Summit Founders Joe Schuch and stan martin

In the Fall of 2007, an informal assessment of the state of learning space design and support at UNC revealed a number of unsettling observations:

  • In order to keep up with demand, it was necessary to rapidly deploy high-tech classroom models. However, rapid deployment held no guaranty for proportional increases in funding for support (i.e. facilities support, customer support, equipment maintenance and lifecycle) of these resources. More likely, the financial burden created by each additional classroom contributed to the erosion of customer service and overall system reliability, jeopardizing the success of mission-critical programs.
  • Budgetary pressures can produce a chilling effect on strategic, long-range planning as well as innovations in processes and technologies. When budgets become lean at public institutions, instead of inspiring innovation, a cultural “hunkering down” can occur, during which little forward movement occurs.
  • It appeared as if learning space operations at each UNC System campus engaged in these activities largely in a vacuum, with little or no contact or collaboration with any other UNC System school.

Compared to UNC-CH, some colleges have more multimedia classrooms and fewer support dollars, however, many have fewer multimedia classrooms and a near-zero budget for support and lifecycle. How do they do it? Are they meeting their customers’ needs? We often hear that Carolina is revered as the gold-standard on so many fronts – student laptops, high-tech classrooms, ACC basketball – but, with regard to learning space, what kind of a role model are we if we claim to be innovating and planning with the future in mind, while doing so in a vacuum?

This is where the concept for The Classroom Summit was born.

The theme, Learning Space 2011: How do we prepare for it? emerged from these observations and the idea for a gathering of colleges from across North Carolina took shape with the hope that an exchange of experiences and ideas could, in time, lead to better communications and perhaps the opportunity for collaboration and innovation.

By the spring of 2008, Stan North Martin at NC State University’s Office of Information Technology had joined Schuch to form the Summit’s planning team. Intrigued with the idea of a conference exclusively for campus stakeholders in learning space resources, Martin considered the logistical challenges associated with gathering representatives from all North Carolina colleges in one place and recommended inviting colleagues from only the UNC System campuses (at least for the first year or two). To improve the probability of high attendance, Martin approached the organizers of UNC-CAUSE, a UNC System-wide event that regularly attracted IT professionals from every UNC campus, about the possibility of partnering with the Classroom Summit.

Martin secured the support of the UNC-CAUSE planning committee, which enabled us to position The Classroom Summit as a distinct event co-located with UNC-CAUSE at Greensboro in November, 2008. The Classroom Summit was to be positioned as a special pre-conference workshop by invitation only.

Mounting an event of this kind required discretionary resources unavailable through operational budgets at either UNC or NCSU. Schuch and Martin agreed that corporate underwriting of event expenses could ensure that Summit participants might be able to congregate in a clean, well-provisioned venue with comfortable amenities.

In June, Extron Electronics offered to cover the cost of catering and incidental expenses in exchange for brand placement and full participation in the event. The arrangement met the goals of both parties: The Summit concept focused on high interaction and peer collaboration, a format in which traditional vendor sales booths would be anathema. Within the communications industry, Extron had a reputation as a technological educator as well as an innovator, and hoped to differentiate itself from its competitors by focusing more on engaging in meaningful dialog with the higher education community.

George Smart, from Strategic Development, suggested the Open Space meeting format. Schuch had participated in variations of the methodology at various Educause events and with Smart’s guidance, Martin and Schuch assembled an agenda.

On November 16, 2008, 38 representatives from 13 UNC System campuses converged at the Classroom Summit to discuss pressing learning space issues and to exchange strategies and ideas.