Creating Long-Lived Spaces

In my last blog post, we heard from academics and experts regarding their big questions regarding the built environment in higher education. They talked about meeting the needs of all students, how students are changing and why teachers may need help adapting to new ways of teaching. 

In this post, we hear from the design, facilities and architect side of the discussion that occurred in March at North Carolina State University at a roundtable held by the Learning Spaces Collaboratory.  I’ve long worked with the LSC to explore the built environment and education. At this roundtable, we were asked to share our big question or concern. This transcript was edited for clarity, length and diversity of ideas.

Matt Ketchum, Director of Capital Projects, Western Carolina University
We're designing a new STEM project, a $110 million project. One of my big questions, given the investment, is how can we make sure that the building is flexible enough to meet a changing environment? One example is libraries. Libraries have changed from these large stacks to something you hold in your hand. With the change in technology, the change in learning, how do buildings allow for flexibility as new technologies develop?

John Starr, Architect, Lord Aeck Sargent
I'm interested in how buildings can be long-lived? How can they change a learner's frame of reference? A lot of spaces, if you walk into them and they look like normal spaces, people think, "The same old thing is going to happen here." But if you come into an interesting space, it looks different, and students and faculty (then) have a different set of expectations. Beyond changing the frame of reference, how do those spaces continue to live on for 20 or 30 years and change over time?

Rick Moog, Professor, Franklin & Marshall College, Director, POGIL Project 
POGIL stands for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. It's a combination of things that people have learned that are effective in helping students learn. There's really no learning environment that is the best for every student. Whatever is taking place in a classroom, whether it's been intentionally designed or just because, is going to advantage certain individuals and others will be disadvantaged. When one goes to (another) situation, a different set of students will be advantaged and another set will be disadvantaged. What keeps me up at night is thinking about what I'm doing in classrooms to give the best experience not to all students collectively, but to each student individually. What is it about the nature of the learning experience that I've designed–who is being privileged and who is not—and is there something I can do about that for those individuals? 

Kristen Ambrose, Associate Principal, Ayers Saint Gross
One thing that keeps me up at night is the value of face-to-face experience and how, in some ways, we're optimizing education with components of blended and online learning, the idea of flipping the classroom. But in terms of physical environments, what is it that we're actually enabling students when they enter that room itself, and how are they being encouraged to not only learn from one source of the faculty, but (from) each other, from other sources? 

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