I am a math professor, and we've just moved back into our building after a year-long renovation. One of our rooms, currently piled high with junk, is to be made into a seminar room.

I'm on the committee charged with coming up with a design for the room, and making recommendations to the department chair. We will continue to host chalkboard talks and in-person meetings, and we'd also like the room to be suitably outfitted for:

  • hybrid meetings, with some participants online and others in-person, so everyone can hear each other and see the board

  • presentations, where someone at the board is recording or presenting to a live online audience, and people watching online can easily follow

  • other needs which may arise over the coming years.

I've sent out a survey to my department and gotten some ideas. Beyond that, what are the important factors or options to consider when making these recommendations to my chair?

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    If you are at a big enough place and there is a school of architecture, you might consult with them. Or, the engineering school might have some architecture knowledgeable folks.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 12:46
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    I have yet to see a good hybrid concept. I really like in-person teaching lessons, and lessons over zoom. I hate mixing both at the same time, because you get the worst of both worlds. It's slow, exhausting and less clear, for both teacher and students. My concept would be : everybody in person if possible, if not, everybody online. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 15:03
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    David Jordan in math at Edinburgh put a lot of thought into this and figured out a great setup for Edinburgh and the ICMS, and was excited to try to spread info on this. I’d suggest contacting him and he can tell you their setup. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 16:25
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    @DavidKetcheson In my experience hybrid only works with a very disciplined audience and if only very few people are going to speak. Sound catching equipment will record and amplify any whispering or paper shuffling which is very annoying to the online audience. If you only have a few people who want to ask independent questions it works out. If you have an interactive discussion this will be big mess and often the online participants will not get their turn.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 12:39
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    I don't know what your plan is, but I'd wander around asking pointedly "But is it optimal?". Maybe even demand a proof.
    – smci
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:59

10 Answers 10


I will not answer your question directly, but give you my concerns born out of experience with having to use on-line class-rooms that are not well maintained.

It is quite easy to install some impressive systems such as cameras that detect motion and focus on the presenter or cameras that capture where a presenter is writing on the white-board and amplifying that part of the screen automatically. It is difficult to get a university to commit to keeping a high-tech seminar room working. It is even more difficult to get a university to upgrade such a room and replace worn out equipment.

Concentrate on the basics such as a good, reliable internet connection preferably Ethernet, that will not go through an overloaded authentication server whenever you want to connect. Some outside presenters will still want to use transparencies, while others want to use their Mac or Linux machine, so be careful you have hardware and a software that can interoperate with your system. It is cheaper and more reliable to have a grad student film a presentation with a camera on a good tripod instead of having an automatic ceiling-mounted camera. Get some microphones with a USB connection instead of trying to get an automated sound catching system.

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    +1 for keeping it simple. I'd also say that interactive whiteboards are generally to be avoided in favour of a camera pointed at a dumb whiteboard/blackboard. The dumb version never has surprise restarts or calibration issues.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 11:20
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    I 100% agree with the gist of this answer. I would only add that a document camera can be used instead of a blackboard such that the document camera output is not only projected onto a screen but also shared online. Compared to the camera on person/blackboard set-up, you lose seeing the speaker in the video feed but you gain reliability and quality of sharing their writing. Plus the document camera is found directly next to the speaker and if a cable is disconnected (happens more frequently than you might think) it can be plugged in again by the speaker... Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 14:40
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    +1 to the document camera - I was starting to write something like that in an answer.
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 19:43
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    "Some outside presenters will still want to use transparencies". Sorry, but I find this implausible. In my experience, transparencies are now essentially obsolete, just like the overhead projector equipment that supports transparencies. I don't think I've seen someone give a talk with transparencies in over 10 years. A talk with slides from a computer: sure. A talk with a document camera: a bit odd, but sure. But transparencies? No.
    – KCd
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 5:14
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    Anecdote in support of this answer: My department recently moved into a new space with some elaborately equipped seminar-rooms. These rooms all had some problems of the sort that are hard to spot when designing a room on paper, but obvious as soon as you move in and start using the room. In the lower-tech rooms, these problems were solved easily and quickly — moving tables and whiteboards around. In the more technologically elaborate rooms, there are so many integrated systems that it looks like we won’t get the problems fixed for the foreseeable future.
    – PLL
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 14:19

99% of seminar attendees want coffee. Design it with coffee equipment.

