Classrooms and ORs

student-centeredOperating rooms are to hospitals as classrooms are to colleges and universities – mission critical.

They are tiny parts of an institution’s footprint yet essential to the mission. Hospital administrators pay attention to ORs. Provosts rarely give classrooms a second thought. In the digital transformation of higher education effective learning environments are becoming more critical, not less. Inattention to classrooms and learning spaces can be an Achilles heel.

Patient-Centered Operating rooms are part of a much larger patient-centered environment that includes beds and outpatient clinics. A hospital without an operating room is not much of a hospital. Though ORs and surgical support areas make up less than 7% of a hospital’s usable floor area, these small components and the procedures they support are the essence of the hospital. They are among the most carefully built spaces, with extraordinary care taken for every aspect of the physical environment, from air quality to floor vibration.

Not Student-Centered Universities are not student-centered in the way that hospitals are patient-centered. ORs are not located for the convenience of surgeons, however classrooms are located for the convenience of faculty. ORs are part of an integrated patient care environment. Classrooms are balkanized by department, school, and university with different rules pertaining to each.

Classrooms and teaching laboratories are a small part of a university footprint, often less than 7%. These spaces and the experience they support are as essential to the university as ORs are to the hospital. ORs are never an afterthought, classrooms often are. ORs are understood to be strategic assets, classrooms are rarely considered at all, except to be sure that there are enough chairs to satisfy the “butts-in-seats” pro forma.

Examples While ORs have changed dramatically in the last century, classrooms are just beginning to get the care they deserve. A wide spectrum of active learning spaces have resulted from this attention. FLEXspace and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory have growing inventories of examples.

Active learning spaces have more floor area per student than traditional classrooms, and the floors are flat. The combination of floor area and flatness serves the needs of evolving pedagogies. Flexibility for movement and engagement allows reconfiguration for discussion and project work – and writing surfaces are everywhere. At the high-tech end of the spectrum, the rooms have the fastest possible network speed. At the low-tech end, these rooms resemble traditional seminar rooms without a massive central table.

Investing in Obsolescence The rate of improving classrooms is slow, requiring a couple of decades on most campuses. Digital transformation of higher education is accelerating, making time in traditional classrooms evermore important. Still, it is possible to find universities reinvesting scarce capital funding in obsolete teaching spaces. I won’t name the institutions, but it is happening all across the nation. The explanation usually has several sources:

  • senior faculty members who do not wish to change teaching methods
  • lag times of more than a decade between documented need and occupancy
  • ineffectual influence from knowledgeable facilities staff, and
  • indifferent institutional leadership.

All of these factors contribute to the slow change in classrooms, but none more than indifferent institutional leadership. If presidents and provosts saw the classrooms as key to a student centered environment – as a mission critical asset – they would act differently and more urgently. That is what hospital administrators do when they see problems with their ORs.

It takes decades to make significant physical change to a campus-wide array of classrooms – creating more effective and supportive learning environments. Even though poor learning environments are not life threatening, starting the process is urgent. In an increasingly competitive and digital world, physical transformation of learning environments is critical to the education mission.

Neuroscience and Campus – Memory and Place

tower-stair-2Memory has been tethered to place by human evolution. Campuses have been among these places for more than a thousand years.

The Question  As students and teachers swim further into the digital stream of online education and simulated reality, will place continue to matter?

This question has taken me far beyond the disciplines of brick and mortar. Higher education, sociology, cultural anthropology, student life, academic business, learning analytics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence have all been on my reading list.

My research is not complete, but my tentative conclusion:

For centuries, campus has been part of the standard paradigm. It has always been there – a setting, not a participant. The future of the campus in the learning enterprise depends on being re-designed to be an agent, a necessary supportive ingredient, not just being there.

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University Architect – Builder / Steward / Shaper

The roles and responsibilities of a university architect ebb and flow with changes in administration and each particular project. When fast and cheap are valued, the role is to build short-term solutions. If investment in the future is intended a balance of stewardship and creativity is required.

Fluid Environments – Expectations vary for each campus and project. They swing through a wide range, project to project and campus to campus. This dynamic can make a university architect feel the need to be a like a chameleon, shifting from one context to another. In one setting the responsibilities are direct implementation according to established rules. In another, extensive consultation and consideration of long-term consequences are expected. Continue reading

Jeanne Narum – Academic Change Agent

Jeanne NarumJeanne Narum has changed conversations about pedagogy and place, teaching and architecture. Beginning with Project Kaleidoscope and now Learning Spaces Collaboratory she has fostered transformative and ongoing conversations improving pedagogy and the educational function of labs and classrooms. This goes far beyond the glitzy marketing photos and glib sales brochures. Her work has engaged a generation of academic leaders, teachers and architects in design thinking that makes campus matter.

Learning Spaces Collaboratory Webinars – Her current series of webinars is worth a serious look. They are organized for campus stakeholders around lessons learned throughout the country:

  • Investing in active learning classrooms
  • Developing a “space matters” culture
  • Dissolving boundaries between communities
  • Transforming through renovation and connections

The webinars build on a series of 2016 Roundtables on the Future of Planning Learning Spaces.

