Of Special Note Archives

A once-in-a life time opportunity: planning a space for science for an academic community, a complex and creative planning opportunity. How to get it right?


Recognize that although complex, the process of planning for new spaces for science is straightforward, similar to that needed to achieve any major academic initiative. The first step is to establish a clear vision that has wide-spread and visible community ownership and that becomes the foundation from which subsequent goals and strategies are determined.

This vision must evolve from extended conversations (time consuming and sometimes contentious) about the nature of learning for the 21st century students who will use the spaces, about the nature of the culture of your community they will serve, and about the power and potential of 21st century technologies to strengthen student learning and community culture. Finally, these conversations must connect to the larger context in which your community pursues its vision and goals for student learning.

Shaping a vision for 21st century learning is where the complexity begins. Questions will soon surface that call for significant, campus-wide introspection about the institutional future.

Read more - Planning Spaces for Science: How to Get it Right>>> 

(From the 2010 LSC Working Group)

I. Premise. Robust learning happens when students are:

  • actively engaged in evaluating, constructing, and reevaluating their own knowledge
  • actively engaged in a social and supportive community
  • encouraged to assess, reflect, and build on prior knowledge
  • Šempowered to address problems that are meaningful, of importance to the world beyond the campus.

II. Premise. Robust learning happens when it is:

  • iterative and non-linear
  • provisional, always in a state of flux, becoming
  • scaffolded and transferable
  • by turns, social and solitary
  • understood by all as preparation for what comes next.

III. Premise: Robust learning empowers learners. Students who are empowered learners are becoming agents of their own learning. They are adventurous, tolerant of ambiguity, eager to ask new questions, testing the boundaries and limits of what is known, not known.

IV. Premise: It is essential to understand and assess relationships among the quality and character of learning spaces, learning behaviors and learning goals. Learning spaces should always be designed to support particular learning goals set by the community.

It is essential to make assessments actionable. Good assessment makes use of rubrics and protocols for measuring spaces of different sizes and purposes, formal and informal, individual and groups spaces, buildings, and/or an entire campus envisioned as a learning space.

V. Spaces should provide opportunities for students to:

  • become actively engaged with peers in shaping their own learning
  • practice skills, competencies, ways of thinking and doing of a professional in the field
  • practice communicating and critiquing within a community of colleagues and peers
  • be refreshed and renewed
  • be self-aware and self-motivated, reflecting on what they are learning and becoming. 

VI. Premise: Learning spaces that work in the service of robust learning:

  • accommodate the wide range of programmatic and pedagogical approaches proven to support robust learning by today’s students
  • are flexible, agile, and responsive to changing needs and desires are open to changing hierarchical structures with ease
  • motivate and allow students to identify with professionals in a field
  • encourage the serendipitous collision of ideas
  • support social, affective, and cognitive aspects of learning, enabling students to explore and practice behaviors essential for learning
  • are aesthetically pleasing, open to the natural world
  • easily accommodate technologies essential for robust learning by today’s students
  • are viewed by students as safe and comfortable for learning
  • “facilities should enable and empower people to do their best.” (Leadership is an Art. 1989 Max DePree, Chairman emeritus of Herman Miller, Inc.)

>> Robust Learning: How does it happen? Where does it happen?


Attempting to shape the future by shaping and reshaping the physical environment for learning is an opportunity to shape and enrich the learning community on a campus into the future. Thus, in the process of planning, building should be seen as both noun (the resulting spaces) and verb (the community served by those spaces). 

In reviewing these pages, you will find how, in under taking planning spaces of different scope and intent, the involved institutional teams were aware that informed discussion around critical questions is a key characteristic of community. Taken together, their experiences suggest characteristics of a community that aspires to realize spaces that enable learning. 

It is a community that:

  • Has a clear understanding of 21st century learners, what they bring to the campus and their aspirations for life and work beyond the campus.
  • Is aware of the 21st century challenges and opportunities that students will face and that influence how institutions prepare students for that future.
  • Understands key questions to be asked at each stage in the process of planning and asks them in a context of mutual respect and shared commitments.
  • Is willing to take risks, seeking collaborators and partnerships within academe and within the larger community of stakeholders.
  • Keeps broadening the discussion, redefining the problem, committed to shaping a community of learners that serves the national interest. 

