Technology-Enabled Teaching >> If You Build It, We Should Come
When technology experts
are involved from the get-go,
‘smart classroom’ construction
projects are dramatically
improved—and less costly.
When a campus is engaged in an architecture-and-technology integration
project, learning from mistakes can be a costly educational process indeed.
Yet, simply knowing more about how such an integration process should
work, who the players should be (and what they can bring to the table), and
how all project participants should, ideally, work together to create effective
teaching environments will result in better project results, and fewer gray
anyone tasked with the technology planning for construction projects.
Back to the Beginning
Campus construction projects often begin as a gleam in the eye of a campus
administrator. Then, as the project progresses from concept to detailed architectural
program, the administration and facilities staff work with the project architects
to determine and meet the needs of the interior of the proposed building, while
working on the exterior of the building, to create an appropriate aesthetic
statement for the campus. The selection of building materials, the flow of interior
spaces, even the human emotions the designed environment evokes, are all carefully
"Lighting and acoustics
have a great impact on the way students can learn, but they tend to be value-engineered
right out of projects."
-Steve Fitzgerald, University of Minnesota
Yet, curiously, as the architectural program is getting off
the ground, the technology that will live within the edifice is
often discussed only in broad, general terms. Buzzwords such
as “smart classrooms” and “wireless technologies” appear
nearly every program document for new college and university
instructional buildings. On average, between 1 to 3 percent
of the overall project budget for new campus construction is
for built-in technology, an amount that varies widely depending
on the needs and goals of each individual project—and
depending upon how early in the process technologists come
into the picture.
Dollars aside, the question of when technology staff should
be involved in the planning, programming, and design phase
of designing instruction and learning spaces is one of great
interest to those who are responsible for putting technology-enabled
teaching tools in the hands of educators and students.
While there is a lot to be said for terrazzo floors and three-story
atriums, there are few systems costing only 1 to 3 percent
of overall construction budgets that have as great an
effect on the education process as d'es technology.
Without effective technology integration, campus buildings
are decorative, but not functional. On the flip side, without good
design, campus buildings are functional but lifeless. It’s the melding
of architectural design and technology planning that allows
both to happen in a way that is complementary, not conflicting.
Building the Right
The cast of characters in the drama that is
building construction or renovation is
never the same twice, and can often
change during a several-year project, both
in structure and in composition. Here are
the main players in a “typical” project:
Campus representatives. Building projects are usually
headed up by members of the administration and/or facilities groups. While technology
is often recognized as an important project component, the campus planning and
construction staff focuses most of its attention on the other 97 to 99 percent
of the budget that d'es not include technology (go figure!). Technology representatives
are brought in at some point, sometimes during the initial programming phase.
But amazingly, at other times they’re involved after construction plans are
complete and the network drop locations, data closets, and server rooms have
already been placed on the drawings.
Exactly who the campus technology representatives are, and which technologies
and whose interests they represent, depends on the organization of the campus
technology departments. At the University of Minnesota, for
instance, Steve Fitzgerald is the director of Classroom Management (www.classroom.umn.edu),
which is an organization created to meet the needs of educators and learners
by coordinating construction of new classroom spaces and maintaining, upgrading,
and supporting existing classrooms on campus. “We’re in contact with students,
faculty, custodians, campus planners, hotline support operators, and room schedulers,”
says Fitzgerald, but adds, “We’re unusual in that the Office of Classroom Management
provides the one voice that represents all sides.”
Other institutions provide a range of technology representatives to project
teams, which can include structured cabling and networking specialists, telephony/telecommunications staff, AV designers, distance learning specialists, and security
video and alarm specialists.
Besides the campus technology specialists, there are often faculty or departmental
experts who have specific requests with respect to technology implementation
in new building projects. Their expertise can be very useful in the early phases
of design (especially in the planning of science buildings), and can prevent
costly redesign or rework in making spaces appropriate for equipment or systems.
