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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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

The Course: Planning and Design of the University

Opportunity for Guest Participants – I am teaching Planning and Design of the University:  Future of Campus in a Digital World at Georgia Tech and University of Minnesota.  The course will be open to on-line guest participants.  A schedule for guest participants is here.

Georgia Tech students and in-class presenters will be in an on-campus classroom/studio.  Minnesota students, remote presenters and guest participants will join via web conference.

A limited number of “seats” are available for guest participants, for seven Tuesdays beginning January 20 through March 3, 2015 from 6pm to 8:30 Eastern (5pm to 7:30 Central).  A syllabus for the entire 15 week course is here.

Please let me know of your interest in participating by sending an email before January 15 to  Please put Guest in the subject line.

This guest participant opportunity is made possible by the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota.



Future of the Campus in a Digital World

2 by 1 by 3As the need for synchronous place and time evaporates, the physical campus must provide values that are not available by other means. Campuses need to be transformed as if their survival were at stake.

Future of the Campus in a Digital World. is my assessment of the state of the campus at the close of 2014.  It is in the form of a 10 page pdf.  I hope you will share it with your colleagues and let me know your thoughts.

Digital Visible

Hunt Library Int.2.wcThe physical implications of the digital transformation of higher education are becoming visible. Classrooms and libraries are being retooled in response to changes in basic assumptions that have guided campus development for more than a century. Student housing and campuses are evolving in response to social media and the changing use patterns of members of the campus community.  From classrooms to libraries to residence halls, digital transformation is changing the physical presence and requirements of each institution.

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Classrooms: Bigger, Flatter, Faster and Fewer

Even in the digitally driven future of higher education, three-dimensional classroom spaces will be needed.  They won’t be used in the traditional manner and they won’t be the traditional kind.  They will be bigger, flatter, faster and there will be fewer classrooms for the same number of students.

Lectures will continue, but already they occupy less class time.  Pedagogy is changing in and outside of the classroom.  In the classroom, change is not disabling the lecture; it is enabling discussion, teamwork and practical applications. Whether fast or slow, the rate of change is limited by each institution’s culture.  Differences in institutional culture will become evident in the structure of classrooms and what happens there. Continue reading