See also: About the LSC Guide

The Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture was created by faculty in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland to take advantage of possibilities presented by new visual media for enhancing teaching and learning in their fields. Their story illustrates the value of taking beginning steps, understanding and building on what is already in place, embracing the future.

In a course titled “Leonardo and the Science of Art,” science and engineering students, guided by an art history professor, explored the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci as a multi-talented scientist, inventor, and artist. With access to an array of technological resources and flexible space in which to move, these students built models, both physical and virtual, and created visual presentations of varying types. Their freedom to move about the space facilitated quick transitions from one activity to another.

  • University of Maryland College Park: Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture
    Profile and Essay


Among recent reports that are valuable resources in planning 21st century STEM spaces for undergraduate learners are those from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and from the National Research Council (NRC):

  • Discipline Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering
  • A New Biology for the 21st Century 
  • The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century
  • Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation 
  • Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in STEM

Although prepared by and for STEM communities of learners and practitioners, the messages of these reports are clear. First, given the urgent challenges facing our nation, global community, and planet, 21st century learners in all fields of study must be empowered to address problems that are meaningful personally and of import to the world beyond the campus. Second, empowering 21st century learners must be accepted as a communal responsibility rather than that of a lone ranger agent of change.

Although sparked by a different contextual reality, there is a marked, but not surprising, coherence in their vision of what 21st century learners are to become and of goals and strategies by which that vision can be realized. However, none makes explicit reference to the reality that as attention is given to transforming the physical environment for learning. This is puzzling, given evidence from a growing number of campuses about how transformed spaces contributed to transformed learning. That said, these reports must not be dismissed. They can be taken, and must be taken, as road maps for the journey into and through the planning of 21st century learning spaces for 21st century learners. This is a journey of wrestling with the ill-defined question about how space matters to learning.

Read more >>>


The 2005 report, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (IDR), from the National Academy of Sciences sets forth key conditions for effective interdisciplinary research. Many of these are also essential conditions to realize spaces that facilitate interdisciplinary learning and research. To paraphrase (p 21):

  • At the initial stage, there has to be recognition that there are common problems to solve.

Then, the process involves building bridges in many different ways, including attention to process and to people:

  • There must be an environment that encourages collaboration in the process of building bridges, with visible support and nudging from campus leadership.
  • There must intention to establish a team philosophy.
  • There must be seed/glue money available to support the process and the people involved in the planning.
  • There must be frequent meetings engaging team members, internal seminars to foster bridges within the campus community, and opportunities to learn from and work with peers beyond their community.
  • The most important bridge is to think of the end at the beginning.


Supporting the evolution of the process and project requires:

  • The willingness to take risks.
  • The recognition of the potential for high impact.
  • Facilities that enable:
    • The physical co-location of researchers
    • Shared instrumentation
    • Enhanced chance meetings between researchers.

The report sets forth powerful drivers for attention to interdisciplinary research that can be adopted as drivers for facilitating interdisciplinary STEM learning in the undergraduate environment. These include the increasing and inherent complexity of nature and society, the need to solve society problems and the stimulus of generative technologies.

Over the past decade, since this report was published, a growing number of reports document the urgency of such drivers, delving more deeply into why and how the concept of interdisciplinary itself has become more complex—with terms such as team science, transdisciplinary and convergence  (Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond [2014]) beginning to shape mental images of how science and engineering beyond the classroom is being practiced. This becomes a challenge to those responsible for undergraduate STEM learning spaces as they begin to think of the end at the beginning.

This quote from the IDR report can be taken as inspiration and guide for planners as well as a description of the kind of experiences that undergraduates will have in spaces intentionally designed to facilitate interdisciplinary learning:

"At the heart of interdisciplinarity is communication— the conversations, connections, and combinations that bring new insights to virtually every kind of scientist and engineer.”

