Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Excerpts from essays

In Regard to Information Technologies:

  • Increasingly facile and ubiquitous technologies have liberated us from the limits of traditional classroom or laboratory walls.
  • Completely mobile, miniaturized computers are integrated into all aspects of STEM education, with students having wireless access to enormous databases, to monitoring experimental results remotely and simultaneously, and to collaborating with colleagues on their campus and around the world.
  • As science education moved from chalkboards and overhead projectors toward computer-assisted teaching, the physical requirements to support technology also changed. The result is an environment that encourages collaboration and team-based learning. Space configurations are responding to advances in smart boards for direct connection to computers and networks, allowing real time documents to be shared by all. A portable, roll-up flat screen is an emerging new product with exciting educational implications. Instead of carrying a laptop to class or lab, students have a roll-up screen and PDA. With the reality of wireless technology (including broadband), the result is heightened mobility and connectivity. The required deskspace is reduced and there is no need for a plug-in. An armchair accommodates the use of the PDA and a collapsible and portable music stand supports the flat screen. Space configurations are totally flexible, ranging from traditional lecture configurations to those supporting team activity. With the combination of smaller devices and broadband wireless technology, teaching spaces have been freed and the classroom of the future can be anywhere.

In Regard to Systems/Sustainability:

  • Completely mobile computers have eliminated the need for hard-wired network connectivity, resulting in more flexible classrooms and laboratories. New visualization spaces (imagine a holography "planetarium") require different dimensional and infrastructure requirements than the typical learning environment of the early 21st century.
  • The trend is toward a higher quality product with greater aesthetic appeal than in past years. Lab casework is now available in a wide variety of finishes, without a price premium, as the casework industry is very sensitive and market-driven. Collaborations between architects, academics and the laboratory design community reflect new directions in pedagogies and in the use of technologies in undergraduate STEM education. Several major furniture manufacturers are now involved, recognizing the opportunity to provide furnishings that support the way science is taught. Teaching and learning spaces are as influenced by industrial designers as by educators and architects.
  • With collaborations between disciplines and the movement toward more computer-intensive research and learning, the labs require less piping and have become less service dependent, allowing for a greater level of flexibility. The traditional wet chemistry spaces have taken on the characteristics of a support space adjacent to the computer-based lab; these chemistry spaces are centrally located and shared as interaction spaces, rather then being assigned to a specific discipline. This reinforces the project-based approach to learning that is now prevalent.
  • Sustainable design and environmental sensitivity are considerations, with more and more educational institutions seeking LEED certification. This is having direct impact on building systems and materials. For example, by increasing computer-based research there will be a decrease in energy requirements for air handling and lab exhaust.
  • Classrooms are used by a wider range of users, and the flexibility and controllability of the systems in the best distance learning/seminar classroom and auditorium designs in past times are now common even in the most basic classrooms. The static science lecture format has become more dynamic (using smarter technologies), giving way almost completely to team-based, inquiry-based learning, with teaching labs becoming dual-purpose spaces. Operable windows and intuitive individual lighting and room HVAC controls are standard throughout the building. There is greater attention to the relationship between individual comfort and energy management. Systems that have been treated as central building systems are more limited in scope/point-of-use, including purified water systems, acid waste piping systems and extensive fully installed high bandwidth fiber or copper networks.
  • As the major program component, lab space is undifferentiated at the level of infrastructure both spatially and with respect to building services. To maximize utilization options, lab space occupies a zone within the building that has maximum "footprint" continuity. The fit-out of partitions, casework, fume hoods, equipment, lighting, power, tele-data, and piped utility services is based on highly flexible components that are provided as required with a quick refit of space without demolition and reconstruction.

In Regard to 21st Century Science:

  • New understanding and ideas from cognitive science illuminate the relationship between the quality of learning and the quality of space.
  • Each student committed to a science-based course of learning has a workstation as his or her base or operation. Workstations and offices are co-mingled according to research groups, with the lab space of that research group adjacent. Faculty offices are in interdisciplinary clusters according to research interests rather than organized by department. As research groups change, office workstations space assignments change.
  • Departments are virtual organizations, which do not necessarily have physical continuity, although there is a department office located on the commons for identity. The cultural focus of faculty is toward collaborative interdisciplinary affiliations rather than departmental affiliations. Within the building, research-focused "neighborhoods" of faculty and students are present and evolve over time.
  • All STEM disciplines, including psychology, computer science, environmental science and other such programs, are located under one roof in an integrated learning center.
  • The single most important factor in science learning is the imperative to see STEM fields holistically, as an interconnected continuum of learning. This trend has prompted learning initiatives that offer interdisciplinary approaches to learning, that have eroded departmental boundaries, and that encourage students to learn about their world in an integrated way.
  • There is an expansion of team-teaching, joint majors, interdisciplinary research projects, specialized areas of study and shared courses at all levels of learning.
  • General trends in society continue to reinforce the importance and benefits of a strong education in STEM fields. The trend, coupled with the energy and enthusiasm generated by the new interdisciplinary learning centers, have raised the visibility of these disciplines on campus, both in terms of the specific curricular requirements of the institution as well as the more general perception of the centrality of these disciplines in the overall institutional mission.
  • STEM disciplines have expanded the understanding of their role in the larger, non-technical community, learning to communicate in non-technical arenas. This has prompted more collaborative learning initiatives with disciplines such as philosophy, ethics, English, etc.
  • Larger numbers of non-majors are in these classrooms, as they see the need to understand the powerful forces shaping their world, even though they are majoring in other fields. This is requiring a significant increase in learning spaces for introductory/interdisciplinary learning

In Regard to Community

  • A sense of community will be the over-arching characteristic of the building design.
  • It will be organized around a central commons which will act as the ‘town square.' This will be a:
    • forum for informal gatherings, to get the ‘feel' of the place as one in which science is done
    • site from which to gain access to information, mail, departmental and support services
    • place from which to move into lecture rooms, seminar rooms, labs
    • venue for the exchange of ideas through poster sessions and displays of collections.
  • The commons also serves as the point of interface between the campus community and the sciences, providing visible access into the various working ‘neighborhoods' of the building.. Facilities are social spaces, in that they respond to the need of students for a sense of personal space, with a variety of spaces that accommodate the casual ‘meeting and greeting,' the surprise interactions that add to campus life and permit the student to become participating members of a community. Multi-story atria, student zones, spaces for putting science on display and more individualized research and group study spaces are common.
  • The facility promotes the reality of a personalized educational experience by promoting the reality of opportunities for social interaction. It is open in its architecture, nearly as welcoming as the campus center, and delightful to visit because it is generous in its public and social spaces, light and bright in its interior and full of opportunities to see science on display and people in action. It is a place in which students feel that their program, space and choices are maximized.
  • New visualization tools that enhance the learning experience are pervasive, allowing advancing three-dimensional tools to be used in every learning space (imagine a holography "planetarium" for molecular and atomic structures); these learning spaces are shared spaces and are used as outreach opportunities to serve the wider campus community and the general public as well as students in science