Beginning Steps & Giving Attention to Low-hanging Fruit

To introduce the series of LSC Webinar snapshots, some reflections from participants at a 2009 PKAL/LSC/ CIC/NITLE Workshop on Learning Commons.  Approximately 25 campus teams participated, each including faculty, academic administrators, IT directors, and facilities officers.  At the workshop conclusion, individuals and teams shared their insights about planning that they were taking back to share with colleagues.  Note:

  • most of these are low-cost.  
  • most can be woven into institutional policies and practices for long term impact. 
  • reflections suggest opportunities for formal and informal attention, by individuals as well as teams.


  • How important it is to think about the ‘butterfly’ approach to planning. We should start right now thinking about what we are doing, about what we might be doing, and monitoring the impact of small changes—anticipating unintended consequences.  Be reminded that the goal of planning is not to do things that should be undone.

  • A scarcity of resources does not mean a scarcity of imagination.  

"What we need to do is use what we already have." —Susan Sontag

  • The importance of reviving spaces with existing resources at minimal expense. Create destination spaces around campuses—particularly within the library. Paint—introduce color. Rearrange and/or install furniture. 
  • The importance of involving students in the planning process. Walk around the campus with students. Look for potential spaces for redesign at low cost, as a means for piloting new approaches. Be very clear about the first impression that a student has when walking into a learning space.

  • The power and comfort of visual appeal for our students.
  • Given current fiscal restraints, it is important to take time asking what we can do with what we have in ways that are not costly, yet do not preclude future actions.
  • Importance of asking: “what do our students do in our spaces after 4:30 p.m.” when we have left campus?
  • Understand and build on what we already have in place. We may be able to make progress more quickly and cheaply than we might imagine.

(Repurposed Library Room. University of Michigan)

  • We need to be sure the campus ‘big-picture’ thinkers are on our team as our planning proceeds. We need to avoid those with narrow interests and/or an inability to visioning.

"By increasing our capacity to improvise..., live with permanent ambiguity and novelty, [we are freed] to go beyond the predictable, to embrace complexity."  —Riel Miller

  • Use evolution as a metaphor for planning learning spaces, since all spaces evolve over time.
  • The key guiding force in all facilities planning has to be the institutional mission.

"Spaces in which humans grow: a learning community…where mind and sensibility are shared… a place to learn together about the real world, and about possible worlds of the imagination, of materials and learn the power of doing these things together." —Jerome S. Bruner

​A Resource: Planning and Visioning

Upcoming Events


Part of the DNA of the Learning Spaces Collaboratory is encouraging campuses to move from analysis to action.  

Over the past several years, LSC webinars have spotlighted stories about transforming the physical environment for learning. Some of these were significant initiatives—resulting in major new facilities or renovated spaces. Other stories were about beginning the process of transforming the physical environment by giving attention to low-hanging fruit.

Over the summer, we will be presenting a series of LSC Webinar Snapshots, sharing with the broader LSC community lessons learned about the value of mindful planning. 

What Works: Important Questions for Technologies and Pedagogies in 21st Century Learning Commons
Anu Vedantham, Director, Weigle Information Commons - University of Pennsylvania Libraries


Adapting Classrooms for Student-centered & Technologically-supported Pedagogies
​Felix Kronenberg, Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Language Learning - Rhodes College

To gain a deeper understanding of:

  • how to evaluate each feature of a physical space for learning for its potential impact on the quality and character of the experience of learning 
  • what flexibility means  in the context of a space intended for active, technology-enhanced learning
  • the optimal relationship between the designers and users of these learning environments.


Steps Taken to Imagine, Prototype, Design, Construct, and Assess a Major Library Renovation- The Duke LINK Project
Edward D. Gomes, Associate Dean of Technology Services, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences— Duke University

Key Points:

  • Developing planning principles: scenarios and case studies
  • Imagining the future: beta-projects and mock-ups
  • Establishing design principles: enhanced collaborative, interdisciplinary, and eLearning
  • Exploring and assessing the end result.


The University of Illinois at Chicago Experience with Project Oasis, an Informal Learning Space Program
David Taeyaerts, Director, Office of Campus Learning Environments - University of Illinois at Chicago

UIC Project Oasis Session Learning Outcomes:

  • Gain insights on the role informal learning spaces (ILS) play in enhancing students’ collegiate experience
  • Understand the ‘kit of parts’ used to create a common language for an ILS and how each design is tweaked to make it unique
  • Explore metrics used to measure the success of an ILS’s. 
  • Learn how to create and sustain an informal learning space program, with internal and external support.


Learning Space Design for the Ethnically Diverse Undergraduate Classroom
Mary Anne Akers, Dean - Morgan State University
Jim Determan, Principal - Hord Coplan Macht

How to connect the dots between:

  • institutional goals for student learning--what learners are to become and the process of planning spaces for learning
  • research on how learning happens to the process of planning spaces for learning
  • the work of pioneering agents of change on other campuses and local efforts to shape and sustain an ecosystem of learning spaces
  • the process of planning spaces for learning and the institutional vision of its future.


Implementing an AAU STEM Initiative at The University of Arizona
Gail Burd, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
John Pollard, Associate Professor of Practice, Department of Chemistry
Jane Hunter, UA AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Project
Robyn Huff-Eibl, University Libraries

Learning Outcomes:

  • See significant opportunities for synergy among efforts in course design, faculty development, and redesign of learning spaces.
  • Be inspired to work with what you have – you don’t have to wait for a new building.
  • Feel empowered to use collaborative learning spaces even for classes as large as 250 students.


POSTPONED to September 23, 2015​
3:30 - 5:00 p.m. EDT


  • Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Deputy Director of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) and Lecturer at Hasso Plattner Institute of Design - Stanford University
  • Jeanne L. Narum, Principal - Learning Spaces Collaboratory

​Planning Group:

  • Jacqueline P. Ashby,  Simon Fraser University
  • Bryan Cannon, SmithGroupJJR
  • Frank Ciarallo, Wright State University
  • Tim O'Connell, HOK
  • Kurt Paterson, James Madison University
  • Bonnie Sanborn, Cornell University
  • Curt Schurgers, UC San Diego
  • Esther Vargas, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute