Higher Education - Planning for Future Generations

06/21/2019 2:04 PM | Cinnamon Thompson (Administrator)

Higher Ed

This month’s discussion was led by six female panelists – an impressive number for the development industry, which is often characterized, perhaps rightfully so, as being male-dominated. Our event was a complete success with both individual and sponsor tickets completely sold out. The City Club was packed with people who gathered around to hear what is at the forefront of higher education design. The panel was moderated by Catherine Kniazewycz, campus architect and director of design and construction at California State University, Northridge. She brings a breadth of experience in higher education design as she has also served in similar roles at UC Merced and UC Berkeley.

Panelists included: Elvyra (Vi) San Juan, assistant vice chancellor at the CSU Chancellor’s Office; Julie Hendricks, director of design and construction services and campus architect at UC Santa Barbara; Crista D. Copp, Ed.D., director of educational technology services and support at Loyola Marymount University; Anne Eisele, director of projects and energy management at Pomona College; and Monica Amalfitano, associate director and campus engineer at Cal State Long Beach. With so many changes, both taking place, and looming in the horizon, each panelist had unique ideas about what the future of higher education facilities might look like.

Campuses in Transition

Kniazewycz began the discussion by mentioning that many campuses are changing to reflect a shift in student demand. Hendricks, who works at and earned her bachelor’s degree from UCSB noted that the campus has undergone an evolution into a research institution. This is especially notable since UCSB was originally a liberal arts school. Transforming from a liberal arts-oriented campus to a research institute doesn’t happen overnight, but it also doesn’t happen without considerable renovations. For example, UCSB is in the process of construction on its first classroom building in 50 years. The campus is also undergoing a seismic assessment, looking at earthquake maintenance and seismic retrogrades in anticipation of future disasters.

Elvyra San Juan, who brings perspective from a multitude of campuses, notes that many universities are looking into several renovations and new additions – for various reasons. With a role that oversees capital, planning, and construction, San Juan noted that the CSU system is increasingly engaging in public-private partnerships to accommodate new construction for approximately 450,000 students across 23 campuses. With so many renovations happening at various schools, Crista Copp of Loyola Marymount University, poses the question of just how we will teach in these new spaces. This question rings true for Pomona College as well, who Anne Eisele said also has a student population which is very interested in STEM fields, but attends a campus which was intended to teach liberal arts.

Rethinking Learning Spaces

One common ground that all panelists seemed to find was that in order to educate for the unknown jobs of the future, one thing that needed to be done was to rethink the spaces they are taught in. Monica Amalfitano added that rethinking spaces is clearly a priority, but it is probably secondary to building structures that will last for the next 60 to 70 years.  As for the space itself, the concept of an “active learning space” is something which resonated with each panelist. An active learning space is not always what we would think of as a typical classroom. Instead, these spaces are flexible for many different types of learning. Some of their characteristics include: furniture which is easily rearranged, multiple screens, and the ability for professors change the focal point of the room.  Instruction within these active learning spaces can be turned in multiple different ways. These spaces will also include non-traditional seating such as hi-tops, couches and pods.

Crista Copp gave the audience a breakdown of LMU’s active learning spaces, explaining that at the campus, which has an average class size of about 20 students and 250 different learning spaces. Of the 250, 100 of those are general purpose classrooms, out of that only 7 are currently in the active learning space category. She added that LMU’s strength was actually within a different concept called makerspace. This style of learning area, sometimes also referred to as a “hackerspace” is different from an active learning space in that it contains the tools and resources required to make specific projects. At LMU, makerspaces are separate for each distinct college, but they are developing one that is going to be available for use by all colleges. Copp points out that campus wide makerspaces have failed as they were not closely related enough to the classroom material. In her experience, these spaces are most successful is when they are very directly connected to what is going on inside the classroom.

Makerspaces are creeping into campus libraries, which are increasing getting rid of books, as their purpose is dwindling. Monica Amalfitano pointed out that Cal State Long Beach has a great makerspace which has been highly effective, but is also filling a VR space where students from any college can work. In the Long Beach example, Amalfitano’s experience differed from Copp’s in that their makerspace proved to be the most collaborative for students between all colleges and the faculty is seeing students from all colleges collaborating on projects.

Collaboration and Flexibility are the Key

Despite some differences between campuses, two things seem to be the common denominator when designing for the future of higher education – collaboration and flexibility. In order to successfully plan for students and careers of the future, designers will need to prioritize spaces with accommodate multiple learning styles and facilitate collaboration, as well as creativity. These concepts be applied to any campus, regardless of size or student population.

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