What Have We Learned
- By Amy Milshtein
- January 1st, 2013
Educators know that people learn in a variety of ways, but classroom spaces are now just catching up. “In the last 12 to 24 months we are seeing schools look hard at how students learn and engage, and that information is making its way into the curriculum and the physical classrooms space,” says Jim Goblirsch, AIA, LEED-AP, vice president and principal, HGA Architects and Engineers. He offers up some hard evidence to the case. “The University of Minnesota opened some technology-enriched classrooms and used the environment for a research study,” he says. “They found that the same cohort of students taught by the same professor performed five percent better in the new classroom as compared to the old one.”
Goblirsch also notes that professors that may have initially pushed back against integrating technology and new teaching styles into their classrooms are now embracing it. “The traditional lecture is alive and well, and in some cases the right way to teach,” he explains. “But now more than ever, experiential or project-based learning is needed. And within those teaching styles we must accommodate auditory, passive, and visual learners.”
Classrooms and school buildings continue to morph to accommodate this new pedagogy. “Technology is a background element found in all rooms,” says Goblirsch. “Project-based learning requires table space to share screens, experiential learning requires lab space, but what is most interesting is the pre- and post-function space found outside the classroom.” These are the soft, breakout spaces where students share information and learning is solidified.
“Learning is happening everywhere,” agrees James Mattson, vice president and principal, HGA Architects and Engineers. “Schools are creating all different kinds of environments to accommodate that: study spaces indoors and out, plug-in collaboration spaces, and the informal hang-out spaces where real important work is being done.” Mattson also points to the need to outfit these spaces. “Movable furniture, like tablet tables on wheels, let students move from lecture to problem-based learning quickly.”
This new style is changing the programing of school buildings. “The footprints are staying the same, but the public spaces are getting bigger,” says Goblirsch. “These soft spaces used to just be part of the circulation program, and now they are coming into their own.”
Mattson also notices an interdisciplinary mixing of buildings. “Instead of clustering all of the science in one area and the arts in another, schools are shuffling it up,” he says. “Colleges want to expose students to many differing people and experiences, and mixing disciplinary buildings helps. Even dorm buildings are morphing to mixed-use, with class and retail space built right in.”
Buy the Book?
Less than five years ago students had two textbook choices in their college bookstore: new or used. “Today, nearly all 3,000 of our members offer a rental option,” reports Charlie Schmidt, director of Public Relations, National Association of College Stores. “That’s up from just 300 in 2009.”
Bookstores are also giving the students the books in the format they are most comfortable with. “Full-on digital is definitely coming, but about 77 percent of students still want the print version,” adds Schmidt. “We are continuing to see students that grew up with print and are just more comfortable with it.”
Another change is print-on-demand, or as Schmidt puts it, “Smart custom.” “Custom course packs have been around for a while, but we are doing more than just shifting chapters or deleting information. Stores now partner with faculty and publishers to create a valuable learning tool customized to the professor’s teaching style,” he says. “Bookstores are uniquely poised to do this because they are keenly aware of the legality and copyright laws.”
Schmidt admits that tomorrow’s brick-and-mortar bookstores will need to adapt to stay relevant in an online world. “Successful stores need to support college life; become a destination,” he says, “and offer fashion, computer and phone accessories, and college-branded merchandise.” But what about the savvy online shoppers who feel they can get better deals on Amazon.com? “Smart stores are fighting back with increased transparency. Comparison software lets students look up texts by International Standard Book Number and see all of the price options: new, used, rental, eBay, Amazon, and the College Store,” he says. “Usually if the store is competitive, it will convert the sale.”
Axe the Stacks
Ahh… the college library… quiet halls filled with stacks of books, dowager librarian shushing you over her bifocals; that will never change, right? Wrong! Today’s libraries are dynamic hubs for education, with group learning spaces; student success centers; cafés; small, quiet study nooks; test-taking rooms; and staff offices. And the books? “More and more they are stored remotely in high-density stacks,” says Michael Prifti, principal, BLT Architects, “and accessed by the library staff only.”
