Plugged In To Comfort

The rapid explosion of technology is one of the major influences on the design and furnishing of college buildings. Its impact can be seen in virtually every facility type on campus, but it is especially true in college classrooms.

College classroom furniture needs to be adaptable to a variety of situations as needs change and classrooms often serve multiple purposes. Paul Rounds, executive vice president, Park College, Parkville, Mo., says, "With so much technology-driven progress in colleges and universities, many facilities are finding that their furniture and equipment needs must be continually upgraded to meet the technology demand."

Accentuating classrooms College students will spend a great deal of time in the classroom. Therefore, student seating is very important. It needs to be reliable, of sturdy construction, designed to provide continuous support in an upright or relaxed positions, and comfortable.

Tablet-arm chairs are still the standard choice for many classrooms. Furniture designers have listened to student wishes and now manufacture tablet arms that are larger-at least 130 square inches. This larger size allows students more room for note taking, examination materials or a laptop computer. In addition, the new tablet-arm chairs have a hinged backrest that allows for more comfort and added productivity. The molded shells should be body conforming attached to a sturdy frame to withstand heavy student use, with a structural undercarriage book storage rack. This is very different from the tablet-arm chairs of past that were made of hard wood, straight and confining.

Aaron M. Reuck, director, William Jewel College, Kansas City, Mo., says, "However, more professors are requesting a freestanding table and chairs arrangement for classrooms. This provides the most flexibility for their students." This arrangement utilizes ergonomic task chair and allows greater flexibility to arrange furniture in a traditional lecture format or for team-oriented curriculums.

In larger classrooms, technology plays a bigger role. These classroom, which often need to accommodate 50 to 150 students, should be designed with advanced computer visualization features, electronic white boards and projection systems. The rooms should have a continuous writing surface, arranged in a circular pattern, facing the front of the room with built-in network connectors and electrical outlet for each student. This will allow students to download information the instructor is using for the class.

Seating is accomplished with either fixed seating, attached to the table, or task seating taken from today's modern office. The latter seating, preferred due to its ergonomic design, provides greater support and comfort.

Accommodating technology Today's technologically advanced classroom allows faculty to show information and research data from databases worldwide. They can approach teaching in an entirely new way. The lecterns for these rooms are redesigned, and should be small (sized for a laptop) and not impose a psychological barrier between the student and the professor. The objective of new furniture design is to make computer use in the classroom as simple, friendly and non-intimidating as possible.

Large lecture halls will continue to use theater-style seating, but it is still important to provide students with a large, fold-down tablet arm for note-taking, textbooks and laptop computer. The minimum seat width should be 21 inches to accommodate larger students. The large lecture rooms should be equipped similar to a larger classroom in regards to technology.

One additional item to consider is the use of teleconferencing equipment. Cabinets can be installed that contain the hardware necessary to run various projection devices and cameras. The teleconferencing equipment allows for teaching students in another classroom, another building on campus, or via the Internet to another location.

New classroom design can accommodate new furniture; however, new furniture also must be designed to fit into existing classrooms. Computer equipment, desks and lecterns should be sized to fit into renovated classrooms, which may be smaller than newly designed classrooms.

Furnishing specialized areas Specialized classrooms for writing labs, math centers and computer labs require specialized computer stations. The design of choice is a workstation that has the monitor below the work surface, with the screen in view through a glass panel. The base of this type of workstation provides for integral wire management and CVU storage. The workstations come in numerous configurations from two-person tables to six-person clustered units.

The clean work surface frees up space for students to view textbooks or take notes. Professors appreciate the clean sight lines between themselves and the students. The units also provide a level of security by encasing valuable computer equipment in the cabinet. Again, with this type of workstation, ergonomic task seating is important. These workstations also are popular in other buildings on campus including libraries, administration and faculty offices.

The campus library still requires the traditional method of housing print material. However, the means of accessing this print material has changed. Computers have improved the speed and number of sources that can be accessed to find information on any topic, and furniture to support this equipment is a vital part of any library. These new pieces of furniture can be found at the card catalog, the check-out desk, student workstations, the reference desk, librarian office, computer labs and teleconferencing centers.

Library furniture should be beautiful, timeless, durable and functional. Furniture must be designed to accommodate computer equipment at either a sitting or standing height. These stations also must have integral wiring for power and data. In addition, student workstations should be provided throughout the library. This allows a student to connect a laptop computer to research databases and integrate print material with computer database research at one location. The workstation must be large to accommodate all the resources on the worksurface.

Equipping residence halls Residence hall room furniture is moving to modular systems, which often include either a loft, bunk or single bed; wardrobe dressers; mobile pedestal; and fixed and drop-leaf desk components. All components can be rearranged to provide for flexible room layouts. Products are available with steel frame and laminate fronts, which makes them very durable.

All residence hall rooms should be, or will be in the future, wired for cable television and Internet access. The modular system has been designed to provide for computers by having available brackets, monitor lifts, keyboard drawers and power/data/communication worksurface modules. These units are designed to fit the environment of the residence hall room. "These provide a compact furniture solution to the rooms," says Reuck.

Furniture for campus buildings is a major investment for any college or university. It must be durable, comfortable and functional. Furthermore, it must be an asset to the educational program. This means that furniture purchases should take into account the use of technology in its design. It should be easy to use and plug in to classroom building systems.

A need for more classroom space and updated science laboratories led to the addition of eight classrooms and teacher preparatory laboratories to the Findley-Wakefield Science Building at Park College, Parkville, Mo. These new laboratories supplemented and replaced the original laboratories and their outdated equipment, which were constructed in 1962.

When selecting lab furniture, the college looked for a manufacturer that had a proven track record, and that could provide fine craftsmanship, manufacturing expertise and a full array of support services. An added bonus was planning services and the technical expertise to help develop effective laboratories. Traditional, solid wood cabinets with chemical-resistant composite tops were chosen because of their natural beauty and ability to withstand the daily wear and tear of students. In addition, the cabinet design chosen had a history of dependable service.

With the new emphasis and increased enrollment in the sciences-coupled with the changes in technology that make apparatus obsolete-it was imperative to integrate computer technology with the traditional laboratory. Throughout each laboratory and teacher preparatory laboratory, computers were installed to allow computer-simulated experiments,as well as access to a wealth of data. Cabinets were designed with cabling raceways and protective curbs to keep computers away from surfaces being used for experiments.

Instructor demonstration tables incorporated a computer station, which allows students to view simulated experiments. This system also allows the instructor to use a computer to monitor individual student's work.

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