Modern Classroom Design Happens With You or Without You. What’s Your Preference?

Technology-enhanced classrooms often serve, for a chair of a department or the dean of a college within a larger university, much the same function as do state-of-the-art media unions for college and university presidents. A major though sometimes unstated mission for the project, one perhaps as important as its functionality, may be as a showcase for prospective students and faculty, or donors. There can be a lot of ego involvement.

In such cases, the involvement of IT management (or even academic leadership for that matter) may be an afterthought, something tacked on after major decisions have already been made. That's a serious mistake, but it's one that's repeated over and over on many campuses. You need to be ready, knowledgeable, connected, and ensure that decision makers and other stakeholders know that you expect and should be involved early on.

Your input is important to such projects. Will the planners and the architect think about staff support for the IT components, the necessary maintenance and upgrades, or the demands each of those might place on IT elsewhere on campus? Don't count on it.

The dean wants a showcase, the faculty will want space they are comfortable in and unafraid of, the architect will be greatly concerned with aesthetics, and so on. Good planning will include all potential stakeholders early on, but good planning d'esn't always happen. In fact, it's less common than you might think and you have a professional responsibility to make your part happen.

Here are some things to think about. Even if you just think about them, you'll be more ahead of the game. If you implement some of them, maybe you already do, you'll save yourself some headaches. You almost assuredly will save your institution some money, and probably contribute to the success of its educational mission as well.

Get in early. Figure out how be involved in the very most preliminary planning for such projects, including helping to write the Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and the later stages of architect/designer selection. Nobody's going to actually let you make those decisions, but you can be a voice for the inclusion of appropriate technical requirements.

Don't wait to be invited. It really is not enough to wait until you are invited. Physical facility planners take their planning seriously. Amazing amounts of details are foreseen and designed very early in planning processes. By the time you learn of a project, all sorts of decisions that may have to be rethought are likely to have already taken place. Even if things aren't so far along that conduits have to be rerouted or panels torn out, changes cost money, partly because changes mean work for designers and architects.

Have a plan. That d'esn't mean that you have to foresee every new building or renovation and its IT needs. However, a good information technology plan will, among other things, propose procedures for inclusion of IT staff in physical facility infrastructure planning. The plan can, in a very passive way, act as a watchdog, setting off an alarm when someone involved in a new project who knows of its existence realizes that they need to be in touch with you.

Publish the plan. Don't just devise a plan and file it away, you need to publish it and spend a little effort ensuring that the pertinent departments are aware of it. Or at least ensure that it's publicly available where it will be found even with a minimal amount of research.

Link the plan. Make sure your plan references and is referenced by the campus plan, the master plan, the academic plan, and the institution's strategic plan. Just as you want the folks who do those plans to know of your plan, your plan needs to be aware of theirs. If it is, then it can be part of an integral network of such plans, and that reduces the chances of your being left out.

Be prepared with relationships. Build a relationship at a management level between IT and physical facilities and the campus planner. At a large institution, someone in IT should follow all physical planning issues, whether that means joining a planning committee, browsing through an extensive facilities Web site on a weekly basis, or taking a planner to lunch. You should make it clear that there are knowledgeable IT staffers available as advisory liaisons for pertinent projects.

Be prepared with collateral knowledge. Architectural awareness is probably not part of your current skill set. Ensure that you have knowledgeable IT staffers on hand by occasionally sending staff to pertinent exhibitions and trade shows - not just the strictly IT-related ones, but those which feature participation by contractors and architects who will be displaying and talking about their pervious work with installations involving heavy information technology. There are experienced and knowledgeable firms out there, lots of them in fact, but you need to know who they are and what they know.

Being proactive about this is important for the functionality of the space and the institution's mission. It's also important to your job in direct ways. In many, many ways, IT infrastructure - even without "smart" classrooms - is analogous to physical infrastructure.

We use the word infrastructure for good reason. Even if planners plan a great classroom (without you) and designers design a great classroom (without you), and contractors build a great classroom (without you), five years later you're going to be standing there (without them) maintaining and supporting that space and the technology in it.

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