Students in a large lecture classroom

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how we did anything before computers. Ordering airline tickets. Designing automobiles. Tracking government payrolls. Wayfinding.

Or in the case of the UI Office of the Registrar, juggling thousands of requests for 245 general assignment classrooms, across more than 10 class hours, 5 days a week of every semester. To say nothing of scheduling classroom space for one-off events, meetings, and conferences, ordering new classroom furniture, and in collaboration with the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology, upgrading and maintaining classroom technology.

Fortunately, the Registrar’s Office staff uses class scheduling software that effectively accommodates instructors’ space preferences by balancing their expressed teaching needs with the need to optimize the use of classroom space across the entire campus. And on a campus where space is at a premium, that is no easy task, even with the help of computer software.

“We try to provide the best fit for classrooms,” Associate Registrar Renee Houser says, “and the tools we use have opened up the classroom calendar so instructors now can see General Assignment room schedules across the week.”

Houser and OTLT Learning Spaces Technology (LST) Director Christopher Clark co-lead the Learning Spaces Advisory Committee, which offers ideas and suggestions about classroom design and function to the Office of the Provost.

“Although this year we’ve taken a bit of a hiatus to work on TIER,” Houser says, “keeping engaged with that group has led us to many successes in the design and support of classroom environments, including renovations of

Photo of large empty lecture hall.
W290 Chemistry Building and the new classrooms on the fourth floor of Van Allen Hall.”

As the UI has increased the size of its entering class, designed classrooms to encourage innovative approaches to teaching, and created study spaces in novel locations, Houser and her staff—Assistant Registrar Char Maher and Registrar Services Coordinator Caroline Jens—sometimes find themselves facing dilemmas about how best to accommodate instructors’ preferences for certain classrooms and specific class periods. Does an instructor who has taught in the same room for many years continue to be assigned that room? How late in the day can a class end before it’s too late? Who should get access to specialized learning spaces such as TILE classrooms?

Fortunately, the Registrar’s team maintains a certain collective calm, even in the midst of the myriad requests and increasing space pressures they encounter on a daily basis. Some of that serenity likely resulted from confronting the flood of 2008. In a matter of days in early June of that year, five classroom buildings were flooded, and 53 general assignment classrooms—24 percent of the entire classroom pool—became unusable for the foreseeable future. The loss of space had an impact on 84 summer courses, as well as examinations, class-related supplemental activities, UI Orientation and student recruitment, seminars, colloquia, faculty meetings, student meetings, and non-academic events.  For two summer events alone, 1200 individual special events had to be relocated.

With similar heroic effort by Information Technology Services staff members—some of whom slept on campus to ensure the University’s mainframe computing systems remained intact—the Registrar’s Office team managed to resettle every fall course in a learning-appropriate—if sometimes uniquely so—space, including the former Menard’s store. By opening day of the fall semester, all 217 general assignment classrooms were fully operational and ITS had outfitted an additional 45 with audio/visual technology to handle increased demand.

Houser and her team and members of LST and the Center for Teaching share information and expertise about how to enhance student learning through well-designed spaces. 

“Working with OTLT staff members has been interesting, engaging, and insightful,” she says. “So many things have been raised to my attention beyond just the physical classroom design, thanks to our collaborative efforts.”

Although Houser and her colleagues sometimes are the bearers of disappointing news when responding to room requests, the decision-making process and scheduling software they employ helps ensure their answers—whether “Yea” or “Not this semester”—are based on good data and careful consideration.