In all the work of designing new facilities, perhaps the greatest resource for planners is what others have already learned. This web page has several examples of the lessons learned from experience by planners at other colleges and universities. Volume III contains many more. But serious designers should not stop there. Strong channels of communication between campuses are the only way to find out "what works" in undergraduate education. Touring another school or "benchmarking," as it is called in industry, can be a priceless experience for an inexperienced community planner. Talking to others who have already struggled to build sensible, sensitive, mission-guided facilities can prevent the duplication of mistakes, and will aid the conception of a space for science that works. They will be able to answer questions and suggest programs that may be adaptable to other campus evironments. Planners who have seen natural science communities-where learning is experiential, personally meaningful, and intellectually stimulating for students and faculty alike-will be much more able to bring a similar program to their own school.
"I'd like my students to learn how to learn to be involved in the process of teaching themselves. And to make commitments-not to be in love with the position, but to be in love with the search, so that if they find themselves not able to hold a position, if it turns out to be untenable, then they should have enough courage to say, "You know what I said last week? I no longer believe that."
- Maya Angelou, 1993
From Experience: Dickinson College
Dickinson College developed their Workshop Physics program to attempt to teach the skills of scientific inquiry rather than the descriptive knowledge of the discipline that most physics classes are designed to teach. The new program emphasized hands on learning to better prepare students to use their science skills in their experience outside of class. It reduced the content in certain areas in order to better emphasize the process of scientific inquiry, and removed lecture-based teaching in order to provide room for direct inquiry and student discussions. Once formed, the new curriculum and pedagogy was applied to the redesign of a 110-year-old science building. Though not an ideal situation, the planners found that they could accomplish much with new furniture and minor renovations, and the new environment they created in the old building wound up fitting neatly with their new physics program.
Asking the Right Questions
Benchmarking Questions To Ask:
These are just a few of the questions planners should ask during benchmarking visits at other colleges. Remember, there are no intellectual property rights on good ideas in higher education.
What most influenced the design?
What do you like most?
What do you like least?
What would you do differently now?
How was it decided to build new/renovate?
How was the campus planning team (the Building Users committee) assembled?
What kind of learning environment were you looking toward?