2022: Rethinking Low Tech and Tech-Enhanced Classrooms

Adam Fein
4 min readFeb 16, 2022

By Tania P. Heap and Adam D. Fein

After two years of constant change, what should a college classroom look like today?

As we have adapted to an ongoing global pandemic, how do we design classroom setups that facilitate engagement and learning while guaranteeing personal safety and flexibility? Are we investing too much into something that is not improving students’ learning experiences? What is the ‘winning’ piece of furniture or technology? How do we define and measure ‘winning’? How much technology and furniture is enough? Our research and development initiatives seek to answer these questions.

At the University of North Texas (UNT) Division of Digital Strategy and Innovation (DSI) we are committed to planning new state-of-the-art classrooms and innovation centers, conducting practice-based research, and fostering cross-institutional collaborations to create next generation learning ecosystems. Like many other higher education institutions, we are also mindful of the finite resources at our disposal and the need for being flexible, inclusive, and adaptable to an evolving and more diversified college student demographic. We created the Collaborative Learning and Active Workspaces (CLAW) framework to inventory six different types of university classrooms and organize and optimize the technology and teaching strategies for these spaces. Tiering learning spaces at UNT into six different categories not only helps with logistics (bulk purchases, room assignments, etc.) but also ensures we set and maintain student and teacher expectations for teaching and learning.

Our recent efforts in learning spaces strategy include researching the impact of furniture and technology integration on student engagement and performance on learning outcomes, by also looking at ease of implementation, cost, and overall return on investment.

Two years ago, we investigated the impact of a classroom space that was group focused, with movable furniture and collaborative technology integrated in workstations, into student learning outcomes in teaching design and UX education. Among our preliminary findings from our literature review and empirical research were:

  • A studio space arrangement supports creative activities.
  • Whiteboards with markers and erasers provide both students and instructors with the ability to visualize their work with writeable, stocked workspaces.
  • A bright and quiet room, with a temperature of up to 75ᵒ F (24ᵒ C), favors engagement, focus and satisfaction, particularly among neurodivergent learners.
  • Low-tech set ups are encouraged but access to power should be robust, to enable students to bring their personal devices.

Challenges that we identified, which informed our next steps, are:

  • Excessive furniture may crowd the space or make it easily disorganized.
  • Furniture that is not “too comfortable” may actually be good for students’ concentration and may be preferred to sustain attention during a prolonged lecture.
  • Technology enhancements, more than furniture, can significantly increase the cost of an active learning classroom setup.

In identifying next steps in our research efforts, we realized that the impact of a flexible and collaborative active learning space is still under-researched in the context of STEM subjects such as chemistry education, particularly on a large scale. Further, more and more college students, particularly among underrepresented groups, are reporting mental health issues and accommodation needs since the pandemic onset.

Our upcoming Spring 2022 study investigates the impact of a flexible active learning classroom on student learning outcomes such as engagement in learning and chemistry content knowledge. Our team also intends to identify how students, with or without an accommodation request, respond to this classroom setup, and examine the role novel assignments and classroom simulations play in students’ mastery of chemistry content knowledge.

This study takes place through multiple class subjects and class sections. The subjects involved for this study include students in Chemistry II courses taught by Dr. Amy Petros, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at UNT. We hope to share our findings later in the year.

The Division of Digital Strategy and Innovation (DSI) at UNT was rethinking physical spaces for students and faculty even before a pandemic forced educators, researchers, and administrators to rethink learning spaces on a global scale. We hope to derive empirically grounded recommendations for redesigning learning spaces in a way that leverages existing University resources, maximizes student learning outcomes in STEM fields, and meets the needs of a diverse student body. If you wish to share your experience in similar research endeavors or replicate our study, please feel free to visit our learning research center site at netdragon.unt.edu or contact our DSI Learning Research team (DSI.Research@unt.edu) for more information. We would love to hear from you!



Adam Fein

Adam D. Fein (PhD, Illinois) is the VP of Digital Strategy & Innovation at the University of North Texas. His research examines multimedia learning performance.