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

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

General Strategies

  • Regarding spatial flexibility...and why we need to integrate the sciences, our 'aha' moment was when we realized the need to base our case from the perspective of the students. Students are attending colleges to learn to solve societal problems that require interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches. They are not attending colleges just to major in a discipline. This is the argument that we would advance to our trustees (and we are convinced that money will therefore follow!).

  • Our consensus was that it was our faculty in STEM that were the most difficult audience to convince to consider new ways of teaching in the process of shaping new spaces. We thought the only solution was to talk, to talk to everyone, to talk, talk, and talk again. Stories and statistics and data on what's working in other institutions are helpful in making our case, illustrating how peers are shifting from a sole focus on teaching content to a broader focus on teaching the skills of learning, and what that means for space planning.

  • Our table had a very wide-ranging, theoretical discussion on this, what we came to think of as 'science meets marketing,' but we had a very practical idea from the experience of one of our teams about how to make the case. Although this idea addresses the issue of how to talk with STEM faculty and colleagues about spaces, it has much wider, universal, practical application for planning the transformation of undergraduate STEM more broadly.

    Their experience was in developing and posting a timeline that illustrates how science as we know it has evolved over time (for those of you experienced with the powers of ten that your little project is the 'picnic on the lawn),' and that over time, science facilities have also evolved quite dramatically. It was a very practical and visually-interesting realization of a timeline, involving faculty and students from the art department in its design. The intent was to illustrate to all colleagues the changing nature of research and education in STEM fields, and thus to invite colleagues to understand and buy into our vision in a non-threatening way. This gives older, more seasoned STEM faculty opportunity to reflect on the evolutionary events they have experienced and more junior faculty to grasp a better sense of the foundation for STEM research and learning today. It is a powerful tool to get people talking, learn what others are thinking, and give everyone opportunity to buy-into the process. There you have it...the powers of ten.

  • Our strategy, in making the case to trustees, was to champion the needs of others instead of the needs of the faculty in the sciences- focusing on the students and the institution. While recognizing the imperative of having a message that reflects and engages the institution's wider mission, we thought it essential to understand our audience, to look at the interests or responsibilities of our institutional leaders: trustees, alumni board members, presidents, deans, and chief financial officers. A trustee might be a corporate CEO in your locality, with potential or history in hiring your graduates. Find out the skills of people they wish to hire, their really compelling concerns, the compelling needs of the region for education or industry or other things?

    Try to embrace those things. And the last thing was just making sure that you embrace all of the resources, the human, written and web-based resources that Project Kaleidoscope has to offer. A lot of people have valuable experience in facilities planning, and I'm always amazed when I go back and look at the available resources. PKAL is probably the best place, a lot of its anecdotal- it's not a lot of statistics yet, but looking at proofs at other institutions where the stories are compelling, they are backed up by data and by experience over time.

  • We talked about understanding the audiences to whom we were making a case. Well before starting to talk about integrated pedagogies and interdisciplinary facilities, we should find out how our colleagues now teach, about their successes, problems, and dreams. This means that we do not go to them with cast-in-concrete solutions to collaborations, but rather that we are establishing a baseline for the communal discussion and development of such solutions. Everyone's needs and dreams must be incorporated into the process.
  • We began and ended from the perspective of the increasing diversity of the current and incoming student population, and how insights about how people learn are alerting us to the reality of the many different ways students learn. We thought of conversations with faculty about the efficacy of lectures and about the efficacy of interactive pedagogies- and thus about the need to have spaces that are flexible enough to allow many style of learning and teaching. We are convinced that learning is best when there is an intentional mixing of pedagogical styles, and that the current (post-Sputnik) spaces were designed primarily for what is now called the transmission mode of teaching (not learning).

    In shaping a case for the flexibility of spaces, which one might think are too expensive to be worth while, it was clear we needed data (some already available, some to be accumulated) that spaces that permit a greater range of pedagogical approaches that serve a greater range of students than the self-selected entering STEM major. Increasingly, colleges and universities are shaping programs to attract and motivate students from groups currently under-represented in the study and practice of STEM. We argue that the character of the transmission mode of teaching spaces may be one disincentive for those students to persist in the study of STEM fields. Many of us spoke from personal experience about how certain pedagogies narrowed the achievement gap and, perhaps more important, that they had documented success on the learning of all students.

    Our 'aha' moment was when a colleague at our table suggested that bringing your students (from diverse backgrounds and career aspirations) to talk with your senior administrators and trustees about how their interest in science really exploded, about how they are being transformed into scientists, and about their dreams for their future. Let the students become the story tellers; let them make your case- implicitly and explicitly.

  • Our point of departure was a consideration of resources: the issue of the control, perceived control, or lack of control of resources that must be addressed, no matter the audience to which the case was being made. In talking with faculty outside STEM disciplines, we explored the argument that as we would able to do a better job with science majors, institutional retention would improve and then they would actually have a resource advantage because they would have more and better students people in their political science, history, and general education courses and courses across the curriculum. We think this aspect of controlling institutional resources sometimes gets lost when we try to get campus-wide discussions going on.

    The issue of control also surfaces in dialogues with STEM faculty about interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary concerns. A first reaction is often that one will be expected to give up current control of resources; most are very hesitant to do this. So our efforts would be to explore the different kinds of control over resources (and what those new resources are) that might result from greater interdisciplinarity of program and space. We should not dismiss the lack of control of resources (we're all always under-funded), but rather keep this issue on the table. Control of resources was the thread that ran through every single one of our discussions.