Design professionals. The design team is usually
led by an architect, and typically, the architect
leads the campus administration and facilities representatives in the programming
phase, which is where the needs of the campus are identified and presented in
a written and graphical program. The program covers the needs of space (square
footage), number and capacities of classrooms and offices, and spatial affinities
both within the building and between the new building and the rest of campus.
Once a program has been established and the architect is ready to start setting
pen to paper, a project team is assembled. Structural, mechanical, and electrical
engineers are brought in to begin fleshing out the details of the design. Landscape
and interior architects are tasked with their respective design responsibilities.
Consultants are hired to provide specific services, which vary according to
need but can include technological disciplines, food service, and wayfinding.
As these pre-design and design development phases move toward developing construction
documents for bidding and building, the campus technology representatives are
consulted for their input. But importantly, whether this happens toward the
beginning of the process or the week before the bid g'es out is a determining
factor in the success of any building project from a technology standpoint.
Kari Campbell, director of Technical Services at Minneapolis Community
and Technical College, (MN) remembers a recent project: “Technology
was the last thing considered. We were left to review the plans to try and find
the things that were missing. Electrical outlets, lighting, and switching of
lights are often not part of the planning. But when [technology is] left to
the very end instead of being integral to the planning at the very beginning,
it becomes a conflict.”
"The owner's representative monitors design and construction, manages budgets and deadlines, and solves problems -- all with the owner's interests represented first."
The importance of coordination with the electrical engineer
especially, is hard to overstate in technology planning and design. As for what
information the electrical engineer needs, Gayland Bender of St. Paul, MN-based
consulting engineers LKPB (www.lkpb.com)
explains: “Each design team member needs to know enough about technology to
determine how it may affect his respective responsibilities for design of the
facility; therefore, the electrical engineer should be asking for the input
early on. He should schedule meetings specifically for technology input to the
building space program, to capture interface requirements such as computer-grade
quality power for electronically sensitive equipment, proper light controls
for rooms with multimedia presentations, and isolated ground boards in technology
rooms, to bleed off static electricity and establish a uniform ground plane
for the operation of all equipment.” As the member of the design team who specifies
electrical outlets, lighting and light switching, electrical screen connections,
power protection, ceiling projector outlets, conduit inside of walls for security/multimedia/structured
cabling systems, and sleeving for low-voltage pathways throughout a building,
the electrical engineer needs to understand, early on, what the owner’s present
and future needs will be.
With respect to technology, one of the main functions of the electrical engineer
is to ask questions. Clients often question such an inquisitive approach, says
Brian Rice, with Minneapolis institutional architects Horty Elving (www.hortyelving.com).
“Some ask, ‘If you’re the expert, why are you asking this?’ But asking questions
might open up options that they weren’t aware of, and if we can avoid putting
something in that d'esn’t belong, why not avoid changes in advance by listening
to the end users?”
play an important role in most new construction
or renovation projects. Most architecture and engineering firms cannot afford
to maintain full-time specialists in technology design areas such as multimedia,
cabling, networking, telephony, and wireless. So, wherever there is a gap in
expertise on the architect’s design team, a consultant can provide specialized
expertise. Consultants are frequently retained on the college or university
side as well; IT staffing levels are often barely sufficient to maintain and
support current systems, much less provide hundreds of hours to support a years-long
design and construction process. Retaining a consultant can allow a campus technology
group to have early and continuous involvement in the design process without
adding FTEs (full-time employees or equivalents) or having to manage the construction
Technology consultants can also bridge the gaps that
often exist between the campus technology groups, the architects, and the engineers.
Campus technology representatives usually know what they and their end users
need, but they are not intimately familiar with the construction process, construction
documentation, bid specifications, and drawing formats, or with the labyrinthine
steps required to get a change made once the construction documents are finished.
Architects and engineers often have a generalist-level understanding of the
relevant technologies, but not the specialist-level expertise necessary for
high-level integration of technology with building systems. The role of the
technology consultant is to bring these two groups together, to bring knowledge
of what other campuses are doing and how similar technology/design integration
problems have been solved elsewhere, and to provide each group with the assurance
that its needs are being met. Ken Anderson, a project manager with the national
construction management firm CPMI (www.cpmi.com),
sums up the consultant’s role: “A good technology consultant ties everything
Also in the picture in many projects is the owner’s representative.
