From the Field

Of Special Note

From the Archives - Planning Spaces for Science: How to Get it Right

A once-in-a life time opportunity: planning a space for science for an academic community, a complex and creative planning opportunity. How to get it right?


Recognize that although complex, the process of planning for new spaces for science is straightforward, similar to that needed to achieve any major academic initiative. The first step is to establish a clear vision that has wide-spread and visible community ownership and that becomes the foundation from which subsequent goals and strategies are determined.

This vision must evolve from extended conversations (time consuming and sometimes contentious) about the nature of learning for the 21st century students who will use the spaces, about the nature of the culture of your community they will serve, and about the power and potential of 21st century technologies to strengthen student learning and community culture. Finally, these conversations must connect to the larger context in which your community pursues its vision and goals for student learning.

Shaping a vision for 21st century learning is where the complexity begins. Questions will soon surface that call for significant, campus-wide introspection about the institutional future.

Read more - Planning Spaces for Science: How to Get it Right>>> 

LSC Activities

Upcoming Events

A Collaborative Exercise: Drafting a Guide for Planning Learning Spaces that Serve 21st Century Learners

Held in conjunction with the 2016 AAC&U Annual Meeting
Postponed: Date TBD
1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. 

Location: SmithgroupJJR
1700 New York Avenue, NW 
Suite 100
Washington, DC 20006

To register, fill out the online survey formParticipation is limited.


  • Sarah Goodwin, Kenan Professor of Liberal Arts and Professor English—Skidmore College
  • Robert Kolvoord, Dean, College of Integrated Science and Technology—James Madison University 
  • Jeanne L. Narum, Principal—Learning Spaces Collaboratory
  • George Sparks, Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts—James Madison University
  • Jorge Vanegas, Dean, College of Architecture—Texas A&M University

(Note: Workshop discussions and activities are framed around issues explored in the October 2015 LSC Webinar: Making the Case: Spaces that have a Role in Preparing Students for Productive and Meaningful Lives.) 

Participants will explore:

  • How spaces signal how they can be used, about the learning experiences they allow to happen
  • How all students, no matter the discipline, major, background or career aspiration, are best served by spaces designed with particular learning goals in mind, goals at the level of course, the institution, society
  • How campuses embrace their responsibility to shape physical learning environments in the service of 21st century learners.

This workshop will be an iterative conversation engaging facilitators, table groups and the assembled participants. Participants limited to 50 people.

In three stages, facilitators and participants will draft a guide for on-campus space planning teams of faculty and administrators, be they responsible for ongoing evolution of learning spaces campus-wide and/or anticipated repurposing efforts or major projects in the future. 

A. How attention to the language of learning spaces, how understanding that spaces “signal” how they can be used, how asking questions such as these inform the planning process

When we walk into a space, we stop to ask to determine what we can do in that space.
What is acceptable? What is allowable?
What can happen here and what cannot? What should happen here? 

Workshop facilitators will establish the context for discussing such questions, based on cognitive science research, as well as their experience in the field. Table groups will reflect on, draft, share, and critique images of spatial affordances that allow particular, desired learning experiences to happen. A roadmap for using the language of learning spaces as a guide for planning will be outlined collaboratively. This is the first tool to be included in the Guide.

B.    How to design backward and deliver forward when the goal is spaces that serve learning goals articulated by faculty, that reflect broader institutional and societal goals, how understanding that spaces “allow” particular kinds of learning experiences to happen informs the planning process.

Again, experiences of workshop facilitators—explored through stories and visuals—set the stage for the work of table groups. Participants will learn of the evolution and impact of spaces such as museums (Skidmore), centers for the visual and performing arts and for integrated engineering and technology (James Madison University) and of the evolution of campus-wide attention to planning learning spaces (Texas A&M). This will be a deeper dive into examining how the interactions of learners—with their peers and with the physical environment happens and matters.

As different as these institutions might seem, themes emerge from their stories that illustrate how questions about the experience of learning, how a space can determine what kind of learning happens within its boundaries informs the planning process. 

Following conversations with facilitators, table groups will role play how a campus planning team might undertake this assignment from their senior administrators: 

Thanks for agreeing to serve on this learning spaces task force. As we discussed, your charge is to establish benchmarks for repurposing learning spaces across campus. The facilities renewal fund established by our governing board will support planning and assessing sandbox spaces over the next two years. This is a strategic move. Our community must have conversations about and experience with learning spaces whose design reflects findings from research on learning, exploits best practices emerging in other settings, embraces the future. This is a challenge, somewhat ambiguous—intentionally. We suggest you begin by identifying one space on campus and draft a plan of action for sandboxing. The facilities sub-committee of the board meets early next month. 

C. A reporting-out poster session will follow this exercise. The workshop will conclude with general discussion about final drafts of take-home worksheets for use by workshop participants and the larger LSC community.