“As we have come to understand more about learners, how people learn, and technology, our notions of effective learning spaces have changed.”—Oblinger, 2006
The design process for new or renovated learning spaces melds pedagogy, mobility, sustainability, technology, aesthetics, and the physical with virtual environments and is learner-centered. Traditionally, according to Britnell, Andriati, and Wilson (2009), design of learning spaces occurred through a series of sequential inputs involving planners, architects and, finally, faculty and students. The resulting space worked, but it lacked a learner-centric focus. Instead, Britnell et al. (2009) proposed a continuous, multi-directional approach in which teachers, learners, planners, technology, and space inform and reinform each decision in the design process.
At Kansas State University, since the inception of technology classrooms, a team approach referred to as a SWAT (Strategic Ways to Acquire Technology) has been used for the design and renovation of rooms. The SWAT, composed of faculty, students, planners, information technology staff, and central administrators, answered the question, “What would the learning environment look like if it is the best we can make it?” In response, the goal was to develop a proposal with cost data to present to central administration for funding approval. Translated, the proposal was a dynamic planning document, encapsulating the expectations of the stakeholders, along with CAD drawings of the space, timelines, cost data, maintenance requirement, and special considerations.
The value of having all stakeholders at the table, while obvious, provided for healthy dialogue about expectations, trends, possibilities, sustainability, and direction for the initial investment to future expansion. Also invaluable to the design process was internal research with faculty, including the desire for simple technology (the one-button approach) and less “fumbling” with technology, which was a frustration voiced by students.
McGill University (n.d.) proposed five principles for designing teaching and learning spaces. Of note are the guidelines for classrooms, including the need for flexible furniture and work surfaces for mobile devices and papers, as well as fostering information sharing through appropriate acoustics, collaborative areas, tools and technologies, and flexible computer access. MacPhee (2012) has also provided a well-illustrated report of informal and formal learning spaces and attributes.
Learning space does matter, as demonstrated by Walker, Brooks, and Baepler (2011). In their comparison of a biology class taught in a traditional classroom versus an active learning environment, faculty spent significantly less time at the podium and in group in comparison to teaching activities in a traditionally-designed classroom. In both environments, the faculty adhered to the same teaching protocols. In a second phase of the study, the authors showed that aligning pedagogy with learning space resulted in significant gains for students on all class assignments. A year earlier, Whiteside, Brooks and Walker (2010) supported a similar argument.