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Learning Spaces Lessons Learned | FLEXspace

Learning Spaces Lessons Learned | FLEXspace

By Rebecca V. Frazee and Lisa Stephens of, with several guest contributors (noted below).

To browse details, images, floor plans and more from spaces featured in this column, plus hundreds more, login to and visit the Gallery “FEATURED IN HIGHER ED AV MAGAZINE."

Jarrod McFarlane
Director, Classroom Technology & Support Solutions
Hybrid Teaching Technology | Division of Information Technology
Stony Brook University

My thought/hope was that faculty would be better prepared.  We had people returning to campus for the first time in 18 months with no thought of how their spaces would look different,  including desktop configurations, authentication policies or security certificates over the past year and a half.

The start of Fall 2021 was a bigger nightmare than expected. Our intentions were that we would have a slower build up to the first day of classes with: hardware testing, faculty training and help services spread out.  That definitely was not the case, and there were way more in-room hardware, and training/support issues than expected for about the first two weeks, even though we put greater effort into ensuring everything was tested before Fall.

My takeaways?  I’m working on a greater communication effort this academic year in preparation for next semester and next year.  We’re taking a fresh look at how we currently communicate, while being really receptive to channels that faculty may be more receptive to.

Steve Acquah, PhD.
Digital Media Lab Coordinator / Associate Research Professor of Chemistry
University of Massachusetts Amherst 

Fall 2021 was the first semester in our new Digital Media Lab, and there were a few challenges in adapting to the space. We added two extended reality rooms, two production studios, and expanded services to include 3D modeling and virtual reality development.

Tracking the usage of our previous location before the pandemic ensured we had safe modular spaces to support small classes, workshops, and student activities. In addition, there was a renewed interest in producing high-quality audio recordings for podcasts in our sound booths. Students are taking the opportunity to create content to help with community engagement as we continue to move through the most turbulent period in recent times.

On reflection, it was a good semester with all the challenges you would expect from a new space, new student staff, and the returning campus community. We will focus on advertising the Digital Media Lab and continue to support research in collaboration with Digital Scholarship Services. Apart from a few minor scuffs on the walls, the new space has held up very well, although there was a curious case of rising temperature in Studio 1, but that’s a story for another time.

You can check out this virtual tour of the UMass Amherst Digital Media Lab (Interactiva WebGL), or download these custom virtual tour apps for iOS or Google Play

Susan Van Alstyne, EdD
Library Director
Berkeley College

I want to highlight challenges for academic libraries. Berkeley College with campuses in New York and New Jersey is a private institution with libraries located within the same buildings as classes–not a separate building which may be the case in larger universities. I think the question is whether libraries need a new strategy to manage the existing physical collection -- redesign the library spaces to reflect the current need for social distancing and to promote community spaces and service more than the physical collections. Libraries have always operated in hybrid with our 24/7 databases and online services, and now the spaces should reflect these services while adding more services. I am pleasantly surprised with how well everyone including faculty and students have managed the changes and protocols with the return to campus. More students now prefer online over onsite classes.

Eric Kunnen 
Senior Director, IT Innovation and Research
Grand Valley State University

Here we are at the end of the year, looking back, yet also looking forward with anticipation into the year 2022. As we reflect on our dreams and plans for 2021, most likely one of the keywords for many of us in higher education has been “flexible”.

Flexible in our work arrangements through hybrid meetings where there are in-person attendees as well as remote. The workforce continues to be adjusting, ebbing and flowing, to the needs of staff, whether it be the home office or a campus huddle space.

At Grand Valley State University (GVSU), initially we experienced what many other institutions faced around requests for webcams and headsets for home and on campus offices. While this has largely waned, we are seeing a surge of interest in re-thinking campus meeting spaces. In fact, perhaps we can call 2021, the year of the “videoconference bar”. Because most conference rooms were not designed initially for video-based meetings, implementing a bar is often very effective and meets the needs of the changing workforce.

Switching from meeting spaces to FLEXspaces supporting teaching and learning, “HyFlex” was a term that many institutions started to use in the past year, including GVSU. While the term itself has been defined differently, in many cases the focus is on capturing needs whereby faculty and in-person students are meeting in a classroom, while some students join remotely through video conferencing.. Sometimes called dual delivery or even dual mode, this type of instruction carried with it needs around technology, as well as training and support.

While the pandemic and the big “pivot” forced institutions to go online and leverage learning management systems and videoconferencing solutions, when faculty and students returned to campus, facilities were thrust into the spotlight. As such, GVSU began work to implement three new model, prototype, active learning classrooms designed to support remote learners. Like many institutions, we quickly were impacted by supply chain delays, and only one of the three rooms was able to be finished at the Fall semester start. What we learned is that more than ever, technology and purposeful classroom design are key in meeting the flexible pedagogical needs for faculty in our hybrid learning spaces.

What is the “new normal” or “next normal” going to look like? For certain it will be one where we are continuing to flex to meet the needs of our faculty, staff, and students.

Kevin Wagenmaker
Director of Instructional Innovation
Montcalm Community College

At Montcalm Community College we have been working to transform our teaching and learning spaces since before the pandemic. As a community college it is important for us to provide offerings that are flexible to accommodate our students' varied and ever changing schedules. Creating learning environments and pedagogical approaches that reflect common sense. 

Our first step was to create a mindset that learning content should not only be available in varied modalities but also personalized as much as possible. To do this we began piloting synchronous F2F and virtual delivery as well as recording class meetings. To support this we had to bring on new tools such as Logitech conference systems, digital inking, new engagement tools and other teaching and learning practices. As the pandemic took hold we realized the pilot was successful and we needed to speed up the adoption process. In the summer of 2020 we installed Logitech Rally systems into every campus classroom and stressed the importance of digital inking via Surface Pro, iPads and Wacom tablets using IPEVO, Microsoft Whiteboard and Acrobat. Additionally, we added Logitech Meetup systems to carts in every one of our Dual Enrollment locations. This was the monumental step in building connectivity to every possible classroom for our learners and instructors (some were at home with in-class students) but it was still the wild wild west in terms of teaching and learning and hyflex. 

After a year of success with these systems we took them to the next level this past summer by installing new teacher stations with multiple desktop screens, multiple wall displays, Microsoft Teams room hubs, Wacom tablets and movable teacher station desks (they move up and down and all around). Additionally we removed all of the complicated, expensive Crestron equipment for an easier to use, more consistent experience for our instructors. Instructors can join a meeting and also cast to the Teams room hubs. 

Going forward our emphasis is on our technology integration framework and how we can build on foundation teaching and learning skills in these high tech environments to continue to provide flexible experience for our students. Tools like digital inking and intentional engagement/feedback software have been vital along with new approaches to synchronous/asynchronous discussions and also data collection. We are very excited about what we can provide for our students now and in the future!

Curtis Williams
Chapman University
Associate Director, Educational Technology

At Chapman University, for the fall 2021 semester, we were 100% back on campus, except for a small number of remote faculty and students. During the summer of 2020, we made most classrooms Zoom capable with a dedicated Zoom appliance using a PTZ camera and ceiling-mounted microphones. For the smaller teaching rooms or laboratories, we used a boom-mounted 4K webcam connected to the classroom PC for Zoom meetings. During fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, a few faculty members had the option to teach their classes to a remote Zoom audience along with a few in-person students.

To respond to faculty requests in these more complex rooms, we installed wireless Help Buttons at every classroom lectern. We use the IoT Button for AWS - Cloud Programmable Dash Button.

A single press of this Help Button sends an email (sent to a group in Microsoft Teams), and someone arrives from the Classroom Support Team within moments (2-6 minutes is our normal response time). In rooms that have telephones, we can call first and ask for the instructor to identify their issue.

This has been an enormously successful project, allowing us to quickly deploy support resources as soon as they are needed. 

Rudy Arias
Associate Director, Instructional Technology Services
San Diego State University

Connected Classrooms at San Diego State University - In preparing for the return to face-to-face instruction this Fall 2021, our Learning Environments team spent the last year designing flexible classrooms, which we call Connected Classrooms, to allow for virtual and in-person learning. Thanks to Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF), we were able to purchase equipment to create Zoom-ready classrooms, as well as increase the number of automated capture classrooms using Mediasite at both the SDSU San Diego and SDSU Imperial Valley campuses. As of the start of the Fall 2021 semester, approximately 75% of our general assignment classrooms are Connected Classrooms. We were fortunate to order and receive equipment before the extreme supply chain issues others have experienced. 

