Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Connecting How Students Learn to Where Students Learn

September 19, 2006

The stories of the evolution of new spaces for science at The University of Notre Dame, Georgia Institute of Technology, and North Carolina State University are pioneering examples of translating insights from research on how people learn into a roadmap for shaping 21st century programs and spaces (PKAL 09/08/06).

Much of what humans learn is acquired through discourse and interactions with others. For example, science, mathematics, and other domains are often shaped by collaborative work among peers. Through such interactions, individuals build communities of practice, test their own theories, and build on the learning of others. For example, those who are still using a naive strategy can learn by observing others who have figured out a more productive one. This situation contrasts with many schools situations, in which students are often required to work independently. Yet the display and social interaction is an important mechanism for the internalization of knowledge and skills of individuals.
—“The Role of Social Context.” Knowing What Students Know. National Academy Press. 2001. Page 88.
The emphasis on establishing communities of practice builds on the fact that robust knowledge and understandings are socially constructed through talk, activity, and interaction around meaningful problems and tools.... A community of practice also provides direct cognitive and social support for the efforts of the group’s individual members. Students share the responsibility for thinking and doing; they distribute their intellectual activity so that the burden of managing the whole process does not fall to any one individual.... In challenging one another’s thoughts and beliefs, students must be explicit about their meanings; they must negotiate conflicts in belief or evidence; and they must share and synthesize their knowledge to achieve understanding.
—“Science for All Children.” How People Learn. National Research Council. 1999. Page 172.

In May 2005, a group of Boston area architects and academics met for an informal afternoon conversation to explore a question posed by Project Kaleidoscope:

Given what has been learned in recent years about shaping new spaces for undergraduate STEM communities and recognizing new challenges and opportunities facing 21st century students and society— including advances in science and technology, what questions should prospective clients be asking you— what are the critical "questions for the future?"

To prepare for this conversation, the larger community of architects with connections to PKAL was invited to suggest some questions for the future. We here present a distillation of their responses, as well as a "sense of the meeting," from the Boston Conversation. Two central themes emerged in proposed questions for the future: i) how learning will be experienced in the future; and ii) how to ensure the efficacy of the building over its life-time.

Two upcoming PKAL-sponsored workshops on planning new spaces for science will continue and extend these discussions. In each, participating teams will wrestle with questions for the future that must be on the table at their home institution as they shape and reshape their undergraduate STEM learning environments. Their deliberations will be informed by stories about, illustrations of, and lessons learned from recently constructed, "cast-in-concrete" answers to such questions for the future.