From the Field

An Essay from the Spring LSC Roundtable
- University of Washington, May 2016

The central goal of all LSC Roundtables was to arrive at new questions to address in planning learning spaces for the future. Here is a "reporting-out" essay and a proposed question from a working team at one roundtable: John Danneker, Director, Odegaard Undergraduate Library – University of Washington; Donna McGee-Thompson, Head of the Student Learning Commons – Simon Fraser University; Dan Simpson, Principal – ZGF. 

How can the principal of choice be leveraged into planning and designing high-performance settings for learning?

Our discussion didn’t start with this question, but it could have. We started with discussions about students and about their experiences, then we began to think about how students might be empowered as learners if the principal of choice (which is pretty common sense) informed our planning. What does this mean?

The idea of choice is that—if more choices are available to the students and the settings are less prescriptive, an individual student can feel big, rather than small in comparison to the institution. We made a few observations about this phenomena, about ideas of building community, of creating essentially a naturalness of access. Translating that into the language of spaces, it would be to have spaces that are not intimidating. It would be those kinds of environments that can foster the idea that students can make choices about their physical environment, that they have the option for the formation of communities from within, rather than by dictation from without. 

We had a wonderful sidebar conversation about how a "choice" environment evolved on one of our campuses. Everyone thought it was successful and they set out to determine its attributes of success. One of which was that it was shabby.

Another was that it was centralized; it had a collective dimension, enabling a whole range of individual and group activities. We tried to filter that discussion through the concept of choice. We weren’t exactly disciplined in doing this, but felt as though there were some attributes of multi-functionality, adaptive, and non-institutional that were common with some of our beginning thoughts relative to the concept of choice from the students’ perspective.

We began thinking about ways to leverage this concept more intentionally and comprehensively in designing and planning learning spaces. Not quite sure how to do this, but began by translating how attributes of environments could be seen as “choice-rich” or “supportive of choice.” 

We saw that they had to do with the notion of the formation of a common ground, of a place that is “ours” not someone else’s. This related to the idea of ownership and the freedom of choice within that  field of ownership for students. An attribute of a sense of community scale, the idea of empowering not just individual choice but choice within a broader population that could take it to the next level— centrality.



From the Archives

Engage to Excel: A Report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)

(Note: This posting establishes the context for the aspirations Dr. Gutierrez has for his learners. It comes from the archives of influential national reports that are valuable resources for planners—at all stage of the planning process. It makes the case for evidence-based teaching, provides a comprehensive list of research-based pedagogies and establishes the urgency of taking collective and informed action in the service of the nation.)

[Excerpts presented below. Full report: Engage to Excel.] 


Research indicates that student persistence in a STEM degree is associated primarily with three aspects of their experience.

The first concerns intellectual engagement and achievement. Compared with students in traditional lectures, students who play an active role in the pursuit of scientific knowledge learn more and develop more confidence in their abilities, thereby increasing their persistence in STEM majors. This engagement can be accomplished in both the classroom and research lab. Many types of classroom instruction that engage students in thinking or problem­solving increase learning and enhance attitudes toward STEM fields. These gains translate into better retention of students in STEM majors.


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