A challenge for supporting informed participation is in providing a mechanism allowing various participants to integrate their perspectives in a meaningful way. To do so, it is important to support the process of reflection-in-action. As participants act upon a problem, breakdowns occur due to incomplete understanding of the underlying problem, conflicts among perspectives, or the absence of shared understanding. By supporting the process of reflection within this shared context, opportunities arise for building upon these breakdowns in ways that integrate the various perspectives and expertise, while enhancing shared understanding. 

Supporting informed participation requires processes that integrate the individual and the group knowledge through collaborative constructions. Information spaces need to be constructed collaboratively and integrated into the work and social practices of the community. These collaborative constructions result in work products that are enriched by the multiple perspectives emerging through community discourse. 

Effectively supporting informed participation and empowerment is a socio-technical problem in which the social support and the technical infrastructure for [solving] open-ended problems go hand in hand. 


Students are in for a big surprise when they first set foot in the third-floor classroom of Middle East and Islamic history professor Gavin Brockett at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Unlike a traditional classroom, there are no fixed rows of chairs with students eyes-front to the professor, no beige-coloured walls nor the usual shortage of electrical outlets for computers.

Instead, the second-year students enter a carpeted room painted in bright sea green and blue. At five round tables equipped for laptops, video conferencing and integrated projector controls, they sit in swivel chairs with a 360-degree view of the room. During class, they write on whiteboards mounted on the walls or unhook portable “huddle boards” (small whiteboards) for group work that includes nine Turkish university students in Istanbul connected by video conference.

“It is priceless to be standing there and looking at their faces,” Prof. Brockett says. “It turns everything upside down.”

Read the full article from The Globe and Mail>>>



[O]ne of the most powerful concepts framed through the civic renewal effort is the concept of “stewardship of place,” or an ongoing partnership between higher education and local communities that is designed to tackle and ameliorate festering social problems and inequities. When these kinds of reciprocal, long-term, collaborative efforts are formed, they provide a very powerful locus for both faculty and student engagement in civic inquiry and problem solving. They provide extraordinary opportunities for the academic community to learn from the insights and judgments of civic communities, with their multiple sources of perspective, energy, skepticism, disagreement, wisdom, and grass-roots decision making. These collaborative civic problem-solving partnerships model democracy in action. But they also bring a new rigor about evidence to the work of civic inquiry, analysis, and decision making. And rigor about the evidence we use to make decisions is urgently needed.

When we think about civic inquiry and learning in these terms—scholars, students, and staff working with community partners, taking a long-term responsibility for the quality of our lives in community—then, in my view, we begin to see the outlines of a twenty-first-century argument for the future of our colleges, universities, and community colleges as dedicated inquiry communities that are anchored in specific geographical places and responsibilities.

— Carol Geary Schneider. “To Democracy’s Detriment: What Is the Current Evidence, and What if We Fail to Act Now?” Civic Provocations. Donald W. Harward, Ed. Bringing Theory to Practice: Washington DC. 2012. 


The evolution of a “sandbox” space within the East Commons of the Library at Georgia Tech (begun in 2001) was a featured presentation at the 2008 workshop on Learning Spaces & Technology co-sponsored by CIC, NITLE, and PKAL (the LSC predecessor). Crit Stuart, then at the Association of Research Libraries in Washington DC, spoke of his experience while at Georgia Tech in involving students throughout the planning process.

A variety of approaches were undertaken to capture what students would be looking for in the renovated spaces. Themes arising from the focus groups included: spaces that were aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and made it possible to move easily between hard work and breaks (accessible refreshments); spaces in which the creativity of GT can be celebrated, with “productivity” tools for group work; spaces that could morph to student needs and offered a heterogeneous mix of options. 

Students wanted to see and be seen learning. They want to be able to move things around to fit the particular needs of their time, their group.


