director of the recycling program met with the custodial staff to discuss putting recycling bins in classrooms.  That option had to be abandoned due to fire regulations; however more recycling bins were placed near our large classrooms. 

The editor of the newspaper agreed to explore having fewer loose advertisements in the student newspaper.  He was not able to do this since these advertisements were a large part of the newspaper operating budget.

ISAG also met with a member of the student government to discuss beginning a "keep your classroom clean" campaign. The student government agreed to help in this campaign, but we have never begun it.  Maybe this year! 

Some of the classroom problems identified in the surveys were known to Physical Plant and were on their maintenance or improvement list.  Dimmers and blackout blinds were scheduled to be installed in a number of rooms. Lighting was scheduled for improvement in one of the small auditoriums.  As indicated before, the heating and ventilation system in one of our main classroom buildings was already scheduled for repair this summer.  For the 1989-90 fiscal year Physical Plant committed $280,000 for specific classroom projects.  This is really not a large sum of money when you consider UC Davis' overall budget.  Over the past several years there has been no money in the Physical Plant budget for classroom improvement, only maintenance and that too has been cut back.

ISAG, however, was most concerned about the low ratings the aesthetic quality of our classrooms received.  As noted earlier, visual comfort aids performance.  ISAG wanted more data on the aesthetic environments of our classrooms and decided to do a second survey specifically addressing this issue.

One of the graduate student representatives on ISAG was a Ph.D. candidate in environmental/developmental psychology. Her research emphasis was in aesthetic preferences emphasizing the psychological need for natural qualities in built settings.  She suggested that the survey establish what in particular is aesthetically unpleasing about our rooms and establish what faculty and students perceive as the ideal classroom.  She suggested a fellow Ph.D. candidate in social psychology/group dynamics with interests in human group activity in isolated environments and human interactions with technology as one who might be interested in doing a study with her.

ISAG agreed and requested the two graduate students to submit a proposal with budget.  The proposal was accepted and ISAG requested funding for the study.  The Instructional Facilities Work Group approved the project and provided the funding.  The aesthetic study was conducted in the Spring, 1990 quarter.

Nine classrooms were selected "based on a range of sizes, locations on campus, subjects being taught and on a range of aesthetic ratings obtained from the l989 Campus Classroom Survey . . ." (Caldwell and Hoyt, 1990, p. 3).  Several morning and afternoon classes were selected for each of the nine rooms.  Students were surveyed in class.  Faculty received their survey through the mail.  Responses were received from 43 faculty members and 890 students.  Of the nine classrooms, eight received enough responses to be included in the data analysis. 

The first section of the survey asked faculty and students to differentiate between their current classroom and the ideal classroom on thirteen experiential criteria.  The results indicated that:

respondents strongly desire classrooms to be bright, spacious, large, natural, organized, and harmonious. They like the rooms to be (in order of preference) comfortable, airy, functional, inviting, happy, interesting and beautiful (Caldwell and Hoyt, 1990,p.3).

The ideal classroom is rather different from the one the respondents perceived they were in.  They "indicated that their current classroom is dull, confining, synthetic and cluttered" (Caldwell and Hoyt, 1990, p.3). 

The second section of the survey asked faculty and students to rate several design features or attributes of the room they were in.  Design features in order from most disliked were wall color, chair design, floors, chair color and lighting.  Many respondents made comments similar to those made in the general classroom surveys.  They said spacing between chairs was inadequate, leaving little leg room and making it almost impossible to move between rows; ventilation was poor; rooms lacked windows; chairs were uncomfortable; and desks were too small.  In general, the rooms in this survey were described as needing improved comfort.

The third section of the survey asked respondents to rate design features to improve the classroom environment and then rank priorities for improvement.  In priority order respondents said that they would like to have wall color, lighting levels and lighting type and chair designed changed.  Their fourth priority for change was to add plants to classrooms.  Student and faculty art work, and flooring were medium priorities and wallpaper, wood paneling and podium style were low priority changes.

Comments by students and faculty regarding preference for classroom improvements were punctuated by concerns of cost.  In particular, adding art work to classrooms brought forth concerns about cost.  In addition, a number of faculty and students suggested that art work might be too dis-tracting.

Adding plants to classrooms was a high preference of respondents.  Maintenance of plants, however, might be a problem although there are numerous houseplants that require minimal maintenance and light.  

Wall color was the most disliked of any design feature.  When asked to select preferred wall colors respondents chose white, then pale blue, and then pale yellow or pale green.  Softer wall colors are in, and orange, brown and red wall colors are out.

