by Henry M. Walker,
In September 2010, I wrote a Bits and Bytes article for ACM Inroads [ 1], “Config- urations for Teaching Labs.” Since then, I
have had numerous conversations about
the theme of lab layouts with colleagues
nationally. Recently these conversations
seem to have increased in frequency, raising four common questions:
1. During a lecture or class discussion,
some students may type at workstations. How can I minimize distracting
workstation activities that might interfere with others?
2. How can lab equipment be arranged
to allow an instructor to circulate easily
during lab activities?
3. How can seating be arranged to
promote collaboration (e.g., pair
4. With high enrollments, how can a
teaching lab be arranged to accommodate a relatively large number of
students (some of whom may have
their own laptops), while also addressing questions 1, 2, and 3?
To support instructors in addressing
these questions, this column reviews three
contrasting laboratory configurations:
• workstations arranged in rows, with
students facing forward
• an open concept, in which aisles are
perpendicular to the front of the room
• a mixed-use layout, with a traditional
classroom arrangement in the center
and workstations around the outside
The following discussion describes each
of these lab layouts in some detail. The
September 2010 article provides broader
commentary and additional detail.
For purposes of comparison, each floor
plan considered describes a 28’ by 31’
teaching lab, with two 5’-wide windows
at the back of the classroom on the right
and with a 3’-wide door near the front on
the left. Also in what follows, all tables for
students are 5’ wide and 2. 5’ deep, which
seems adequate to support two students.
The photo and floor plan in Figures 1 and 2
shows a typical classroom at one college:
fifteen 5’ tables have two workstations
for individual work, arranged in four rows,
with two aisles providing access. All seats
face a 24’ whiteboard, with two additional
sliding boards that move side to side. A
projection screen may be lowered to cover
an 8’ section of the whiteboard; other parts
of the whiteboard are visible at all times.
The instructor utilizes a table and workstation in the middle of the room, in front
of the first student row. If all workstations
function properly, this room’s capacity is
30, but a capacity of 26-28 is more realistic
to allow for 2-3 workstations being down.
Unfortunately, this room does not support any of the above questions very well.
• The instructor cannot easily see student
monitors from the front of the room.
• Tables have two workstations, providing
relatively little space for student notes,
discouraging collaboration, and leaving
little space for student laptops.
• Rows are 3’ apart, restricting instructor
movements (particularly with backpacks on the floor).
• Side aisles are about 4’ wide, making
movement from front to back in the
room reasonably easy.
• The instructor’s workstation may interfere with some sight lines for students.
• The projection screen may be placed on
the right of the whiteboard (Figure 1), in
the middle (Figure 2), or on the left.
Figure 1: A View of Forward-facing-in-rows Lab
(PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHANIE PE TERSON)
Figure 2: Floor Plan for a Forward-facing-in-rows Lab