Hybrid working is the new normal, everyone exclaims these days. For students, hybrid education can turn out to be difficult: a fifteen-minute break between the lecture on location in the morning and the online lecture in the afternoon? That means a bikeride home at breakneck speed. UvA staff member Marloes van Wagtendonk, developer of new library spaces, came up with a solution: Video Call Booths.
Since education is partly online and partly on-campus because of the coronavirus crisis, Marloes noticed that students were piling up in hallways and halls to make video calls. That is noisy and not ideal. Something has to be done, Marloes thought. ‘Students can't be biking back and forth between the university and home all the time. Many students don't live nearby.’ That is why she came up with the idea of the Video Call Booth: a booth that can be placed on tables, which makes it possible for several students in the same room to have online meetings, follow online lectures or collaborate online with others.
Inspiration from call centers
Forty Video Call Booths are now distributed in rooms in REC-H, the University Library at the Singel and in study spaces at Science Park. The booths were designed together with the architectural firm Aiscube and made of PETfelt - felt from recycled PET bottles. The material is often used for its soundproofing properties. The designers drew inspiration from call centers, where everyone is on the phone all day, and from UvA’s language lab. Muting sound was the biggest concern, because you don't want to be bothered by each other. Although the booths work well according to Marloes, students are still asked not to talk too loudly.
The video call booths are a bit dark, and very large, says Marloes, who tried them out herself. ‘They need to be used in a room that has height. But acoustically they do very well.’ Student Catinka Velody (20, Business Administration), standing in a hallway in REC-H, has her doubts about that. ‘They only partially block the sound. And many people don't muffle their voices, so then it's noisy.’ Moreover, it's still a bit uncomfortable. ‘It's awkward to make video calls in a room with others around you. When we were studying there the other day, a boy asked after he had finished video conferencing whether it was annoying that he was talking. Whereas, of course, that's what it's there for.’
Catinka herself is mainly in REC-H to study. ‘People take the booths off the table to be able to study in daylight. The next morning they are all put back in place.’ Marloes explains that it will be tested in the coming period whether students find it pleasant to work with and whether they understand the purpose of the video call booths. The amount of booths might then be expanded for students, and perhaps also for employees. ‘I regularly get questions from employees, who apparently don't have good calling stations at work either,’ says Marloes. How the booths will fare when the coronacrsis is finally over, she doesn't know, but that seems to be an issue for the future anyway.