Manager of Educational Technologies , Mendoza College of Business
University of Notre Dame
We are working this out and finding that blanket standards (e.g. 1 student per x sq ft) don't work out well in spaces that are not simple desks in rows. Many of our spaces have horseshoe shaped seating, so there is a lot of square footage reserved for the instructor to roam about and such. Guidelines may change between now and the end of the summer, but understanding capacity now will help our academic leadership better plan for actual room capacity given the 6' figure. #COVID2020
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Active/Flexible Classroom


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Private College/University
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Flat flexible spaces in various patterns
Horseshoe layout for socially distanced 12 students (previously seats 52)
Spacing Guide
Horseshoe layout fits 12 students (in a space formerly for 52 seats)
Example of 2' diameter for a seated student and 3' additional space around that circle. This is a 1088 square foot room that we think can hold 12 students with a 6' social distance, but a third of those students can't exit without entering another students' bubble. This is generally a 52 seat space. There isn't furniture for it, but we might be able to squeeze in a couple more students up the center aisle, but that makes the entrance/exit issue even worse. In this model, each seated student needs roughly 64 square feet of space.
Exploring different patterns for flat flexible spaces
This is without walking paths, space for the instructor, or distance from the projection screen for viewing, so a large number of seats in this mockup are not viable, but using hexagons to find the most efficient seating pattern was some interesting thinking. Even if we add paths for entrance and exit, we may find instances where the square footage recovered by staggering the 6' bubbles make it all work.
Honeycomb pattern versus a more traditional, straight arrangement
There doesn't seem to be much 'official' guidance on how to do this, so we've decided to use a 24" circle to represent a person or student, and then add our 36" radius to that. It turns into an 8' diameter circle, and I've borrowed a CTS-D speaker placement trick and added a hexagon of the same dimension so that we can arrange them in an 'ideal' honeycomb pattern and compare that to a more traditional, straight arrangement.
Tricks we've learned along the way about layout and seating capacity
There are some tricks I've learned along the way. Students up against a wall don't have to be 3' from it, the tiers in a large venue can add distance even if the drawing doesn't show 6' between them "as the crow flies", etc. It seems that the absolute maximum we could fit in a flat-floor classroom with rolling tables and chairs is around half of what our published seating capacity used to be. The example below shows 24 students, and was previously listed for 48. There are some caveats, too. You can see in this drawing that there's no aisle, students are too close to the door swing, there's no room allotted for the professor (it may be safer and more considerate to give professors more space than students), and there isn't any consideration for viewing angles or distances - it's just the absolute maximum number of sardines that you can pack into that room while still keeping 6' of air between them
Tiered floors are a big challenge
Unfortunately, a large proportion of the rooms in our college have tiered floors and fixed seating. We have "horseshoe" lecture halls, and they've proven to be more difficult to lay out. The first roadblock we came upon was that the tiers themselves are not 6' deep. This means that a student in the back row cannot have another student directly in front of them. Then we tried the honeycomb sardine method, but it didn't align with the curved tiers very well. What we ended up going with was a scheme where we only use every other tier, which actually fits pretty well. In these spaces, our recommendation is coming in around 20-30% of the previous seating capacity. In this example, we're recommending 16 students in a room that was previously rated for 72.
Computer labs are another animal
When we've designed tables in the past, I believe that we planned 34" for each station... You know, 2" short of the 3' that we're looking for now... I haven't started drawing any of our labs yet, but I'm afraid that we'll have to skip two machines between each student. If we have classes that cannot reduce seat count, we're lucky enough to have an auditorium that's underutilized. I haven't drawn it yet, but we're hoping that we can spread our students out, and get close to the seating count of one of our regular lecture halls. (provided that the state allows a gathering of that size)
Example from compact airplane seating
This is all starting to remind me of denser airplane seat concepts I saw a few years back. I have seen updated seating concepts that include plastic shielding between seats to isolate passengers.

The Story

Planning and Design

We have been thinking that planning a 2' diameter for a seated student and 3' around that circle is a good place to start. This makes for 6' of space between seated students/participants. We can't forget space to enter and exit and viewing angles/distance related to projection surfaces or displays.

Impact and User Response

In the rush to try to enable social distancing in our spaces, I am sure there will be pressure to try to be as efficient as possible (as well as safe), but our initial studies have been eye opening.