Report from a Learning Spaces Conference


On Friday, February 24th, 65 academics and architects gathered at Minneapolis Community and Technical College for a one-day conference on Learning Spaces: Planning and Executing Active Learning Spaces

The conference was co-sponsored by the Society for College and University Planners (SCUP), the Learning Spaces Collaboratory (LSC), and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

Galvanizing the discussion was a presentation, “Mining your spaces: Incremental Steps to Active Learning Spaces as noted in some Minnesota State Colleges and Universities,” by Sally Grans-Korsh. In her presentation, she illustrated a variety of ways to move from ‘mining’ to ‘transforming’ learning spaces. For example:

  • Repurposing ‘found’ spaces in existing lab space
  • Renewing a corridor to be more inviting
  • Adding natural light to update spaces for networking and causal learning.

There was an energetic discussion about how academics and architects can collaborate in tackling key planning issues, including:

  • What an institutional "planning" culture should be to ensure that the physical environment for learning enables an academic community to face its future with confidence and distinction.
  • What incremental steps can be taken to improve existing spaces; i.e. moving through the vision process to a more "useable" vision.
  • How cross-functional teams can be more functional, in particular how to advance collaborative partnerships between academics and facilities officers.
  • How to define active learning spaces in the process of planning and how to translate that definition into physical spaces that are functional immediately and into the future.

Here is the summary of the discussions, captured during the reporting-out session:

  • Grounding planning in learning: understand the reality that no space is neutral in the service of research-based curricular and pedagogical approaches; ask faculty: “what kind of learning do you want to make easy?” “What kind of learning behaviors do you want to reinforce;” try something dramatic--take out every 4th row in a large auditorium and demonstrate the potential of more collaborative spaces in a relatively cost-effective way.
  • Orchestrating informed discussions about what works: pay attention to data about learning from your own campus and from colleagues across the country; agree on what data matters in your context; base decisions on data (not on what someone claims is data); identify and discuss research on specific variables that matter in your context; discuss, discuss, debate, discuss.
  • Addressing the incremental improvement of learning spaces: know who has responsibility for decisions (who has the 'pilot license' to make things happen); arrive at a concept for a pilot space, translate that concept into reality, audit, make the outcomes of the audit actionable in the next iteration of a renewed space; give committee the authority to act and hold them accountable; find incremental steps through which ideas can be tested and critiqued and translated into action.
  • Moving from a vision of a space to a space that is useable: get as much input as possible (capturing feedback, noting the 'eddies of conversation,' constructing a visible sharing space (virtually or actual); do not make assumptions for others; be certain the questions being asked are the right questions (being asked of the right people, at the right stage in the planning process); give committees power to act, make them accountable for their actions and for setting and achieving measurable outcomes for spaces being renewed.
  • Developing a common language understood by all stakeholders: understand that faculty, architects, facilities officers, assessment directors, librarians, etc. may mean different things when talking about flexibility, about affective and cognitive dimensions of learning, about constructivist learning, as well as about the process of design and programming; empower all views;
  • Advancing collaborative and continuing attention to the quality and character of learning and learning spaces: stimulate engaged thinking by touring and auditing existing on-campus spaces as a group--what works, why or why not?, by touring other academic, corporate, K-12 environments for learning and for collaborating; identify a truly neutral facilitator who is open to new perspectives, points of view; understand the institutional culture, policies and practices that enable or impede such collaborative efforts.