Western Kentucky University

Classroom Design Checklist - FaCET

Classroom Design Checklist

collated and organized by Sally Kuhlenschmidt, Western Kentucky University, with significant reliance on the Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education listserv discussions

Return to Index for Classroom Design


The checklist for classroom design or re-design is derived from discussions on the listserv of the Professional and Orgnaizational Development Network in Higher Education as well as personal experience and reading. I appreciate all those who shared their opinions publically and hope I have done a fair job or representing them in this collation.

Following are 3 quotes I felt captured the essential nature of classroom design.

"There was a fair amount of work around 30 years ago ..... It reached some reasonable and logical conclusions, primarily that environments should either meet very specific needs (as in labs) or be as flexible as possible to allow teachers and students to manipulate it to suit their own needs and styles." Michael Theall (1 March 2000)

"Though some suggestions about pedagogy and design have been made, the most usual and practical notion has been to either try to create flexible spaces that can accomodate a variety of instructional modes and activities, or to specialize (e.g. computer labs with LANs, projection, resident software for instruction, etc.; performance/studio venues for art, theatre, etc.). Generally, control of physical distractions (noise, heat/cold, light) is recommended. Beyond these rather obvious suggestions, there isn't much evidence suggesting that the traditional activities of teaching & learning require a wide array of special physical conditions. Collaborative learning, for example, is logistically easier in smaller rooms with movable furniture than it is in a 500 seat lecture hall, but I have heard of several innovative ways to get around issues like this and I have not encountered any evidence that effective teaching and learning are impossible in the less amenable environments. What matters more is the design of the instruction and the extent to which the teacher can develop ways to work within the environment." Michael Theall (9 May 2000)

"Educational structures are educational philosophies built in brick, glass, wood, etc. just as the cathedral Notre Dame is the medieval vision in stone...how much of that research and those studies and educational philosophies are really reflected upon, articulated, being looked at when it comes to the collegiate level construction." Louis Schmier (1 Mar 2000) RE: classroom design. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list.


Checklist for Classroom Design

I. Goals

What are your overall goals for this space? Hold focus groups and discussions about what faculty like/dislike in their current classrooms. (See Indiana University website in More Information below).

  1. Flexibility in scheduling for the maximum number of users and most varied uses (Ehrmann, 2003)
  2. Supporting a unique, innovative, "cutting edge" type of teaching (Ehrmann, 2003)
  3. Support active learning, service learning, learning communities, problem-based learning, etc.?
  4. Students feel good when they walk into it and faculty fight for in order to get their classes into that particular room (Nuhfer, 2003)
  5. What will your budget allow? Prioritize each of your choices below against your budget and long term outcomes.

II. Instructional Methodology

What is the nature of the classes to be held in the room? (Ehrmann, 2003). What is the primary methodological approach that should be used in this room? (Mullinix, 2003). What type of instruction do you most want to encourage?

A. How will course activities be supported by this room?

  1. Seminar?
  2. Discussion?
  3. Lecture? large lecture? really large lecture?
  4. Laboratory?
  5. Practicum?
  6. Studio?
  7. Large learning community which takes several classes in the same room (each class needing storage for students, display space, etc)? (Ehrmann, 2003)
  8. Would small discussion rooms leading off the main room be helpful? (Ehrmann, 2003)
  9. Distance learning (e.g., Interactive television or satellite broadcasts?) (Ehrmann, 2003)
  10. Other?

B. How will assessment activities, formal and informal be supported or hindered by this room and equipment configuration? (Theall, 1 March 2000)

III. Numbers of Users

How many students must be housed in the room? (Ehrmann, 2003) and how many instructors/assistants/guest speakers etc. at one time? Is there a place for assistants?