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    Ideally free coffee (and tea/drinking water!) making equipment. The cost is nonzero but is comparatively small in the context of a departmental budget. The benefit of unpredictable, random interactions between people in the vicinity is likely to be very positive – both in terms of morale and overall academic output.
    – Landak
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 10:44
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    There are usually places outside the seminar room much more suitable for coffee before/after talks
    – spin
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 10:49
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    Here's a problem with hybrid format for which I don't know a solution. I listen remotely to a hybrid seminar. Some people are in-person, others on zoom, and they chat and interact. But in-person crowd hangs out before and after the talk, enjoying the coffee and the conversation. I can't imagine a way for the remote crowd to be part of that conversation. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 17:14
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    A decent coffee machine tends to be loud and will be unusable in a seminar room without disrupting everybody trying to do math there, there are good reasons to have that stuff behind a wall in a kitchen(ette).
    – Peteris
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:13
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    Though this answer is popular for some reason, it appears to have very little to do with what the OP asked about hybrid meetings/presentation to an online audience, for which coffee in the room is going to have absolutely no relevance.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 17:22

In contrast to Anonymous Physicist, I do think you should have a simple desktop computer with an internet connection. Not everyone wants to lug around their personal laptops (and some people might not have one either). But you should have a simple solution so people can connect their personal laptops. My university purchases highly overengineered systems for this, and it ends up being complicated for most people to get working properly. Plus it's insanely expensive. Instead, I would just go for a good-quality KVM switch, which is just a black box that lets you hook up a mouse, keyboard, and monitors to multiple computers.

The other thing I would recommend is checking the acoustics in the room. If nothing else, have good-quality acoustic panels on the walls. If it's not carpeted, consider doing so. And maybe consider adding acoustic panels to the ceiling. Heavy curtains for windows will help to dampen exterior noise if that's an issue. And maybe check the doors; cheap/lightweight doors won't block noise from people talking or walking in the hallway as well as heavy good-quality doors.

Having fine control over the lighting to make sure lights close to the projector screen can be turned off while leaving lights on for everyone else is nice. And investing in a quality projector screen can make a big difference in the quality/brightness of the image. And definitely get a decent-quality projector; particularly one with very good brightness.

Depending on the size and layout of the room, you might want two projectors (one very nice conference room I've been in is very wide and has pillars blocking some viewing angles, so there is a projector screen for each half of the room with the speaker placed between them).

If it's a room where long meetings might be held and people need to use their laptops, tables/desks with built-in power outlets are also nice to have.

Make sure there is a good-quality wireless access point in the room itself; you don't want a bunch of people dealing with sketchy wifi access because there are a bunch of walls between their devices and the nearest access point.

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    A few weeks ago I was passing by a conference room, where a hybrid talk was being presented both in-person and remotely, and also recorded. They positioned a young lady outside the door with the instructions ro shush whoever talks in the hallway (she shushed me). I think she'd be happier if the door had been more soundproof, and she listened to the talk inside. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 16:45
  • KVM switch is not required. Just the V switch. Most projectors have multiple types of input cable, so plug the most obscure one into the desktop computer (leaving the others free for laptops); feed the others to the desk as loose cables; tether the remote to the desk; and put a note somewhere saying to select the right input. Another way I've seen to do it is to have one input cable with various adapters tethered to it for different kinds of laptops. It's stupid and simple and it works - provided the presenter realizes how multiple inputs work. Really good ones can autodetect. Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 15:56
  • Seconding the acoustics comment, be sure to test it with the microphone and speaker setup you plan to install before making any permanent installations. This includes both physical location of speakers as well as setting microphone gain and testing for the "roving lecturer" that paces while talking. We have a very large, impressive lecture hall that suffers from horrific feedback problems because this was not accounted for.
    – esilk
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 16:09

Lighting problems are common in seminar rooms.