Each of the facilitators described how the LSC Guide could inform the work of different members of a planning team. Cathy Wolfe, Director of Campus Planning at George Mason University, identified how diverse members of an academic community could take advantage of the Guide as a major planning resource:

  • Senior administrators, including officers for development and community relations
    … enhancing their awareness of what it takes to create transformational learning experiences, giving them language and rationale for securing financial support from stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels.

  • Administrative officers with responsibility for the learning environment on a campus
    … providing real-world stories from a range of institutions from which a shared language can emerge about best practices in shaping and sustaining a physical environment that enhances student learning

  • Faculty
    … giving them easy access to adaptable examples of creative thinking about spaces that enhance learning, challenging them to think about questions to be asking 

  • Members of campus planning offices, those responsible for planning, designing, constructing and maintaining the physical plant
    … informing their discussions about each stage of the planning process, from initial planning through the evolution of spaces over time. 

For the more information and the full presentation, visit the full event page.

Reinforcing the value of identifying and addressing key question for planning STEM learning environments, we invite your attention to a From the Archives posting.. This is from a gathering of architects convened by (PKAL/LSC) in Boston, 2006.  The charge to those present was: “what questions do you wish your clients would be asking?”  It is interesting now, almost a decade later, to examine if and how such questions are still relevant and/or what new questions now need to be identified and addressed, given the changing context.

(Photo courtesy of Peter Kuttner, Cambridge Seven Associates)

Understanding Key Questions

Words of Wisdom from Frank H.T. Rhodes

Methods of Teaching and Learning

If what is taught has become a matter of concern, the question of how learning takes place has become an even more widespread and urgent concern. Though more is known about effective pedagogy than about the results of curriculum choice, numbers of writers conclude that the existing faculty emphasis on undergraduate teaching, such as it is, is misplaced and that more attention should be devoted to student learning rather than teaching. The goal and outcome of a successful undergraduate experience, the critics argue, should be learning, to which teaching makes a major contribution. But teaching is the means, not the end, of education. Learning is the product of education and teaching is but one means—though a significant one. To devote faculty time to tinkering with course requirements, to the neglect, some argue, of the learning outcomes associated with them, may be as inappropriate as the preoccupation and reimbursement of hospitals for length of patient stay rather than the beneficial results of patient care. The emphasis on teaching as an end in itself, rather than a means of learning, reflects a wider neglect of interest in pedagogy. The heavy reliance on the conventional lecture format—representing, some critics argue, almost everything that is the antithesis of what we know about the best methods of effective learning—is an unhappy example.

— Frank H.T. Rhodes. “Chapter 2: Science as a Liberal Art.” American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Science and the Educated American: A Core Component of Liberal Education. Cambridge, MA. 2010.

The ecosystem of learning spaces reflects deep understanding with the  broader campus community about how learning  happens, an understanding that is evident in the diversity of spaces in which learning happens—formal and informal learning. Bloom’s taxonomy of learning challenges those responsible for the quality of the physical environment for learning to become learners themselves—to move from understanding how spaces make a difference to learning to creating such spaces. 

Creativity is the highest point in Bloom’s taxonomy of learning outcomes, the synthesis of goals at lower levels of the pyramid. It is goal that can be embraced by faculty at all disciplines and by the institution at large; it offers a lens to examine all spaces in all disciplines on a campus, formal and informal, natural, built and virtual. Read more>>>


We invite your attention to the essay, Imagining Community, authored by Tom Greene of St. Lawrence University after participating in the 2005 Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) Roundtable on the Future of Undergraduate STEM facilities. This comes from the PKAL facilities planning archives.

An environmental psychologist, Tom is interested in architectural psychology and behavioral geography.  His current research is on how spaces nurture creativity.

Spaces that foster a sense of community can only evolve when they are predicated on a program that demands them. If we give ourselves permission to imagine the warmth, support, and creativity that flourish in a functioning community, we settle on images— a palette of spaces that have been part of our own transforming social experiences. Design professionals and educators share these memories, and the spaces will appear when we give ourselves permission to imagine them.