IV. Room Configuration

  1. Space
    • Enough for the maximum number of students designated for the room (Nilson, 2003);
    • Consider tiered classrooms, perhaps 3-4 for 60 students. (Marcinkiewicz, 2003)
    • For large rooms consider a raised instructor platform.
  2. Shape
    • Allows for easy, ready eye contact (Nilson, 2003). Particularly important consideration for interactive television classrooms (Ehrmann, 2003).
    • Allows for exchange of materials between instructor and students. (Is there a 'log jam' when they bring their papers forward?) Particularly important consideration for interactive television classrooms (Ehrmann, 2003).
    • NOT too wide, too big, or too long and narrow (Nilson, 2003).
    • Doesn't have to be a rectangle (Nilson, 2003) as long as instructor-student eye contact is preserved.
  3. Walls
    • Painted an attractive color (Nilson, 2003). Research suggested colors: pastels for reflection, bright colors for creativity (Theall, 1 March 2000)
    • Not dirty or institutional looking (Nilson, 2003)
    • Paneled or natural brick. (Nilson, 2003)
  4. Floors
    • Carpeting, as long as it doesn't make moving chairs difficult. (Nilson, 2003)
  5. Ceilings
    • Low (Nilson, 2003) and/or an open, airy feel (Nilson, 2003)
    • Well insulated (so sound doesn't echo) (Nilson, 2003)
  6. Doors: with or without windows, locks? What kind of lock? Key card, key pad?
  7. Accommodation for persons with disabilities. (Theall, 9 May 2000)
  8. Connections
    • Electrical outlets-- sufficient for multimedia instructor
    • Electrical outlets-- sufficient for students bringing laptops to class.
    • Cable for campus broadcast network
    • Location of above relative to actual workspaces?
    • Wall switches-- labelled. Multiple ones for different room aspects (e.g., segregated lighting, turning on equipment) Located near instructor as well as near entrance. Guard against it getting so complex a casual user can't figure it out.
  9. Wiring for all the equipment to come. (Girard, 2002)
    • If videotaping will be done, will need microphones for picking up student contributions and instructor, perhaps a booth for the camera (Felten, 2002)
  10. Heating/Cooling-- Perhaps the single most important consideration. Noise? Condensation from a machine? Windows that open?

V. Lighting

  1. Good natural light (Nilson, 2003)
  2. Ceiling lights arranged perpendicular to the student's line of sight (rows leading to the teacher are distracting. Burdick, 2003).
  3. Research on lighting for educational purposes: full spectrum as opposed to the older neons and indirect lighting to reduce glare (Theall, 1 March 2000)
  4. Lights/windows can be blacked out for the computer projector and videos (Nilson, 2003); can use curtains.
  5. Consider glare on computer screens.
  6. Consider segregated light switches in which the display area can be darkened independently of the lights over the students to avoid students unable to read notes or getting sleepy. Consider making the segregated switch dimmable but avoid "preset" light scenes (mentioned repeatedly as disliked by faculty). Strong preference among faculty for a simple dimmer
  7. Check the lighting with an older projector whose bulb has dimmed some with use.

VI. Acoustics

  1. Can all participants in the classroom hear one another when the room is full and when it is almost empty?
  2. Does a microphone, sound system make things better or worse?
  3. What about sound from computers, TV monitors, etc.?
  4. Is there noise from other rooms that needs dampening? Soundproofing (Camin, 28 Aug 2002a)? Consider nearby restrooms, gyms, noisy lounges or halls, or athletic fields. Consider different times of day and weather conditions.
  5. Consider how to protect other rooms from multimedia sounds.

VII. Furniture

  1. Bolting vs not bolting furniture down: One advantage for bolted furniture is that after a prior class the teacher for the next class doesn't have to rearrange it. Of course the disadvantage is that the teacher can't rearrange it. (Buckner, 2003)
  2. If bolted, at least chairs that swivel so students can look at the person behind them who is speaking. (Buckner, 2003).
  3. Preference among faculty for unbolted, easy-to-move chairs with padded seats and backs (Nilson, 2003). Example of popular seating at The Pennsylvania State University http://www.psu.edu/celt/HenS205A3.jpg This is stackable, easily rearranged and accommodates most students (incl. those in wheelchairs).
  4. Preference for unbolted tables (Nilson, 2003) and/or trapezoidal, 2 person tables for maximum reconfiguration. Trapezoidal allow the teacher to make semicircular spaces for group discussions, small group round tables, larger group tables or even rows (Mullinix, 2003).
  5. Podium, table or other place for instructor notes and materials.
  6. Storage for teachers materials, e.g., a model they don't want to show immediately.
  7. Storage inside the room for students (e.g., umbrellas, raincoats, materials during an exam.)
  8. Cabinet in which to put the equipment (see VIII). Perhaps lockable, depending on classroom door. (Girard, 2002).

