When it comes to lecture halls, U of T Engineering’s Lee & Margaret Lau Auditorium is the gold standard.
The room, located in the new Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, is outfitted with the latest technology – including a 60-foot-wide screen, believed to be the largest of any North American classroom.
But it’s the subtleties of its design that make the 468-person classroom special, says Steven Bailey, director, Academic + Campus Events (ACE) at U of T.
Instead of rows of chairs facing the front of the room, seats are arranged in groups of four around a rectangular table, with plenty of room for instructors, TAs and students to walk through the aisles.
“The focus of the room is not at the front like a typical lecture hall, the focus is actually at the table,” says Bailey. “This is where the important conversations and sharing of ideas is going to happen.”
The auditorium is a model for the future of teaching and learning – but at a nearly 192-year-old university with plenty of aging classrooms, replicating this brand-new lecture hall gets a bit complicated.
That’s where Bailey and the ACE team come in. They’ve set out on an ambitious plan to renovate 174 classrooms on campus through the Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) initiative.
“We can’t build everything to look like that,” says Bailey of the Lee & Margaret Lau Auditorium. “But what we can do is to take elements of that and incorporate it into other spaces.”
This week, ACE, in partnership with Student Life’s Innovation Hub, will be hosting events on the downtown Toronto campus, inviting the U of T community to share their input at What Makes a Classroom Great? Students, staff and faculty can test out different types of furniture and provide input on what they like.
“We can get an idea of how they can be combined or improved in a classroom setting to help their learning and teaching experience,” says Emily Ling, architect and classroom design and development officer at ACE.
While the TIL initiative only involves renovating classrooms on the downtown Toronto campus, U of T Scarborough and U of T Mississauga are taking part in the conversation while embarking on similar initiatives, says Bailey.
“Everyone is excited about what we’re doing here and we’re bringing the community together to work on this.”