Full essay

The current revolution in pedagogy is accompanied by many buzzwords: "flipped classrooms," "project-based learning," "active learning," to name a few. All describe a disruption of the traditional lecture format featuring an instructor standing at the front of a classroom, talking to ranks of students silently taking notes.

"Colleges Adapt (Slowly) to Classrooms 2.0," an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses how new ideas call for bigger spaces, furniture on wheels, and more money. 

  • Clearly reflect educational goals for the curricular and co-curricular programs within an overall institutional framework, for the immediate and the long term
  • Recognize the increasingly social character of learning, research and teaching by facilitating productive interaction between and among students and faculty
  • Acknowledge the role of serendipity in learning by including spaces for exploiting the unplanned, teachable moment
  • Are so inviting, safe, and well-equipped that they are used by the community most hours of the day, most days of the week, that they give the community a sense of ‘home’
  • Anticipate the future by being open to change, allowing experimenting with new  research-based programmatic, pedagogical, and technological initiatives.
  • Respect and add distinction to the community of learners they serve.
  • Reflect an institutional awareness of the world beyond the campus in which students will live and work upon graduation.
  • Contribute to the humanity of the campus.

(Project Kaleidoscope Volume  III.  1995. Adapted)

The upcoming LSC webinar on National Reports spotlights the efforts of John Jungck (Director of the Interdisciplinary Science Learning Laboratories at the University of Delaware) and John Marshall (Architecture & Urban Planning, Multidiscplinary Design Program at the University of Michigan). Each of these spaces- one new building and one repurposed room- illustrates approaches to addressing recommendations in ARISE 2.

The 2013 report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—ARISE 2: Unleashing America’s Research & Innovation Enterprise—focuses on a particular challenge facing those responsible for shaping the future of research in STEM fields—that of moving toward transdisciplinary research… [recognizing that this] will require more than encouraging researchers from different disciplines to work together [and that a] critical next step is to provide incentives and remove barriers so that the tools and expertise developed within discrete disciplines are shared and combine to enable a deep conceptual and functional integration across the disciplines.

Read more >>>

Problem-driven learning spaces at the U.A. Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Building

What do we want our learners to become?

  • Agents of their own learning.
  • Integrative thinkers and problem-solvers.
  • Empowered communicators and leaders.
  • Model-based reasoners.
  • Resilient experimenters.
What experiences make that becoming happen?
  • Tackle ill-structured, open-ended complex problems with others.
  • Search for, find, and share relevant, reliable and up-to-date data with team members.
  • Blend disciplinary concepts, methods, representations toward solving problems.
  • Create, share, debate, and defend models (graphical, diagrammatic, mathematical).
  • Try, fail, and recover.

Active Learning Classroom (ALC)

What do we want our learners to become?

  • Fearless, confident, independent learners who don’t shy away from intellectual challenges.
  • Effective collaborators who embrace team work.
  • Sophisticated, discriminating users of information and technology.
  • Creative problem-solvers.
  • Generous teachers who share their knowledge, experiences, and perspectives with others.
  • Our colleagues.

What experiences make that becoming happen?

  • Projects that require authentic application of disciplinary knowledge.
  • Projects that require students to collaborate, to choose issues that matter to them personally, and to find creative solutions to solve the problem.
  • Grading strategies measure standards-based performance rather than identifying a bell-shaped curve of relative performance.
  • Classroom activities that require and reward critical discussion.
  • A collegial, respectful relationship between students and faculty.


Weigle Information Commons and Education Commons

What do we want our learners to become?

  • Aware of the powerful role they play in their own learning.
  • Effective collaborators and participants in team activities.
  • Comfortable asking for assistance and accessing expert advice in a timely manner.
  • Connected with faculty, support providers and peers during the learning process.
  • Digitally literate citizens who communicate about and use technology effectively.

What experiences make that becoming happen?

  • Collaborating in a flexible, technology-rich space.
  • Interacting with tutors, peer advisors, faculty, teaching assistants, librarians.
  • Preparing, practicing, recording and receiving feedback on presentations.
  • Connecting virtually via video and web conferencing.
  • Students taking ownership of the space – feeling comfortable and in control.



