University of Texas at San Antonio Rethinks Classroom Design

In the Southwest, the University of Texas at San Antonio is upgrading 55 classrooms (about one-third of its learning spaces) to support flexible teaching and learning. That includes videoconferencing equipment, says Joe Tobares, executive director for academic technologies and strategic enterprise.

In Spring 2021, administrators met with faculty and students to discuss what classrooms should look like post-pandemic. They had embraced different modalities during the health crisis, including fully online courses and hybrid courses, where some class sessions were in-person and other sessions were fully online.

The HyFlex model was critical for students not comfortable with returning to the classroom immediately, says Melissa Vito, vice provost for academic innovation. “The HyFlex piece was most important to some students who wanted to be home and still participate.”

In focus groups and surveys, administrators discovered that faculty wanted to support a flexible pedagogy moving forward, including active learning and remote learning activities in their classrooms, she says.

As a result, the university developed several standard classroom configurations, including “connected” and “active connect” rooms, which leverage audiovisual equipment.

Those rooms include Panasonic AW Series 4K PTZ cameras; Shure wireless microphones; speakers; multiple LED displays from Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and others; a Crestron control panel for managing the audiovisual equipment; and an Extreme Networks switch to network the equipment together, Tobares says.

Both room designs are similar, but the active connect rooms feature movable furniture for active learning. In both rooms, faculty can choose the web conferencing software they will use, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex, Tobares says.

UTSA also has built Zoom classrooms, which are similar to the connected rooms but offer a one-touch system that allows faculty to easily launch a Zoom session at the click of a button, he says.

So far, the university has built 31 of these flexible learning spaces and will complete the remaining 24 this summer. With videoconferencing available in these classrooms, professors can invite guest lecturers to speak remotely to their students. If students are sick and can’t make it to class that day, they can join the class online.

“We have the technology to do it, and it allows faculty to be flexible and give that opportunity to students,” Tobares says.


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