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How vast are your design opportunities in higher education?

A recent survey reports that 73 percent of colleges and universities have new construction projects in their immediate future. This wave of new construction underscores the schools’ need to keep pace in attracting and retaining top students, faculty, staff, and donors. And there is one increasingly common component of the new construction specification that should be of significant interest to architects and lighting designers: the rise of the smart classroom.

Lesson 1: Smarten Your Design
This next-generation classroom presents the instructor with an innovative array of technology to create an immersive learning experience. These are substantial investments that help differentiate and elevate in-classroom teaching, and also help initiate distant learning programs, better support corporate partners, and improve collaboration with peer institutions.

“The college or university invests heavily in these classrooms. They go all-out with multimedia technology, furniture, floor coverings, and wall coverings in order to create a world-class pedagogical experience,” explains Bill Marushak, national sales manager for college and universities at Lutron, a respected global leader in lighting control technology. “The design challenge is they still light these rooms with 25-year-old systems.”

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Lesson 2: Identify the Key Influencers
Lutron commands a unique perspective on smart classroom development. The company has deep relationships with many colleges and universities that go back decades. Marushak says he and his team understands the higher education procurement process and how to navigate through its complexities to help institutions match their need with the right solution as well as provide the flexibility to easily scale over time.

It is important for the lighting designer to align and collaborate with the person who designs the strategy across the entire campus. One example of this, and a key influencer in that process, is the instructional technologist, explains Marushak. “The instructional technologist teaches the faculty member how to use the tools in the smart classroom. In most cases the instructor must go through an orientation before they can even lecture in the space,” he says.

Lesson 3: Lighting Challenges Lead to Opportunities
Smart classrooms must be flexible enough to morph with rapid, on-the-fly precision from a focused lecture to a collaborative group exercise to a remote, joint working session. The lighting designer knows how to make A/V, dimming, lighting color temperature, shading, and furniture configurations work together to best serve the objective.

However, lighting integration and a well-formulated sequence of operations that supports the functional room requirements are often overlooked in the rush to create a competitive learning environment.

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“Poor lighting integration, incomplete sequence of operations, lack of personal control, and weak glare suppression can undermine an otherwise superb presentation,” Marushak observes. Carefully plan for the kind of challenges that can diminish your efforts, such as shadowed-out presenters in a distance learning situation, unfavorable color temperatures, and facial features obscured by glare or shine. A growing number of key universities, including The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Rutgers University understand lighting’s critical role, Marushak says.

Lesson 4: Position Yourself as the Expert
What steps can you take to differentiate your practice as the go-to smart classroom design authority? Marushak suggests the following:

Do your homework. Educate yourself on the benefits of human-centric lighting and how it correlates to higher-ed buildings and campuses.

  • Early in the process, identify which classrooms fit the smart-classroom profile.
  • Discuss how each room will be used and the technology requirements.
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Get in early in the process. Demonstrate your understanding of the smart classroom’s role in supporting students, faculty, staff, donors, corporate partners, peer institutions, distant learners, and other constituents critical to institutional advancement.
Collaborate with facility teams. Create a sequence of operations that seamlessly integrates the room’s entire technology suite. Anticipate diverse room applications. Integrate personal, on-demand control.
Partner up with an experienced firm/company. Align yourself with organizations that understand the higher-education project development cycle and leverage your expertise to enhance their reputation and yours.

Lesson 5: The Time to Act is Now
“Remember, as an architect or lighting designer, you play a central role in this rapidly expanding category,” Marushak says. “You’re integrating and sequencing a solution that enhances content, supports the presenter, and puts the university in the best possible light.”

Learn more about how your practice can profit from smart classroom design opportunities by downloading the “Campus-Wide Solutions” brochure.

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