These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 lunch discussion, “Learning Space Design,” hosted by Richard Holeton, Associate Director, Academic Computing; Head of Student Computing, Stanford University and Phillip D. Long, Prof. of Innovation & Visiting Research Scientist, MIT.

These lunch meetings of constituency groups were a great idea. As much as I like eating lunch with friends and taking a break from sessions, this was a great opportunity to meet new friends and continue processing in an informal setting. There were about 100 people in the room. Ironically, the room was way too small and there was no technology, but we made the most of it.

Richard and Phil asked us to discuss topics that had been placed on our tables and then report out. I was seated at the Planning and Management table with some great folks from a range of institutions from around the world. Most of us were directors or administrators charged with facilitating learning space decision making and supporting faculty. Here are some things that stuck with me:

  • We all had tales of disconnects among executive visioning, facilities planning, and pedagogy. We agreed that this has led to the continued use of inferior teaching methods. In some cases, faculty, departments, and colleges are changing pedagogy and vacating existing facilities in favor of group-friendly spaces, informal settings, and virtual environments. One person described large lecture halls at her institution as now empty except for the occasional campus event. Both of these outcomes are undesirable and reflect the urgent need for a more enlightened approach to facilities planning.
  • I asked whether anyone knew of a school that had this planning-pedagogy connection right. Rio Salado College was offered as an example, which surprised me a bit given its strength as an online provider. Clearly, online and virtual spaces must be considered in this discussion right alongside brick-and-mortar spaces. Perhaps online institutions that are not as bogged down by the old politics of physical space can spend more time and energy focusing on the actual needs of teachers and learners.
  • There were mixed reports about classroom technology standardization. Most agreed that it was difficult to implement in their current organizations. Some were decentralized and others simply had difficulty getting consensus on what standards to use.
  • We talked a bit about creating experimental spaces for faculty where good tools and practices could be developed, refined, and rolled out to campus. WSU is building such a space in its new faculty-staff development center. I spoke with Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt who is also developing experimental spaces. I was a bit surprised that others at the table thought their institutions would not support such an idea. How can we know what to adopt if we don’t try it first? How can we expect faculty to change their approach if we don’t provide them with safe ways to explore? The best ideas for using learning spaces are not going to come from us; they will continue to come from students and faculty.