by Mark Lee, AIA, LEED AP
Colleges and universities are undertaking innovative strategies in campus planning that embrace technology in a physically connected social environment. Students and faculty are demanding more digital resources in and out of the classroom, but also want spaces that foster greater personal interactions and opportunities for collaboration. A variety of influences are introducing substantial changes across the higher education landscape.
Technology-Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) Classrooms
Profound change is taking shape in the academic environment in response to improved pedagogical approaches and technological advances. This confluence is evident in a new learning environment paradigm: the technology-enabled active learning classroom (TEAL). TEAL classrooms promote greater collaboration by creating multiple group work areas, each with its own whiteboards, computers, projectors and monitors. Built-in flexibility with furniture and audio-visual connections allow instructors to highlight content from a variety of sources in traditional lecture or more active learning modalities.
Blended, or hybrid, course delivery integrates online learning with face-to-face classroom time to complete course objectives. This model takes advantage of the personalized, active learning strategies possible with online technologies as well as the effectiveness of in-person social interactions. It also requires new approaches to physical space planning. The result is physical classrooms that require advanced electronic tools to mirror virtual classroom flexibility, smaller classrooms, and a shift from traditional course scheduling blocks.
Until recently, campus planning largely segregated uses by buildings. For example, student centers were designed for socializing, libraries for study, classrooms for learning and dining halls for eating. Today’s college students are highly scheduled with academic, athletic, work, recreational and social responsibilities. Colleges are responding by distributing a range of amenities across campus locations. Cafés are now commonplace in libraries and classroom buildings. Residence halls provide homes for fitness facilities, classrooms, study and gaming lounges.
Informal Gathering Spaces
Academic building planning is increasingly considering the importance of social interactions in enhancing the college experience. Fostering these connections strengthens the students’ awareness of community and leads to greater involvement and sense of belonging. Collaboration of student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and faculty-to-faculty in impromptu, informal settings recognizes the potential for learning to continue beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom. The locations and adjacencies of offices, classrooms, workrooms and lounges can allow for greater connections and opportunities to expand intellectual dialogue. Informal gathering areas are characterized by access to technology, dedicated spaces for individual and collaborative work, and comfortable aesthetics. The furniture offers flexibility so it can be arranged in different configurations for a variety of space types, sizes and uses.
Importance of Place
In a world of increasing virtual presence, there is a growing emphasis on the importance of place. College and university campuses are compositions of people, places and programs that celebrate a unique historic, cultural and environmental context. Enhancing this sense of place through careful planning is increasingly important in efforts to recruit students, faculty and staff. Investments in buildings, grounds, walks, signage and landscape are aimed at transforming the user experience and building lasting connections to the physical environment.
The American college and university campus is uniquely positioned to adapt to changes in technology, pedagogy and behavior. Continual planning and assessment of programs and facilities provides the opportunity to carefully plan and implement initiatives in support of improved learning outcomes and increased constituent engagement. Those tasked with guiding this process are realizing the potential to integrate technology while also enhancing the social experience.
Photography by Blind Dog Photo Associates