2008 Facilities Roundtable Abstract

Spaces that Encourage: Innovation, Interaction, and Interdisciplinarity

One aspect of contemporary pedagogies shaping STEM facilities is the notion that learning is enhanced by group participation and collaboration. Collaboration is closely related to hands-on learning and today some of the key features of science teaching are based on project teamwork, hands-on learning and the development of a culture in science within the institution. At Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, this unique start-up academic institution is designed from the ground up. The University’s goal is to develop a collaborative culture where students work and develop science projects together. The resulting design links multiple learning environments by a series of atria. At the heart of the atria are “learning studios” that are available for use throughout the day with nearby support spaces. An instructor can begin a project in a classroom and then send student teams to work in these spaces.

The learning studios are public spaces and cannot be avoided as you move through the building. These learning studios can accommodate a variety of structured and unstructured learning opportunities in addition to providing a space that generates activity that in turn activates the surrounding spaces. The learning studios are intended to provide welcoming spaces for engaged, collaborative, discovery-based learning for majors and non-majors.

Additional suites are located between labs and classrooms at Harrisburg. They differ from the public “learning studios” in that they separate the classroom from the lab and allow for separate scheduling. The design allows students to work and talk about their projects outside of the structured lab and classrooms while remaining in close proximity to the laboratory activities. The facilities at Harrisburg will prepare the innovative, risk-taking, creative problem-solvers needed to continue to motivate America’s S&T community to maintain its global standing.

The new Physical Sciences Building at Cornell University stresses interdisciplinarity and interaction. The building will house faculty and students from the three departments and two colleges including the Chemistry & Chemical Biology and Physics Departments from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Applied Engineering and Physics Department from the College of Engineering. Laboratories from the three departments are distributed throughout the building and undergraduate instructional labs are provided on the main level adjacent to two large atria. The atria provide connections to three adjacent buildings that house other portions of the three departments. The atria space devoted to interaction is significant and the positioning between the departments and between the research and teaching laboratories is deliberate. A portion of the one of the atria will serve as a major thoroughfare for the campus and it is hoped interaction between STEM and non STEM faculty and student will result. Cornell University, a large prestigious research university recognizes the critical nature of interactions. The Physical Sciences Building also reflects the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of contemporary S&T community.