VIII. Technology/Equipment

  1. Large chalkboards or white boards (Nilson, 2003); They need a shelf on which to rest student work for display. (Mullinix, 2003). Indiana University standard is 18 linear feet, 4 feet high.
  2. pencil sharpener
  3. clock
  4. Bulletin boards or cabinets for instructional displays
  5. Discipline specific materials, e.g., maps, models, charts, instruments-- storage and security?
  6. Multimedia for instruction
    • Display screen-- easy to manage, large enough for capacity of room. Can short or disabled instructors reach it to pull it down? Consider displays at each student's seat instead of a large projection screen. Or multiple monitors positioned so they don't disrupt line of sight to the teacher.
    • Computer with campus network and internet capacity. Consider Mac and PC needs.
    • Mouse/keyboard type (remote/wireless? back up in case they "walk off"?)
    • Software, generic and specialized to discipline (Theall, 9 May 2000)
    • Digital projector (Commonly suspended from ceiling. Perhaps a fold down projection shelf in back of room. Projection power varies with price. How do short instructors turn it on?)
    • Overhead projector
    • Document camera (commonly known as an Elmo™)
    • TV monitor(s). More if the room is large to enable students to see (Or consider sending signal into digital projector).
    • VCR/DVD (May want to connect to digital projector. PC may have a DVD player.)
    • Capacity to integrate PDA or other technologies (e.g., slide projector). Where does it sit? Is there an electrical outlet for it?
    • Microphone for instructor? preferably wireless?
    • Microphones for students in large classrooms?
    • Microphones/Camera for taping classroom activities
    • Sound system (speakers) and CD playback capacity
    • Switch box to select between these various pieces of equipment. (Camin, 28 Aug 2002b)
    • Accommodation for persons with disabilities to have access to the display/activity (Theall, 9 May 2000)?
    • Remote controls for the above (tethered, back up system e.g., on-off switch). Wire cage holding equipment may interfer with remote operation. (Camin, 28 Aug 2002a)
    • Other?
    • If podium is used, should include place for notes/papers.
  7. Equipment for students:
    • Individual stations vs collaborative stations?
    • Wireless network for laptops? (Ehrmann, 2003)
    • Beaming PDA signals? or wireless keypads at each seat for collecting responses electronically (perhaps more useful for larger classrooms)?
    • Storage?
    • Power? (Ehrmann, 2003)
  8. Security of above, including considering cables and how to avoid yanking them out yet still having a transformable room.
    • Alarms (Camin, 28 Aug 2002b)
    • Swipe system or keys? (Camin, 28 Aug 2002b) Keypad locks? (Camin, 28 Aug 2002a)
    • Video camera monitoring
    • "Uglify" it by marking the institutional name on it, around screen edges.

IX. Equipment/Furniture Positioning

  1. Line-of sight for students isn't blocked. Sit in every seat in the classroom with the equipment on a typical display to determine view.
  2. Student computers, desks do not block teacher line-of-sight.
  3. Chalkboards or white boards on at least two walls (Nilson, 2003); Perhaps as many as 3 or 4 walls covered to enable long problems to be worked out. (Buckner, 2003)
  4. The ability to use the screen and the chalk or white boards simultaneously. The screen and boards are next to one another, not above one another. (Glazer, 2003).
  5. Where are the electrical outlets or cable connections?
    • for instructor equipment? (will cords tangle instructor feet?)
    • for student laptops or other equipment?
  6. If chairs are bolted, need a comfortable space between seats and between rows so students can move without bothering others and multiple aisles.
  7. Consider moveable cart with instructional equipment. Checkout procedure, storage?
  8. Consider aesthetics of equipment placement.

X. Faculty Use

  1. Policies for room use clear and available: priorities among classes? Check out for particular days or entire term? student use? Single person monitoring it or collective responsibility? Reward/recognition for that person?
  2. How do faculty learn about policies? Especially new faculty and adjuncts? Are policies posted on the Internet? In the faculty handbook? How often is training offered?
  3. Are instructions provided for various equipment configurations (Are the instructions laminated, replacement copies available on web)? Ideally with graphic images.
  4. Are equipment, cables, plugs clearly labelled so a naive faculty member can place it in the correct spot?
  5. Are wall switches clearly labelled and easy to use. Simpler is probably better.
  6. How convenient is it to get the key/remotes/other pieces not kept in the room for the room/equipment cabinet? For someone teaching after hours or on weekends? Is there common digital storage space?
  7. What do faculty do if there is a last minute emergency with the equipment?
  8. Is a storage/transport device readily available (zip drive, CD burner or USB drive) for faculty needing to take a large presentation from their local computer to the classroom computer?

