Reports from the Spring LSC Roundtables: Volume I, July 2016

How do we keep a strong connection with all stakeholders throughout the planning process? 
– Jane Hunter, University of Arizona

How do we create spaces that maximize student autonomy and control while retaining long-term flexibility? 
–  Andrea Rehm, Claremont Colleges Library

How do we avoid having the building/classroom define how we would like to teach, to learn? 
– Carlos Gutierrez, California State University Los Angeles

What comes first: changes in instructional modes or changes in the building that supports them?
– Robert Smith, Stanford University

Questions such as these were brought to the “table” during the five regional Spring 2016 LSC roundtables focusing on the future of planning learning spaces orchestrated by the Learning Spaces Collaboratory. These roundtable reflected a growing awareness of thoughtful academics and architects that:

  • There is an emerging body of evidence that informed attention to the physical environment for learning is a critical factor in achieving sustainable and transformative change of the undergraduate learning experience
  • Traditional approaches to planning learning spaces are becoming outdated, with thoughtful stakeholders across the country beginning to rethink assumptions, to go beyond the predictable in imagining spaces in which today’s undergraduates are prepared for life and work in the world they enter upon graduation
  • The changing context, with challenges and opportunities with and requires a more future-oriented approach to planning learning spaces in the undergraduate setting. As noted by futurist Riel Miller ([UNESCO]. “Embracing Complexity and Using the Future.” ETHOS. October 2011.):

The point…is to become more adept at inventing imaginary futures…to rethink the assumptions we use to understand the present. By increasing our capacity to improvise…, live with permanent ambiguity and novelty, [we are freed] to go beyond the predictable, to embrace complexity.

Each roundtable began with individuals sharing “on-the-wall” a question that had surfaced from their review of portfolios prepared by participating architects. A general discussion followed, a first step in seeking common themes, big picture issues. Those presented here, above from the roundtable at Loyola Marymount University and below, from the roundtable at the University of Illinois at Chicago, illustrate the kind of challenging questions that sparked the beginning of our four hours together.

Another beginning prompt was asking for responses to the question: what keeps you up at night when thinking about learning spaces?

Here is one response to that question, reflections from Carlos Gutierrez, California State University LA—a faculty member in chemistry and biochemistry.

What keeps me up at night is how do I do right by my students and not lie to them in terms of what science is, of how science is done. …So my challenge is to teach science the way that science is done, rather than what they perceive it was done by a bunch of dead people who had nothing to do with them.
Carlos’ remarks were about what happens in a learning space, about the experience of the learner. Full essay.
Attention to the learner, the experience of the learner was a major thread in the broader tapestry of roundtable discussions. Questions surfaced about inclusivity and diversity, about student ownership of the learning process in our discussions. Many architectural stories in portfolios prepared for roundtables asked questions about how to engage students in the process of planning—signaling a practice perhaps becoming widely adapted.

What does student-centered planning mean? How might we address in our planning the need for spaces that enable us to engage fully our entering and lower level students in the doing of engineering from the very first day?
 –Engineering Student Achievement Center, Auburn University

How can students actively participate and contribute constructively to the design of spaces in which they will learn?
–The Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, University of Maryland College Park

How do students understand how to use the spaces provided?
– Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Alberta

A concluding question involving students at one roundtable was quite audacious: What if we turned all the planning over to our students?