Get good blinds that block sunbeams. In an office, you can move desks and chairs out of the sun if needed. In a seminar room, it is much harder to move a wall-mounted board/projector screen/video display.

There should be separate lighting for the board and the rest of the room. The lighting controls should be easy to locate and clearly labeled.

Adding a million technology controls to your seminar room just causes disruption when your visitor is preparing their seminar and needs 15 minutes to find the switch that turns on the light.

  • Thanks. I think things like lighting are beyond our control unfortunately. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 23:31

Make sure that there is wheelchair access, and extra-soft flooring across the front where lecturers may stand for a long time.

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    Soft flooring? Never heard of that.
    – Bergi
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 0:42
  • does soft flooring make it more comfortable to stand?? Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 15:58
  • @user253751 Yes! Soft flooring makes it much more comfortable and less tiring to stand for a long time. You can buy them standalone for standing desks ( e.g. ergostandingdesks.com/products/… ), however since my university was very modern they had these permanently built into the carpet at the front of lecture theatres. They were wonderful.
    – niemiro
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 23:06

It is funny that no one discussed the choice of blackboards yet. I would say it is the most important thing and most noticeable when done wrong. You likely will want multiple panels. The best system I have seen is also the simplest. Have two blackboards above each other in a position that they can both be completely readable without them overlapping and also without either of them being too low to see. Have them set up such that if you move one up the other one moves down (they should be movable by hand, no button please, that is always slow, annoying and malfunctioning).

Don't go for more than two panels, it is confusing and almost never convenient especially if not all three can actually be read at the same time. And they rarely can be. In order to have enough vertical space for three blackboards it will probably mean one of them has to be on the floor and the other obscenely high. If a blackboard can't be completely visible at the same time as the others it basically makes that blackboard unusable anyway.

  • I certainly hope to get high quality blackboards. I love the setup you describe, but unfortunately the ceilings are not high in this room enough to have one over the other. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 23:33
  • As an example, this video youtube.com/watch?v=npA8sI-k328 of a recent hybrid talk in Cornell's new building on Roosevelt Island shows what happens when a room has no blackboard. There are 2 projectors showing the slides, but the presenter can't write something on a board that's not already in the slides. Also the presenter has to hold a microphone in his hands at all times. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 10:34

One piece of classroom technology that I really like is audience response systems / keypads. In a physical classroom, every seat has a keypad that allow the listener to press a key and, for example,

  • "raise a hand" to ask a question - it's actually easier done now if the talk is delievered via Zoom or Webex than in person, especially in a calculus section with over 50 students.

  • respond to a multiple choice survey, or vote.

  • anonymously ask the speaker to speed up or to slow down and provide more detail.

The keypads can transmit the information through wires or radio. If you google "Audience response system", you'll see a few choices.

Many people (not necessarily me) like to have a "document camera" in the classroom that looks down on a horizonal whiteboard. (Again, google it for a few choices). It is intended to let the speaker put a book or paper notes on the whiteboard, and have the image show on the big screen(s), and also to the remote audience. Some people who use such cameras also like to write on the horizontal whiteboard as they speak, and the audience can see it better on screen than on a traditional vertical board on a wall.

Of course most people have their notes and slide decks as computer files these days, rather than as a stack of papers / transparencies. The standard that everyone expects is - the seminar speaker brings a USB-A flash drive, with the slide deck as an Adobe pdf or Microsoft Powerpoint (or LibreOffice Impress etc) presentation. The flash drive is mounted into a USB-A port of a Windows computer in the classroom, which casts the presentation to a big screen. Usually, the presenter holds a wireles "clicker" with slide show controls for "next slide" and "previous slide". A very fancy clicker also allows the presenter to point at things on ths screen (a pjhysical laser pointer does not work well for remote audience).

There are 2 problems with this traditional approach:

  • Microsoft Powerpont under Windows often does not display 100% correctly presentations created on other platforms. For this and other reasons, it's usually better to make slides in LaTeX and to output pdf (don't expect the classroom computer to be able to read a dvi file).