A regression analysis of the data in this survey was performed relating the aesthetic ratings received by these eight rooms in the earlier classroom study.  "The best prediction of the aesthetic ratings of these rooms came from the difference between ideal and real values of the experiential components of naturalness, spaciousness, and organization" (Caldwell and Hoyt, 1990, pp.5-6).

Another regression analysis "related ratings of chair design and the experience of happiness" (Caldwell and Hoyt, 1990, p. 6) to the overall aesthetic ratings of the rooms.  Chairs, besides being too close together, were also uncomfortable and were one of the highest priorities for change.  "Chair design and space between chairs was found to be a significant predictor of [higher] aesthetic ratings for a room" (Caldwell and Hoyt, p.11).  

ISAG did have the opportunity to experiment with new student chairs shortly after the aesthetic study.  Survey responses indicated that students were unhappy with the loose chairs in most classrooms.  They complained that the tablet was too small, the seat was not wide enough and there was no storage space.  Comfortable seating is critical to student learning.  Tessmer and Harris (1992) state:

seating comfort is important in maintaining the attention of the learner in a learning environment. . . uncomfortable seating can affect their concentration and performance . . .  Similarly, instructional materials' effectiveness with students can be diminished if poor seating leads to student discomfort and subsequent lack of concentration. . . a learner's chair is the most important piece of furniture in the learning space (pp.32-33).

Physical Plant was about to order replacement chairs and asked the ISAG members to look at several chairs.  We selected a chair that had a larger writing surface, a slightly wider seat and a storage basket underneath.

The chairs were placed in two heavily used classrooms shortly after the beginning of the Fall, 1990 quarter.  A short survey was distributed to students in four classes, two in each room, at the end of the quarter.  The response to the chairs was overwhelmingly positive except for the storage area.  The students were not using it for storage.  They said it was too small, too inconvenient, and they would forget items they stored, but said it made a great foot rest!

In summary, the researchers concluded that there are:

two problems with classroom design that influence aesthetic preference and ultimately instructional function.  The first problem is that current classroom design features do not support the experiential needs of the users.  Students and faculty desire rooms to be bright, spacious, large, natural, organized, harmonious, comfortable, airy, functional, inviting, happy, interesting and beautiful.  Many of the surveyed classrooms do not support these needs.

The second quality in current classroom design that does not support aesthetic appreciation or instructional tasks is the larger problem of crowding    . . . the majority of respondents indicated that the ideal classroom should be "spacious," "large," "comfortable," and"airy" (pp. 10-11).

These terms are basically the opposite of crowding and it is obvious from student and faculty comments that they do not like the crowded conditions they face daily in the classroom.    The researchers further state:

that crowding and decreased comfort significantly and consistently decrease aesthetic ratings of a room. . . . crowding influences emotions which strongly influence the tasks and purpose of the classroom.  It is through good design that we can support the instructional functions of the classroom (Hoyt and Caldwell, p. 11). 

They also suggest that occupational safety guidelines and measurements of a range of potential users specifications should be applied to classrooms.  These guidelines allow for greater distance between chairs.  Not only would there be a less crowded classroom environment but the additional space would "reduce the incidence of casual cheating, as adjacent students' work would be outside of the natural field of vision" (Hoyt and Caldwell, p. 11).

In addition to the aesthetic survey, ISAG, in the spring, 1990 invited a group of faculty known to use media in their classes to discuss their classroom media needs.  The meeting was scheduled in one of heavily scheduled lecture halls.  Of the 15 faculty invited only three attended the meeting but they provided many suggestions for improving media capabilities of our classrooms.  Among their suggestions were the need for sound proofing projection booths, double screens to permit projecting two images simultaneously, simplification and standardization of light switches, access to the campus computing network, color video monitors, and telephones in every classroom to enable instructors to contact the appropriate office if a problem arises.

The Instructional Space Advisory Group spent much time discussing the results of this study.  Members had their own suggestions for improving the aesthetic quality of our classrooms and for creating diversity among classrooms.  We did not want "sameness" to run throughout our buildings and classrooms since "sameness" if often equated with being boring or dull.  Differences help one orient oneself in a building and also make it easier to communicate about a room to others.  In its 1989-90 annual report to the work group, ISAG made the following recommendations to the Work Group:

l.   that all classroom walls be painted in shades of off-

     white and that color be supplied by the following

     classroom features:  student chairs, bulletin boards,

     trim, blinds, instructor's table and chair, lectern,

     projector stands, and chair rails.