XI. Change & Maintenance

  1. To what degree is the room likely to face change or maintenance issues? (A high technology room will need updating, for example.) How can you design to make that updating easier?
  2. Keep backup bulbs for all equipment. (Available after hours and weekends)?
  3. How clean-able are your choices? Can the materials (e.g., carpeting) be maintained given the traffic.
  4. Timing of changes -- will the changes be finished before classes begin in that classroom?
  5. Consider starting small and adding pieces-- develop a plan.

XII. Space outside of the classroom

  1. What type of environment leads up to the classroom entrance? Is it welcoming? safe? well-lighted? accessible? Are there places to wait and study? A place to get refreshment?
  2. How does this classroom interact with other classrooms? Can a door be left open without noise hall? Does light from the hall impact on the projection equipment in the classroom?


    Buckner, T. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R16044&D=0

    Burdick, D. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R14787&D=0

    Camin, C. (28 Aug 2002a). Re: What's a "smart" classroom? Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0208&L=pod&P=R19677&D=0

    Camin, C. (28 Aug 2002a). Re: What's a "smart" classroom? Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0208&L=pod&P=R19832&D=0

    Ehrmann, S. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R15652&D=0

    Felten, P. (16 May 2002). classrooms and videotaping. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0205&L=pod&P=R5295&D=0

    Girard, S. (28 Aug, 2002). Re: What's a "smart" classroom? Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0208&L=pod&P=R18800&D=0

    Glazer, F. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R15089&D=0

    Marcinkiewicz, H. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R14723&D=0

    Mullinix, B. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R16120&D=0

    Nilson, L. (15 Apr 2003). Re: The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R14541&D=0

    Nuhfer, E. (15 Apr 2003). The ideal classroom. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0304&L=pod&P=R14498&D=0

    Theall, M. (1 March 2000). RE: Classrooms. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0003&L=pod&P=R308&D=0

    Theall, M. (9 May 2000). RE: Classrooms. Email post to Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education mailing list. Available at: http://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0005&L=pod&P=R8376&D=0

More Information

Burnett, H., Wagner, J., Gyorkos, G., & Horn, B. (May 21, 2003). Classroom Guidelines: Design and Construction of Classrooms at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Available in html and pdf at: http://media.ucsc.edu/news/cg.html

Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching. (1997-1998). University Committee on Instructional Facilities (UCIF). Last accessed October 30, 2003. Available: http://www.psu.edu/celt/largeclass/UCIF.html

Chejlava, M. (Last updated: Nov. 21, 2000). Designing a Science Building to be Functional. Last accessed October 30, 2003. Available at http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~chejlavm/design.htm

Chism, N., & Bickford, D. (Ed.) (2002). The Importance of Physical Space in Creating Supportive Learning Environments. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 92. Jossey Bass. Companion website: http://spacesforlearning.udayton.edu/

Clabaugh, S. (no date). Classroom Design Manual, 3rd. Ed. University of Maryland: College Park, MD. Last accessed October 30, 2003. Ordering information at: http://www.oit.umd.edu/as/staff/clabaugh/%20Order_Form.pdf

Indiana University (April 1999). IUB Classroom Committee. Last accessed October 30, 2003. Available at http://www.indiana.edu/~mediares/cc.html

Moos, R. (1979). Evaluating educational enviroments. Jossey Bass.

Narum, J. (no date). Structures for Science: A Handbook on Planning Facilities for Undergraduate Natural Science Communities. Project Kaleidoscope: Washington, DC. Ordering information at: http://lists.pkal.org/pubs/vol3.html

Media Services (June 17, 2003). University of Santa Cruz. Last accessed October 30, 2003. Available: http://media.ucsc.edu/ You can search and view their classrooms.

Sheets, R. (August 27, 2003). Learning Support Centers in Higher Education: Books and Articles. Last accessed December 4, 2003. Available: http://www.pvc.maricopa.edu/~lsche/resources/eq_sp_furn/space_bks.htm

Sommer, R. (1969). Personal space: The behavioral basis of design. Prentice Hall.

University of Georgia. (no date). Facilities Research, Planning and Design: School Design and Planning Laboratory. Last accessed November 2, 2003. Available: http://www.coe.uga.edu/sdpl/sdpl.html
Although it is for public schools, princples may be relevant. An example of articles at this site: Tanner, K. (2000). Minimum Classroom Size and Number of Students Per Classroom. Last accessed November 2, 2003. Available: http://www.coe.uga.edu/sdpl/research/territoriality.html

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