sustainable learning spaces

Sustainable Learning Spaces:
Design, Infrastructure, and Technology

Russell Carpenter, Eastern Kentucky University
Richard Selfe, The Ohio State University
Shawn Apostel, Bellarmine University
Kristi Apostel, Smarthinking

Section 1: Creating Sustainable Learning Spaces

Section 2: Flexibility, Sustainability, and the Design of Learning Spaces

Section 3: Environmental Sustainability and Learning Space Design


Author Biographies


We came to this collection with a variety of experiences and interests in learning and composition space design. We saw an opportunity, however, to assemble a new, unique conversation with sustainability as the centralizing thread. From the process, we’ve learned quite a bit about sustainable concepts in place within learning spaces across the country. In addition, we’ve learned about our own spaces and sustainability efforts on the campuses where we work. We hope readers will find the same to be true when navigating this webtext.

These chapters encourage readers to reflect and act, to look back at decisions currently in place and, subsequently, to look forward to the future of technologically enhanced spaces that facilitate learning, composition, and communication. To facilitate this process, we build on literature that helped to shape the early conversations about space design in writing centers (Kinkead & Harris, 1993), as well as those in computer environments (Selfe, 2005). In addition, we foster new connections with discussions on sustainability (DeVoss, McKee, & Selfe, 2009; Thomashow, 2014). Together, these threads allow us to explore the role of sustainability in a variety of spatial contexts and constructs, but especially through the lenses of design, infrastructure, and technology.


The chapters in this collection assemble a national perspective on sustainability in the design of learning spaces, from pedagogical developments to operations (Selfe, 1987; Selfe, 1989). In this collection, sustainability is the foundation for developing new understandings of spaces for composing, communication, technology, and new media. We allow readers to take a close look at their own creative spaces while theorizing and explaining sustainable contexts on their campuses and in their programs.

Without a doubt, much remains to be researched and written about sustainability and space design. Sustainable Learning Spaces traces three high-level threads through the design of learning spaces:

The benefit of these threads is twofold. Even as they knit together many processes involving current space design throughout the country, they also propose common approaches for the design of future spaces.

By reading this collection, readers will garner a better understanding for the complexities of space design. In exploring these threads, readers will discover ways to articulate effective rhetorics of responsivity in learning space design and in shaping discussions of technology, design, and sustainability. Moving forward, readers might consider:

As campuses embrace the possibilities offered by new technology and multimodal composition, emerging centers, studios, and learning environments are being planned, constructed, and re-invented to address the needs of students and instructors in the digital age. In response, these chapters offer discussions that feature text, videos, audio files, and images that tell the stories of how academic spaces embrace creativity and sustainability as they move from vision to reality (e.g., sustainable construction, pedagogies, technology, and lifecycles). That is, authors focus on how newly created spaces and older, redesigned spaces both anticipate and reinvent themselves to meet the challenges of new composing, teaching, and learning technologies, the pedagogical needs of students and instructors, and the call for learning communities to address and adapt to the environmental challenges of eWaste that these spaces inevitably create. More specifically, authors explore how students, teachers, and institutions engage sustainable practices through the design of spaces to meet, teach, support campus communities, and interact.

We hope that readers will gain perspectives on spaces for multimodal composing at their institutions. In addition, we hope that readers will feel more compelled and inspired to address the challenges and opportunities for sustaining their own programs through technological and spatial responsivity. Within the learning environments featured in this webtext, we understand that peer consultants provide one-on-one, small-group consultations, as well as workshops for students from across the curriculum; teaching and learning initiatives are facilitated through technological environments; and programs are re-envisioned through redesigned spaces. We also anticipate that readers will focus on how their unique programs respond to communities of students and faculty who will design a variety of texts.

Extending the conversation, readers might also focus on sustainability through designing and implementing a new multimodal communication center for students and faculty from across the curriculum. Or, they may begin conversations about redeveloping the ways in which technology is integrated into current learning spaces. Responding to the concepts in these chapters, readers should gain momentum for new or renewed spatial plans or conversations on their own campuses, considering, for example, how a program’s physical placement contributes to the sustainability of rhetorical practice, including partnerships with a wide range of campus organizations. We also encourage readers to use this collection to engage in discussions about the design of technologically sophisticated spaces on campus by approaching sustainability through its impact on faculty development and online learning spaces.

Exploring spatial impacts and environmental sustainability efforts, we further encourage readers to examine issues of eWaste and the stewardship of resources used in the creative technological spaces on their campuses. Within these eWaste initiatives, we provide talking points to explore when considering the relationships between faculty and IT, looking to concerns related to usability, training, and campus-wide involvement. We hope that readers will then feel prepared to facilitate connections by exploring how these chapters speak to sustainability efforts within a variety of campus communities.


Assembling the conversations in this collection has shaped our own work, and we anticipate the way in which it will shape future conversations. First, it has made us more purposeful in thinking about space design, from implementation to the efforts required to sustain spaces. Even for newly designed spaces, this collection has called into question a number of accepted practices, in order to foster more sustainable campus initiatives. It has also prompted us to pose questions not only about space design and composing environments, but also about the equipment and processes in place to sustain them. Moreover, with sustainability at the helm, this set of digital chapters also highlights actions on campuses that lead to sustainable lifecycles and programs, such as those in place at Bellarmine University.

Editing this collection revealed a number of important considerationssome of which we expected, and others that were somewhat surprising. Among them, we were pleased to see the complexity in thinking about the uses of space, both theoretically and pedagogically. We were also encouraged by the ways that authors considered the role of sustainability in their spaces, programs, and technologies. Finally, we realized that the ongoing conversation about eWaste initiatives is one that all educators and designers must consider seriously as they create, engage, and produce within their learning spaces.

Looking Forward

While readers might approach the chapters in this webtext from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, we encourage further conversation as we look forward. Future considerations might entail:


DeVoss, Dànielle N., McKee, Heidi A., & Selfe, Richard (Dickie) (Eds.). (2009). Technological ecologies and sustainability. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved from

Kinkead, Joyce A., and Harris, Jeanette G. (Eds.). (1993). Writing centers in context: Twelve case studies. Urbana, IL. NCTE Press.

Selfe, Cynthia L. (1987). Creating a computer-supported writing lab: Sharing stories and creating vision. Computers and Composition, 4 (2), 44–65.

Selfe, Cynthia L. (1989). Creating a computer-supported writing facility: A blueprint for action. Houghton, MI: Computers and Composition Press.

Selfe, Richard. (2005). Sustainable computer environments: Cultures of support in English studies and language arts. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Thomashow, Mitchell. (2014). The nine elements of a sustainable campus. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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