HEERF also enabled our Technology Student Assistant (TSA) Program for one year. This program includes approximately 20 student assistants, and one staff coordinator, to help faculty utilize recording and streaming technology within our Connected Classrooms.

Flexible Training - Due to COVID-19 concerns, we knew flexibility was going to be key in providing training resources to the faculty using these new learning environments. Historically, we only provided in-person training workshops in classrooms. This year, we adapted our training and offered workshops the week prior to the start of classes in two modalities - live via Zoom and face to face. Additionally, we created a self-paced online training course via Canvas, including how-to videos and instruction guides (job aids) on using the new Connected Classroom technology.

As of the first week of fall classes:

  • 89 faculty attended live workshops via Zoom
  • 62 attended live workshops in the classroom
  • 480 enrolled in the self-paced online training course

What now? As the semester progressed, we were curious to determine how many instructors in the classrooms opted to utilize Zoom or Mediasite. We also wondered about the quality of their overall experience, including any challenges faced and/or accomplishments within the classroom. These questions led to the creation of an end-of-semester survey we recently sent out to the 1,355 instructors teaching in SDSU’s general assignment classrooms this fall. We are still receiving responses, but a sneak peek of the survey data shows approximately 36% of instructors utilized Zoom in some capacity, and 17% utilized Mediasite to record their lectures.

As we enter 2022, this data will help us inform future classroom upgrades, and the outreach strategies we use to communicate our support services and resources to faculty.

Check out the 3D tour of Physical Science 130 (Active Learning Connected Classroom), 

Music 206 (Standard Connected Classroom), and more about SDSU Connected Classrooms.

Want to contribute to the FLEXspace Community?

The growing FLEXspace community is always looking for the latest examples of innovative and effective learning spaces. Please share your campus spaces by logging into, and contact Rebecca or Lisa if you would like to be featured in an upcoming issue of Higher Ed AV magazine.


The FLEXspace Team

Assistant Dean, Digital & Online Education
School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, The University at Buffalo
Project Director, 

Lisa serves as Assistant Dean at the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences leading the Office of Digital & Online Education, and also serves as Senior Strategist for Academic Innovation in the Office of the SUNY Provost.  She enjoys an appointment in the UB Department of Communication as an Adjunct Associate Professor. Her SUNY portfolio includes leadership of™ and serves as the SUNY Partner Manager for Coursera.

Faculty, Learning Design & Technology Program
San Diego State University
Associate Director, 

Rebecca teaches in the Learning Design and Technology program at San Diego State University and is the Manager. She enjoys experimenting with new technology tools and techniques to support active learning and team collaboration in higher ed and the workplace. Rebecca is a singer and songwriter and has been having fun with asynchronous ‘socially distanced’ recording projects this year. Contact Rebecca at, and Twitter at @rebeccafrazee.

The Flexible Learning Environments eXchange ( is an award winning community and open digital repository for higher ed that houses a growing collection of user-contributed content “by campuses for campuses,” with detailed examples of formal and informal learning spaces ranging from multimedia studios, makerspaces, computer labs, hybrid/flexible classrooms, and huddle spaces to large exhibit spaces, simulation labs and renovated lecture halls. FLEXspace was launched in 2012 as a collaboration between SUNY, the CSU Cal State University system, and Foothill-DeAnza Community College District and has since grown to include over 5000 members from 1400 campuses around the world, with PennState joining the partnership in 2019. FLEXspace won the Campus Technology Innovators Award in 2016, and the California Higher Education (CHEC) Collaborative Conference Focus on Efficiency Award in 2018.

FLEXspace users include practitioners, experts and decision makers in higher education, K-12, libraries, and museums who are focused on campus planning and facilities, learning technology, A/V systems integration, instructional design, teaching, and research. The FLEXspace portal provides a sophisticated suite of features that enables users to document and showcase their own campus learning spaces, share research, best practices and tools for planning.