2.   that student chairs be of the same color in a given

     room.  In the case of movable chairs, this could be

     accomplished by having student chairs be of the same

     color by building, floor, or wing.  In the case of

     fixed seating, we recommend that the chair colors be

     distinct for each lecture hall in any given classroom


3.   that classrooms have chair rails along the walls

and for several reasons:  functional--they protect the wall and thus reduce maintenance costs; aesthetic--they can be a source of color or if made of wood,

     they can contribute to the room having a "natural"

     quality; perceptual--they provide an horizon and

     reduce the sense of being in a box with blank walls.

4.   that lighting levels in classrooms be raised and that

     the standards for minimum lighting levels be revised

     to reflect the new minimum lighting level.  Students

     find the current lighting level too low.

5.  that light type be selected on the basis of its

     aesthetic as well as its functional properties.

     Since the aesthetics of the room is affected by

     the hardware (i.e., type of fixtures) as well

     as by the lighting effects created when the room

     is brightly or dimly lit, we recommend that both

     aspects be considered when selecting the appropriate

     lighting type. . . . [and]

6.   [that we] use . . . graphics in classrooms but suggest

     that art work and plants be introduced on a

     pilot basis only so that we can adequately

     assess their role in the educational environ-

     ment.  Since we consider graphics to be only

     one element in the total design, we are not

     suggesting that all classrooms should contain

graphics but only those in which it is appropriate

     (Estabrook, 1990 pp. 2-3).

ISAG also recommended that a professional interior designer be hired to develop model designs for classrooms including media and to develop a color palette for use throughout our buildings. The color palette would be used not only in renovations and new classroom construction but by Physical Plant as they repaint classrooms.  ISAG also recommended to the workgroup that three medium-sized classrooms be funded for renovation using the guidelines developed by the interior designer.

The Instructional Facilities Work Group funded the request for an interior design consultant and approved the remodeling project as a campus funding request to the Office of the President.  An interior design firm was hired in Spring, 1991 to develop design criteria for classrooms and auditoriums based upon the findings of ISAG.  The design firm subcontracted with a company that had previous experience in classroom design and the two firms developed a Project Manual: Design Criteria for Classrooms and Auditoriums for UC Davis.  The Project Manual was completed in Fall, 1991.  It included sections on general classroom design criteria, alternate schemes for color and materials, graphic highlights, recommended construction specifications and suggested materials and component cut sheets.

A particularly important element of this project was the identification of color palettes and materials to be used in classrooms.  The designers provided five alternate color palettes and several different types of materials, differentiated by cost, for wall, floor, and chair coverings and finishes.  The designers stated in the Project Manual that in all cases, the front of the room, "sending end", will be painted white as well as the ceiling, whether painted or acoustical tile.  The front wall and ceiling colors will provide overall consistency between instructional spaces, the 5 (sic) proposed color palettes will provide for the variety.

In all cases in each palette, the lighter tone will be used on the side walls, darker tone on the rear wall.  Combined with the graphic highlights . . . opportunity will exist to create substantial variety in the classrooms. . .(Project Manual, l991, section II, p.1).

While the design firm was developing design criteria, UC Davis submitted a request for funding for the renovation of three medium-sized auditoriums to the Office of the President.  We were approved for funding in Fall, 1991.  We were allocated $300,000 for renovation and another $50,000 for instructional media equipment.

In late Fall, 1991, the campus bid the three classroom renovation project and it was awarded to an architectural firm located in Oakland, California.  The firm submitted its renovation plans to ISAG in February, 1992.  Since $300,000 for three classrooms is not a lot of money, we had to make some choices.  Obviously, although we may have liked to change the slope of the floor in one lecture hall, that was not possible with the funds available.  We also had to make due with the current fixed seating pattern, except that we had to remove seats to meet new disability and fire codes.

The architectural firm did address most of the other major problems identified, e.g., lighting, wall color, chair fabric and color, noise from ventilation systems, acoustical treatment, lighting and media controls and wall graphics.  The firm even decided it should do something with the entries to the classrooms and made some suggestions for painting them and placing graphics outside the rooms as well as bulletin boards.  The renovation of the three classrooms took place in the summer of 1992 and classrooms were ready for the Fall, 1992 quarter.   

One of the most important charges to ISAG was the development of guidelines not only for the state of the art audio/visual media but combining the development of these guidelines with the concepts of integrated information technology and multimedia classrooms.  In other words, we wanted not only to look at today's needs of faculty but what they would want in the classroom in the future.  (In some cases the future is now.) 

In the 1989-90 year, ISAG developed explicit guidelines for classroom media needs.  The guidelines addressed lighting zones and levels, audio systems, general electrical needs, projection booths, and touch pad control panels and media control systems to be part of one "user friendly" control panel located on a lectern.  ISAG also recommended that whenever the campus remodels a building or builds a new building, the design plan include, at least, conduits for future wiring to our campus communications network.

