Insights from National Calls to Action

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.

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