Bad Design: An Examination of College Life (Part 2)

If you ask a high school student to picture a typical college setting, they will imagine one of two things — either a raging party filled with red Solo cups and loud music, or a lecture hall filled with students gazing down at a professor and ~dutifully~ taking notes. I will be examining the latter scenario (unfortunately.)

Me, dutifully taking notes during CS 1300

Lecture halls are a staple of the college learning experience; they are the most efficient way to educate mass amounts of students at once. This method of teaching can save schools money, since it requires fewer professors. These lecture halls typically have the same features: auditorium-style fold up chairs, large projectors and chalkboards at the center of the room, and the most uncomfortable foldaway desks.

A detailed illustration as to why the desks in MacMillan are terrible

Most students will agree that these desks are practically useless because of how small they are. I, for one, cannot even use my laptop on the foldaway desk in the MacMillan auditorium without using my laptop case as additional support.

This lack of space is even more apparent when you try to take notes on this small surface. I typically have to switch between my planner, my notes, and my pencil pouch, since there is absolutely no way to fit all three on the desk at once.

These small spaces are counterproductive in an academic environment. When students are given such a cramped area to work in, it’s easy to lose focus. If someone knocks a pen or water bottle off their desk, usually an entire section of the lecture hall gets distracted.

The foldaway desk used in MacMillan 117 (with my keyboard for reference)

So why do designers keep putting stressed out and overworked college students in these uncomfortable situations?

As I mentioned earlier, auditoriums with these foldaway desks are the easiest way to teach a lot of people at once. Universities can get the biggest bang for their buck because they can hire fewer professors to teach more students — these lecture halls can fit up to several hundred students at once.

So what design alternatives are there to this problem?

My favorite is the lecture hall with tables. This is a desk system that provides more than enough space for students to work and focus. A table lines the full length of each row, and then there are movable chairs to get in and out of the desk.

My proposed design for a MacMillan renovation

The drawback of this design, however, is it reduces the amount of real estate available for student seats. This means that universities can fit fewer students into each class section.

However, in order for these lecture halls to receive an interface update, universities need to decide whether they want to provide an education in a higher quality environment at the cost of a few more professors, or continue with the cheapest design alternative.

Word Count: 453

Like what you read? Give Elizabeth Austin a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.