One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. 

- Sophocles, 400 B.C.


How spaces matter to shaping, sustaining, and celebrating community was the theme of the LSC webinar featuring the Athenaeum at Goucher College, presented by President Sanford J. Ungar and three of his Goucher colleagues: Linda Barone, Project Manager, Facilities Management Services; Nancy Magnuson, College Librarian; and Marc Roy, Provost.

In their process of planning, they translated the ancient concept of a space for meeting and learning into a contemporary physical embodiment of spaces that enable the meeting and learning of 21st century undergraduates.

Through their process of planning, they arrived at spaces that signal to students that “we are your spaces.” As illustrated by the photos, the Athenaeum incorporates spaces for personal reflection—in quiet corners over-looking the campus, as well as for play—in the multi-story forum. It provides spaces for formal and informal groups of students organizing the myriad of co-curricular activities which are integral to the overall experiences of today’s undergraduates.


From the Archives:

The major print publication on learning spaces planning developed under the aegis of Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) was PKAL Volume III: Structures for Science— A Handbook on Planning Facilities for Undergraduate Natural Science Communities. The central theme throughout the handbook is that planning spaces for learning is a community-initiative, one engaging different players at different stages of the process—from within and beyond the campus.

For many faculty (and perhaps some administrators) it may be the first time for substantive and critical engagement with architects and other design professionals who will be responsible for translating your visions and ideas into physical reality. Thus, as architects come to understand the language of learners and learning communities, academics should be comfortable with language from the design professional community.

Here, from Volume III, is the Client’s Bill of Rights and Obligations, outlined from the perspective of an architect. Read more>>

Sometimes in the process of planning, perhaps at the beginning stages or when the process is stalled, it is helpful to have the perspective of experienced practitioners from beyond the campus to find the points of synergy and disconnect.

The obvious value of the wisdom of experts in the field in catalyzing and validating local reform efforts was confirmed during the years of the PKAL/Keck Consultancy Program, supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation. Presented here is a ‘real-world’ post-consultancy report to campus leaders on how to restart a planning process that had lost focus and momentum.

Although these words of wisdom are focused on the physical environment for STEM learners, they outline dangers to avoid and present recommendations for planning learning spaces, no matter the specific project under consideration. 

Planning: Community Responsibility for Restarting a Stalled Planning Process

The fall 2012 LSC webinar series focuses on institution-wide approaches to shaping and renewing the physical environment for learning, giving attention to managing classrooms, developing active-learning classrooms, making the case for 21st century learning spaces, and establishing policies and practices for an informal learning space initiative.

Each of the four case studies to be explored in these webinars illustrate the increased complexity of the process, suggesting how the language of planning is changing and thus how new voices and expertise need to be at the planning table.

As classrooms become active-learning classrooms, dots must be connected between research on learning and research-based pedagogies, as well as institutional initiatives for faculty development, student assessment, curricular innovation, and emerging technologies.

As campuses realize that every space is a learning space, that students learn 24/7, that learning is a social activity, the process of identifying and connecting relevant ‘dots’ becomes even more challenging.

As campuses make hard decisions about best use of limited resources in the context of their large institutional vision, connections must be made to the past, present, and future of a particular campus community, through discussions that engage faculty and facilities officers, administrators and students—perhaps even alumni and potential employers. 

As illustrated by the photos from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (on the left), when planning involved deciding how many chairs in how many rows, the process was easy, involving perhaps only a single individual. So, just as the process of 21st century learning is most robust as it is collaborative, problem-driven, and real-world, so should the process of planning 21st century learning spaces. 

The process of planning new spaces for learning, either new or renovated, is complex and time-consuming. The importance of identifying and addressing the right questions, in a timely manner, has been one of the major lessons learned over PKAL’s fifteen years of focusing on what works in planning spaces for undergraduate learning communities. From the beginning we have emphasized that ‘building community’ is both the process and the outcome of a successful planning effort, understanding that the communal wrestling with key questions is essential, if the process is to achieve that outcome.

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