PKAL Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts

Responses to Making the Case: The Imperative of New Spaces for Science

Nuts & Bolts

  • We focused on conversations from which to build our case. First: seeking insights from STEM colleagues about how they 'imagined' their current spaces: single-ownership or communal property; flexible or inflexible; supportive or non-supportive of new pedagogies; nurturing of community; etc, would be our first step in shaping our case. From that point, our conversations would move to discussions about how the building will serve students and faculty twenty years from now- as well as the science and technology of the future. Here the issue of interdisciplinary surfaced, recognizing how contemporary advances in science are occurring at the boundaries. Finally, we would have conversations about renaming or reclassifying spaces. Rather than calling them a chemistry research lab or such, call it a lab for investigation- this gets one step away from ownership and one step toward multidisciplinary use. This would be an interesting conversation.

  • Our group thought it was important to take the trustees to peer institutions so they could recognize the effect of facilities on student learning outcomes (positive or negative). We would also interview the new faculty hires to understand their goals for their scholarly career, and use their responses as a means to make the case to trustees that better spaces contribute to our success in recruiting and appointing faculty of the highest quality.

  • Our strategy, in working with current STEM colleagues to build our case, was to take pictures of some of the current spaces in which our student learn, of the different arrangements in classrooms and labs. These would illustrate how student can or cannot work collaboratively, engage in hands-on learning, etc. Then we thought of integrating this conversation into the annual divisional retreat, exploring what works and what does not, focusing on program planning clearly as a prelude to space planning. For the retreat, design an experiential group exercise that illustrates the impact of certain pedagogies. Then, take this one step further and make the same case, using the same approach, with the Board of Trustees, to plant seeds of information about how quality of program is affected by quality of space.

  • Our first strategy to making our case was "don't talk, show." Make the case by taking people on tour of STEM facilities. Our second strategy was to put money in the planning budget for helping faculty to innovate and experiment with innovative pedagogies as a step toward discovering how they might use the new spaces. Gather data to document why these new pedagogies are relevant, work for your students, and are working in other places. Next, we would broaden the discussion of facilities for science, taking advantage of every possible campus venue: go to the academic senate to explain to them and get them on board with what you're doing, but don't have a single individual go to make the case. Have a team of faculty who are respected and who have the capacity to make a strong case and members that have respect and strength and have them as part of your back up group so it's not just you as an individual going there. Finally, we outlined a plan of shuttle diplomacy. Going to individuals one on one, saying, "here's what we're trying to do and here is our vision, and can we get your perspective on our vision." Listen carefully to their visions, ideas, and concerns, and remain open to be influenced, and for your planning group to explore incorporating these other visions into your planning.

    The reality is that none of us like to be invisible, so the strategy is to help everyone to become visible. This is particularly critical in thinking about new interdisciplinary directions. We are particularly interested in involving faculty outside of STEM faculty. Can they be brought in as part as an interdisciplinary process? Emphasize the multi-use that we've talked about- not only the multi-use of the STEM, but are there other sort of summer activities or things that the space can be used for that are non-STEM. For example, use the art department for displaying some of their art there.

  • An umbrella for our remarks was transparency- to present proofs about why certain spaces work. This could be photographs or videos of successful spaces, and/or the data we know PKAL is in the process of gathering. What we need is data that can explain why these facilities are improving student outcomes.

    We also talked about concentrating on other things (like improving student outcomes) that are of common concern on a campus- and about transparent ways to do this. One team had a campus-wide event to kick-off the work of planning their new spaces for science and they followed that with a web presence on which their plans and processes were visible to all. They had the luxury of a central place in which the team could meet, with display walls on which to document ideas and progress toward realizing those ideas that everyone had access to. This gets back to something in the PKAL documents, that planning new spaces for science can be a defining momentum in the life of the institution as the community explores its future.

    Finally, we talked about identifying everyone on our campus who had relevant expertise and experience- from facilities officers to assessment gurus to librarians to pedagogical pioneers- no matter their discipline, department or program. Let them help you shape your case and then help you make your case.