This could be a member of the campus administration or facilities department,
an architect (usually not from the firm or firms designing the building), or
a construction management firm. The role of the owner’s representative is to
monitor the design and construction processes, manage budgets and deadlines,
and solve problems that arise during the course of the project, doing all of
this with the owner’s interests represented first and foremost.
Because technology is often installed toward the end of a construction project
(with some systems literally the last to hold up building completion), there
is potential for conflict, both in terms of schedules and budgets. Built-in
technology may be only 1 to 3 percent of the overall project budget, but if
cost overruns in other parts of the building eat into contingency funds, there
may be little flexibility available on the part of the owner’s representative
to accommodate change requests late in the project. A key to successfully working
with an owner’s representative is to let that individual know about technology
and related needs early, in terms of time, probable costs, and coordination
with other groups.
"In some of our higher ed projects, each department wants servers under its control; a mini server room
in its area."
-Jeffrey Lee, HGA
Large campus construction projects are often split into multiple design packages
for different types of contractors, depending on the phase of the project. Each
package has implications for technology.
The excavation and preliminary sitework package should
be planned to allow for copper and/or fiber connectivity between the new building
and the rest of campus. The extent to which the campus network is used for telephony/voice systems, or by security for monitoring cameras and alarms, and by facilities
for monitoring building systems, will help determine the appropriate sizes,
quantities, and channeling of in-ground pathways.
The building construction package, while often not
containing much actual technology equipment, is the key to successful technology
integration. What follows is a partial list of questions that should be asked
in order to flush out the elements of the building construction design package
that are essential to successful technology-enabled teaching:
Is there enough room for everything? Jeffrey Lee,
telecom designer for the nationwide architecture firm HGA (www.hga.com),
notes that “in some of our higher education projects, there’s an IT group to
handle data servers, but each department wants its own servers under its control;
they want a mini server room in their areas. Especially in the performing arts,
each of that area’s studios needs space for equipment racks, or needs to have
a control room nearby.” Clearly, space issues for technology equipment need
to be dealt with in the program or early pre-design phases, not when the walls
are going up.
Are things in the right place? Due to distance limitations
of current copper-based LAN cabling, the relative positions of the technology
rooms (TR) and main equipment room (MER) on the horizontal and vertical axis
through the building need to be within the specifications of the initial cabling
technologies. When an architect moves a technology room early in the design
phase (in order to give the department chair a larger office, for example),
the technology cost and functional implications are not considered, unless someone
is at the table to explain the permissible parameters.
Can everybody see? Today, most technology-enabled
teaching rooms are being designed as projection-centric or projection-capable,
meaning that the main electronic visual aide to teaching is one or more front-projected
images at or near the front of the classroom. To facilitate this use of projection
technology, a sightline study is necessary to determine two things: First, d'es
each student seat have a comfortable visual pathway to one or more of the projected
images? Second, d'es the projector have a line-of-sight to the screen? Since
construction plans for lighting frequently do not state the fixture type on
the drawing, but refer to a separate appendix or table, it can be time-consuming
to make sure that (for instance) no pendant lights are hanging in-between the
projector and the screen.
Also, the use of varying ceiling heights and soffits,
while useful in some respects, can, without careful coordination, make the projector-screen
relationship problematic. Another important part of help-ing to create a projector-capable
classroom is the “switching” of lights (addition of on/off or dim capability).
Says Campbell at MCTC: “Instructors really want the ability to turn off lights
above the screen, for instance.” Switching only the lights directly in front
of the screen d'es two things: It prevents direct spill of light onto the screen,
effectively raising the screen-image contrast ratio and apparent image quality
by improving black levels, and it allows the instructor to keep the rest of
the lights in the room on for notetaking and so that the instructor can continue
to see and be seen.
Amazingly, technologists are often brought in after construction plans are complete and network drop locations, data closets, and server rooms are planned.