The idea of "hooking" our classrooms to the campus communications network spurred an ad hoc work group appointed by our Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology.  After much consultation with faculty, the Ad Hoc Communications Work Group subcommittee on classroom infrastructures submitted a report in February, 1992.  The report detailed the campus' commitment to the use of computer networked technology in our classrooms.   This requires coordination of telecommunications, computer and audio-visual technology and infrastructures.  (The campus is presently implementing "Network 21" which is the laying of fiber optic cable to enable connection of all campus buildings to the campus communications backbone.)

The subcommittee recommended four levels of audio visual design for our classrooms ranging from true multimedia lecture halls to remote classrooms that will only be equipped with projection equipment and, possibly, a campus telephone (see Table 4).  It is anticipated that over the next year and half all of our lecture halls and classrooms will be equipped according to one of the levels identified by the subcommittee.

The three classrooms recently renovated were upgraded to what is defined as level one media classrooms.  A level one media classroom has "the highest level of sophistication {and} includes: telephone broadband, computer/video display, overhead projection, 35 mm slide projection, and high quality sound reinforcement" (Classroom Infrastructures, p. 2).  The cost of a level one media classroom is approximately $25,000.

Table 4

Levels of Networked Computer Technology in Classrooms

Level One

The highest level of sophistication includes broadband, computer/video display, overhead projection, 35 mm slide projection, high quality sound reinforcement and a telephone.

Level Two

Same as level one except for the reduction in display technology to television only.

Level Three

The minimum acceptable infrastructure when remodeling or building new classrooms includes broadband, appropriate projection equipment and a telephone.

Level Four

Remote locations will be equipped with the appropriate projection equipment and, if practical, a campus telephone.

Note.  From Classroom Infrastructures, a report of the Classroom Subcommittee of the Ad Hoc Communications Work Group.   UC Davis. February, 1992, p. 2.


While ISAG was formulating classroom design and media criteria, the campus was in the process of remodeling a building that houses two small auditoriums and four general purpose classrooms as well as in the design phase of new a Social Sciences and Humanities building that will have a 400-seat lecture hall and two small classrooms.  We were fortunate that the building remodeling had not progressed to the point beyond which the ISAG aesthetic and media guidelines and the classroom infrastructure guidelines could not be instituted. 

The two small lecture halls in this building were designed as level one media classrooms.  They were painted with colors from the recommended color palettes and there is more room between seats.  For classroom managers, however, that means there will be fewer seats in these rooms then in comparably sized classrooms. (American Disability Act requirements also play a role in the number of seats that can be accommodated in a new/renovated classrooms.)  These classrooms were used with the beginning of the 1992 summer session. 

All recommendations of the ISAG and the Ad-Hoc Communications subcommittee are included in the design plans of the Social Sciences and Humanities building which is scheduled to open in January, 1995.

The proof is in the pudding so to speak and this past spring ISAG surveyed the users whose classes were held in the renovated lecture halls and in the two small auditoriums in the renovated building.   The same survey forms that were used in the earlier surveys were used in this survey to enable some response comparison.  The number of faculty and student respondents, however, was less than the earlier study and they were different people.  In addition, faculty were originally surveyed in a winter quarter.  These difference must be considered when comparing the results of both surveys.  In general, the faculty and student responses indicate that the renovations to the classrooms substantially improved them as teaching and learning environments.

The faculty average aesthetic ratings of the renovated classrooms increased from 2.9 to 4.2.  The average rating of the classrooms as teaching environments increased from 3.64 to 4.0.  The teaching environment average rating increase, however, is skewed.  For two of the rooms the average rating as a teaching environment went from 3.3 to 4.0 while in the classroom with the very steep slope, the rating actually went down, from 4.33 to 3.4.  The comments of the faculty and students about this room provide some incite into this lower rating.  Both groups complained that the new blackboard lighting in this room blocked about one third of the students' view of the top of the blackboard.  This situation should have been detected by the architect.  Our Physical Plant staff will try to correct this situation this summer.

The faculty also rated the temperature and ventilation in these rooms as improved.  The average rating for temperature and ventilation for these three rooms before renovation was 2.7.  The current survey average is 4.0

Faculty ratings and comments indicate that they are still experiencing some difficulty with the lighting in the rooms particularly the panel control.  The controls have four different lighting levels and faculty are having difficulty getting the right lighting.  It is unclear from faculty comments if lighting directions on the panel are clear or if they are there at all.  Information Technology staff relabeled the lighting switches in each room this past summer.