  • Some presenters want to bring their own devices and to display, for example, Mathematica animations, or their live interactions with a web server. There are 2 ways to accomplish this:

  • provide an HDMI port. The presenter can feed whatever video and audio into the port through an HDMI cable and have it shown on the large screen and loudspeakers and broadcast to the remote audience.

  • allow the presenter to install client software on their device (again, google, there are several choices) that will allow the presenter to connect to a school server over wifi and cast whatever audio and video is on their device.

Depending on the size and shape of the classroom, consider having several large screens showing the same slides, so that from every seat, at least one screen is clearly visible.

The presenter should be able to attach a wireless microphone to their clothes, and have their voice sent wirelessly to loudspeakers around the classroom and to the remote audience. ideally, the presenter should be able to change the loudspeaker volume. You may want to talk to an ADA expert on how to make the large screens and the loudspeakers more friendly to vision / hearing impaired audiences (google T-coils).


Many seminars have desktop computers. I suggest leaving that out of your seminar room design. They are cheap to purchase, but:

  • Nobody wants to spend time updating them.
  • Logging in is inconvenient.
  • Copying files to/from the desktop computer is often frustrating.
  • People leave them on, so they waste energy.

If a computer is needed for presentations, bring a familiar laptop.

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    Wouldn't that depend on the ability to join the PC to departmental network? If adding the infrastructure is standard or easily done, then the PC can be remotely maintained. Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 11:12
  • Not sure about this. Many presentation slides are available online before the presentation starts, and it's not difficult to setup a passwordless linux box with no intranet permissions. It can also be set to turn itself off after 2h inactivity.
    – Clumsy cat
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 11:24

Frank, here are two suggestions.

  1. Make sure the screen is shifted off to the side a bit, not coming down directly in front of the center area of the board. It is super annoying when the screen covers the center part of the front board, as it makes it awkward to use the fully available space on the board with the screen. When my department moved into a renovated building, I made sure all the classrooms had the screen come down shifted off to the side. For example, in the view of our classroom 314 in the math department on the page https://classrooms.uconn.edu/classroom/mont-314/# (note: before clicking that, see the comment below about the large images on the page) you can see the screen storage space along a part of the ceiling that is off to the side in front of the far part of the front board.

  2. Have boards on the sidewalls if possible. This can allow someone to put something on a board ahead of time that stays up for the whole presentation.

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    Ouch, two 11 MiB images on your mont-314 page! Good thing I have the browser extension to block large images, or I would be left with no internet towards the end of my monthly mobile services package (I only have mobile 4G Internet access). I wish web creators would have a little bit more respect for people with limited traffic :) Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 14:46
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    @VioletGiraffe The flip side is systems - like SE - that put arbitrary small limits (I think 2 Meg.) on image uploads, which is far smaller than the typical modern smartphone default camera settings. The solution for both problems is automated server-side processing of images - allow large image uploads but resize/downsample automatically so that default displays work on most devices. Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:15

Note: I'm not from academia, but from an IT company.

Firstly, I suggest making as much as possible of the walls a black- (or white-) board — and on the side and back walls too. I've seen once a room with walls covered by dark panels that resemble normal blackboard so that you could use chalk on it; where I work they cover the walls with some special white film that allows one to use standard whiteboard markers. One of the advantages that you will get is that if there is a lot of relatively independent discussions in groups (e.g. after a seminar), each discussion group can use their own part of a wall/board.

Secondly, while many people here suggested keeping the equipment simple, I would still suggest installing a decent equipment that would allow integration of both in-person and online attendees. At our company we have some advanced equipment in conference rooms, obviously somehow integrated with zoom, with decent microphones so that zoom participants hear everything that is said, and large TVs where these zoom participants are shown when they are talking. As a contrast, I sometimes organize events and read lectures at local universities, and when I ask them to make the meeting available for both in-person and online attendance, it's always a big hassle and mediocre results. As a result, the last time I was organizing an event, I simply talked to my company asking to make use of our conference room — and it turned out much better than my previous attempts at the universities.

Thirdly, I don't know if this is possible at your current stage, or if it's something obvious and already done, but think about electrical sockets in the floor, so that people seating in the middle of the room have some place to plug their laptops to.

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