Can everybody hear? Classroom acoustics get a lot
of attention, but are often subject to concerns beyond that of what is best
for learning and teaching. “Lighting and acoustics have a great impact on the
way students can learn, but they tend to be value-engineered out of projects,”
notes Fitzgerald at Minnesota. “The classroom is a sophisticated teaching and
learning system; basic design elements need to be considered from the outset.”
This is especially important when class sessions involve distance education
interactivity or are recorded for video-ondemand playback; the room needs to
be quiet with respect to the noise generated by the HVAC system, and nearby
plumbing and electrical transformer systems. Noise criteria specifications can
be used to convey to the architectural team what the acceptable amount of noise
would be from the building systems. The other main source of intruding noise
is from environments outside the classroom: adjoining classrooms, hallways,
other floors above and below the classrooms, and the outdoors. Windows, doors,
walls, and floors need to be carefully considered in terms of how they contribute
to the learning environment by shutting out distractions. Finally, reverberation
is a factor that needs to be controlled in large classrooms: The RT60 (or reverberation)
rating needs to be appropriate for the type and size of the instructional space.
Get technologists involved early. Campus technologists
and building designers agree that the most important approach to integrating
campus architecture with technology-enabled teaching is to get the campus technology
people involved early in the process. There are at least three main benefits
in early involvement by the campus technology team(s):
1) Being in sync with the program. This means that
the design team explains the intended use of the various spaces so that the
technology groups can identify the possible technologies that will be needed
in the space. Often, technologists are merely handed a set of blueprints and
told to add their “stuff.
” Yet, involving the campus technologists in the programmatic
detail of how the end users envision the spaces will be used allows technologists
to assess potential needs more accurately, with fewer expensive changes late
in the process or after project completion. Bender at LKPB agrees with this
approach: “Facilities that are prepped for present and future cables and devices
mean less cost of future installation, without tearing up walls, floors, ceilings,
or finishes.” What’s more, discussion of the architectural program with technology
staff at an early phase can bring to light additional program requirements that
may have been overlooked with respect to technology issues.
2) Looking good. Involving the campus technology
staff early in the process will help to develop the necessary user technology
interfaces. This includes location of floor boxes, poke-throughs, wall plates,
switches, and other cable access and control decisions. The earlier in the process
that these can be identified, the more likely they can be resolved in a way
that is user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing.
3) Protecting the dollars. Identifying technology
needs early in the project ensures that adequate funds are budgeted for these
needs. This will reduce the budget shock that results when administrators are
presented with the actual technology budgetary needs midway through a project,
long after the initial (inadequate) technology budget has been reduced further
in order to pay for the terrazzo mosaic in the building’s lobby. Further, a
free flow of information about best practices among architects, consultants,
engineers, and campus technology staff allows standards to be raised where appropriate
(and when new technologies have become available or are on the horizon), while
retaining control over costs through careful evaluation of whether lists of
requested items are necessary or sufficient.
Set standards. Another approach that has worked for
many schools, is to develop a set of design standards that is given to the design
team at the beginning of a project involving classrooms or instructional spaces.
The standards cover all areas of design that impact or are impacted by technology,
even though the technology itself is not specifically identified, because of
the rapid change involved in telecommunications and audio/visual systems. Rather
than listing model numbers of individual technology components, general assumptions
are made regarding the use of projection systems, display monitors, cameras,
and the need for interconnection cabling and cabling pathways. These standards
should be reviewed at a high level every two to three years, to ensure that
they represent the current best practices of the institution. Part of this review
should involve looking at what comparable institutions are doing with respect
to building and technology standards; an architect and/or consultant can prove
useful for this review process.
In the End
The success of providing technology-enabled
teaching systems depends to a large degree on the ability of campus technology
staffs to have their voices heard during the planning and design of campus building
projects. Early involvement brings a greater degree of foresight in preventing
costly changes, and it also helps build relationships and open lines of communication
with the architects, engineers, owner’s representative, and consultants, for
the inevitable changes that need to be made. Understanding the role that each
person or group plays in the development of technology-enabled teaching spaces
helps everyone on campus do his job better.