Year in, year out, Jeanne has focused on the needs of students and their teachers, all the while pushing planning and design professionals out of their comfort zones. This has been hard work, overcoming institutional inertia, promoting a design-thinking approach to pedagogy and challenging institutional and architectural paradigms. The results have been a generation of creativity in learning environments and encouragement for the kind of active learning that benefits both faculty and students. Without these efforts, the learning environments on the country’s campuses would be poorer – less supportive and less effective.

Check out the series of webinars. They are worth your most precious resource, time.

Here is a video from a recent informal conversation with Jeanne. She talks about the importance of cultural, pedagogical and spatial change, the support of the National Science Foundation and the histories of collaboration at the heart of Project Kaleidoscope and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory. In this informal conversation you can see why she has been such a successful agent of academic change.

Why Campus Matters: Knowledge, Innovation, Efficacy and Synchronicity

Why Campus MattersThe enduring value of a campus lies in the creation of new knowledge, effective education, fostering creativity and sharing place and time.

This argument was presented at a recent conference. Here is the link to an edited version, in four voices: Thomas Gieryn, Thomas Fisher, Amir Hajrasouliha, and Michael Haggans. The Society of College and University Planning conference was held at Arizona State University. Gieryn, Fisher and Hajrasouliha participated via WebEx while Haggans was on campus.

Gieryn – Knowledge Creation – Thomas Gieryn is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and former Vice Provost at Indiana University. His research centers on the cultural authority of science and on the significance of place for human behavior and social change. His prize-winning book Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line was published by the University of Chicago Press. He is currently completing a book on “truth-spots,” places that lend legitimacy to beliefs and claims.

Fisher – Innovation – Thomas Fisher is Professor in the School of Architecture and Director of the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota. He has written extensively about architectural design, practice, and ethics. His current research involves looking at the implications of the “Third Industrial Revolution” on architecture and cities in the 21st century. His newest book is, Some Possible Futures, Design Thinking our Way to a More Resilient World.

Hajrasouliha – Efficacy – Amir Hajrasouliha is Assistant Professor in City and Regional Planning at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo. An architect and urban planner, Amir earned his Masters from the University of Michigan and doctorate from the University of Utah. His dissertation, The Morphology of the Well Designed Campus is the first research to quantify the relationship between the physical characteristics of a campus and student success. He is winner of the 2016 SCUP Perry Chapman Prize.

Haggans – Synchronicity – Michael Haggans is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota and Visiting Professor in the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. His research concerns the facilities implications of the digital transformation of higher education. He is writing a book on the value of campus in a digital world.

Online Impact on Campus

ImpactIs it possible that online courses will have no impact on the future of the campus?

Let’s look at the data. More than 25% of college students are taking at least one course online. Paring that down to traditional 4-year undergraduates, the equivalent of more than 400,000 full-time students are not in the classroom. This is the equivalent of 8 Arizona State Universities or 40 Harvards. Continue reading

Classrooms and the 21st Century Campus

Haggans in PDU 130226Classrooms for active learning are strategic assets for the 21st century campus.

Even in the digital transformation of higher education there are three-dimensional classrooms – but not the usual types. Active learning spaces will be a competitive advantage since they support better educational outcomes than traditional methods. Realizing this potential will require a disruptive campus-wide approach to the design and management of classrooms.

In the emerging campus, lecture halls are used less and less used. At the same time there is increasing demand for active learning spaces – those places that allow students to interact with each other and their teachers. Continue reading

University of Uber / Airbnb

GT.chaos.1.baseWhat are the Uber or Airbnb equivalents of the university? These are the questions Tom Fisher thinks campus planners should be asking.

We are at the trailing edge of six decades of campus facilities expansion. The resulting mix of assets can be a rich foundation on which to rebuild and right-size sustainable institutions, or part of an unsustainable burden that helps to sink the rest.

In a recent interview, Fisher argued for rethinking many of the assumptions of the physical campus.

The campuses we have inherited are way too big. I know that seems odd, because when you are on a campus everyone is crying for more space, but we have a lot of highly specialized space that goes under-utilized…the faculty office being one of the more notable ones. Increasingly faculty are carrying their office in their laptop and cell phone. So this idea of having a room set aside for yourself is really antiquated. Classrooms are changing. They will still be used, but the whole campus is a teaching environment. The whole city and region is a learning environment.

The Challenge for SCUP and Campus Planners

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Graduation Rates – Campus Does Matter

Hajrasouliha.1Campus does matter for graduation rates and Amir Hajrasouliha has done the math.

Three physical campus dimensions, urbanism, greenness and on-campus living, are significantly correlated with student retention and graduation rates. His work controlled for the influences of student selectivity, class size, total enrollment, university types and education expenditures. However, he found no significant correlation between student success and land use organization or spatial configuration.

Amir’s dissertation, The Morphology of the Well Designed Campus is the first research to use rigorous statistical methods to quantify the relationship between the physical characteristics of a campus and student success. This is not a series of case studies or perceptual surveys. This work connects the theory and practice of campus planning to student success by carefully controlling for relevant variables. Continue reading

Bryan Alexander – in the crease between education and technology

Queen SacrificeBryan Alexander works in the crease between technology and teaching, between traditional higher education and innovation. Through his Future Trends Forum he is interviewing leaders in technology and education.

He is among the best observers of the disruptions roiling higher education. Bryan has a gift for metaphor, labeling some institutional survival tactics to be “queen sacrifices”. He applies it to the growing number of institutions jettisoning programs and departments and redefining mission. Continue reading