 The two small auditoriums in the renovated building received faculty aesthetic evaluations of 5.0 for the smaller of the two rooms and 3.8 for the larger of the two rooms.  As teaching environments, the faculty rated the rooms 4.5 and 3.8 respectively.  Again comments by the faculty suggest the reason for the lower ratings of the larger room.

The larger classroom was projected to have a 100 seats, a combination of fixed (80) and loose (20).  The loose chairs were to be in front of the fixed seats.  ISAG made this recommendation to provide a more flexible teaching environment.  The Fire Marshall, after the room was set up, "vetoed" most of the loose seating.  Students moved them into aisles and blocked exit doors. Most of those chairs had to be removed leaving some 30 feet between the blackboard, near which most faculty tend to stand, and the first row of students.  Faculty just do not understand the design concept and do not like the students being so far away! 

We could add two rows of fixed seating but according to the Fire Marshall we must leave four feet between the existing fixed

seating and the two new rows.  This arrangement leaves little room for an instructor desk and for the faculty member to move about so we have decided to leave the room as it is for now.  How this "problem" was missed in the design phase is still a mystery.

Student evaluations of the three renovated auditoriums also indicate that the aesthetics of the rooms have improved.  The average aesthetics rating of the renovated rooms is 3.92.  Before renovation it was 3.06.  The student also indicated that room temperature and ventilation were improved.  The rating before renovation was 2.92 and after renovation it is 3.37.  The overall evaluation of the rooms as teaching environments also increased.  Before renovation it was 3.46 and after it is 3.95.

The students also rated the two small auditoriums highly.  They rated room aesthetics as 4.3 for the smaller room and 4.2 for the larger room.  Students' overall rating of the rooms as teaching environments was 4.5 and 4.4 respectively.

Student comments about the renovated rooms were generally positive.  We still do not apparently have enough left-handed desks and many indicated the rooms were too cold.  Physical Plant is going to raise the temperature in the rooms.

Students also complained that there is not enough space between the seats in the renovated rooms, the number one complaint from the earlier survey.  The average rating for space between seats was 3.0 for both surveys.  Unfortunately, we did not have the funds to redo room seating, only to fix existing seats and recover them.  There is more space between the seats in the two smaller auditoriums.  The average rating of the space between seats was 4.3 and 3.7.   A number of students did indicate they did not like the orange colored seats in one room.  Again, this color is not in our approved scheme and no one seems to know exactly how the colored was selected!

The post renovation survey results do show that a group of campus individuals with interests in classrooms can form an active partnership with users of classrooms and with funding provided by the administration, can make quality improvements in teaching and learning environments. 

The members of ISAG have learned a great deal about classroom renovation.  Some things in our first project did not work as well as we expected but we now know more questions to ask in the design phase and that should be soon.  We will continue our work with users as we begin the process of renovating several more classrooms to improve their teaching and learning environments.



Ad Hoc Communications Work Group Classroom Subcommittee Report     (1992).  Classroom Infrastructures.  University of   California, Davis, February, 1992.

Caldwell, B. and Hoyt, K.  (1990).  Classroom Aesthetics Survey:        Student and Faculty Opinions.  Final Report submitted to the

Instructional Space Advisory Committee, University of     California, Davis, Summer, 1990.

The Dunlavey Studio and the Austin Hansen Group (1991).  Project   Manual: Design Criteria for Classrooms and Auditoriums.  Sacramento, California, July, 1991.

Estabrook, M. (1989).  Report #1: Faculty Assessment of Classrooms and Recommendations for Classroom Improvement.  Report submitted to     the Instructional Facilities Work Group, University of California, Davis, June, 1989.

Estabrook, M. (1990).  Recommendations for Improving the Aesthetics

of the Classroom Environment.  Report submitted to the    Instructional Facilities Work Group, University of California, Davis, Summer, 1990.

Halstead, D. K. (1974).  Statewide planning in higher education.

Washington, D.C.:  U.S. Government Printing Office.

Styne, A. F.  (1990, March).  Making light and color work in office harmony.  The Office.  pp. 73-74.

Tessmer, M. and Harris, D. (1992).   Analysing the Instructional   Setting.  London, England.


Return to Resources




Home   |   Why RESCCU?   |   Services & Solutions
Meet RESCCU   |   Testimonials   |   Resources   |   Contact Us

© 2015 Registrar and Enrollment Services Consulting for Colleges and Universities, LLC
The RESCCU logo is a registered service mark of Registrar and Enrollment Services Consulting for Colleges and Universities, LLC