sustainable learning spaces

Within and Beyond the Walls: Sustainability Implications of Educational Technology Infrastructure

Owen McGrath, University of California, Berkeley

The New Auditorium
The Experimental Classroom
A Classroom Passed By
Beyond Walls


This chapter considers audio visual and information technology (A/V-IT) installations in three instructional spaces that were opened or re-opened within a year of each other:  a cutting-edge auditorium inside a brand new science building, an innovative experimental classroom that replaced a once state-of-the-art video teleconferencing classroom, and a somewhat forgotten general assignment classroom that received technology for only the first time. The three projects at the same university certainly varied in terms of design expertise and funding sources: architected and engineered by a top professional firm, the science center was funded via philanthropy and private-public partnerships; in-house engineers and departmental seed funding enabled the experimental classroom renovation; and a university team with funds from a campus classroom upgrade program brought about the refurbishment of the general assignment classroom. Yet despite involving sustainability considerations from the design phase onwards, all three projects also reveal in their deployments of A/V-IT surprising long-term challenges to sustainability.

Located within walking distance of each other, the three teaching sites of this chapter share a physical proximity characteristic of traditional campuses. In contrast, more far-flung teaching and learning arrangements around the globe had also been experimented with at the university in recent years, thanks to network and A/V-IT affordances. The technologies deployed in these experiments allow for virtual interactions among local and remote participants via Internet-based conferencing and distance learning connections. These varied brands of "online" teaching and collaboration also affected the design logic of all three sites, especially in terms of their AV/IT technology installations. In different yet interesting ways, the A/V-IT issues behind these three projects illustrate unique sustainability challenges posed by classroom technology in higher education settings. Even in relation to each other, the three cases serve as contrast pairs demonstrating the puzzles and paradoxes involved in keeping up with the demands of networked information and interactive technologies in teaching and learning. The newly opened auditorium’s A/V system immediately required significant overhaul and upgrading when the site became a stage for creating a massively open online course (MOOC)—a phenomenon that didn’t exist when the building’s construction was well underway. An expensive and not-so-old video teleconferencing classroom was gutted and replaced by the high-tech experimental classroom, where the technology most noticed by users turned out to be portable whiteboards. Finally, one of the last classrooms on campus without A/V-IT made the newspapers as it got a significant technology installation as part of a high-profile campus initiative to keep up with seemingly insatiable demands for technology in classrooms.

Proceeding with overviews of each project, the chapter then offers a consideration of the complexities in the interplay between the physical spaces, their use, and the A/V-IT installations. As narratives about sustainability, the three case studies yield sobering insights into unintended counter-effects of A/V-IT installations and upgrades. At the same time, the instructional arrangements afforded by the technologies also point to some interesting and new sustainability possibilities. Despite posing regressive challenges to sustainability efforts on the physical campus, for instance, the same technologies also open up possibilities for virtually extending teaching and learning arrangements beyond the co-presence requirements that brought about the need for physical classrooms and campuses in the first place.

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