So what is a “student success center?” “It’s tutoring space,” answers Prifti. “Usually there is a separate entrance for student privacy and the tutoring space can be small, for one-one-one interaction or larger for group work.” These tutoring spaces used to be scattered around campus as an afterthought. “Students would queue up in the hall waiting to see a tutor or make do in an empty classroom, and it really wasn’t set up for success,” he continues. Centralizing the function makes it easier for staff and students, but what does it mean for the librarian?
“Well, there are now a wide variety of stakeholders involved in building a library,” Prifti admits. “What used to belong to the librarian is now bigger. It can be hard to come to a common vision.”
We’re All on the Green Team
“Being environmentally responsible is no longer a chore or a fad, but a moral choice,” says Vuk Vujovic, director of sustainable design, Legat Architects, Inc. “And clients that were once clueless about sustainability are now asking very educated, challenging questions.” So now that “green” is engrained in our consciousness, what can we expect in the coming months?
“I think that our community colleges are on the front line of sustainability,” says Vujovic. “They train our future workers, and those students are going to bring an immediate impact to businesses and services. On the other side, just Google ‘MBA with a sustainable focus’ and you will see that sustainability will come from the top down as well.”
Buildings themselves are becoming living, breathing, teaching tools on the green front. “The physical environment is a great opportunity to explain sustainability,” says Mattson. “Buildings have energy-use dashboards so occupants can see in real time what they are consuming. We are leaving systems exposed so students can understand what it takes to run a building, and operable windows have a red light/green light monitor so people know when to open them and when to close them. At night the windows open themselves to flush the building.”
Undergraduates are embracing sustainable living environments. “Students have taken a lifestyle survey as they move into a residence hall that we have designed to achieve LEED Silver certification,” says Eric Moss, principal and director of student life, Ayers Saint Gross. “They take it again after living in the hall for two semesters, and we can see from the survey results that the building has taught them more sustainable habits. These lessons will follow them for the rest of their lives.”
Not content to just get any old LEED certification, more and more schools are pushing toward LEED Platinum. And they are spreading their enthusiasm from gown to town. “I predict that in the next 12 months, schools with step outside the campus and into the community with their green initiatives,” says Vujovic. “We just completed an urban campus that had a sustainable effect on the community. Schools are well poised to take that leadership role.”
“Landscapes can be a way for schools to rebrand themselves,” agrees Jonathon Ceci, associate principal and director of the landscape architecture studio, Ayers Saint Gross. “No longer just seen as a visual amenity, landscaping is now a means to affect campus transformation.” By treating landscaping as green infrastructure, schools can distinguish themselves as good stewards. “Native plantings are on the rise, which allows schools an outdoor tool for teaching about ecology and the vital role of plants in the built environment.”
While all agree that going green is a good thing, Mike Halligan, associate director of environmental health and safety, University of Utah, wants to remind us that fire safety can’t be ignored. What do the two have to do with each other? “Vegetated roofs and roofs with photovoltaic cells, both popular with sustainable building, can pose a challenge to firefighters,” he explains.
Other “green” building practices also need examining. “Xeriscaping, or water-efficient landscaping, is also popular, but if you displace vegetation with wood chips or mulch you are creating a fire hazard around your buildings. Sure, you can add moisture to the material, but that is the opposite of what xeriscaping is,” he explains.
The hazards don’t stop there. “Permeable materials for parking lots that absorb moisture and allow it to percolate out are great for stormwater management, but can it support a fire truck?” Halligan asks. “And new types of window glazing may add to energy efficiency, but can firefighters communicate through it? If not, expensive networks or additional antennas must be added.”
Most schools had a full-time fire and life safety professional on staff to figure out these variables, but after the downturn of 2008, many of those positions have been eliminated. Now that work is starting up again, schools are feeling the pinch. “There just isn’t enough staff to handle these questions in-house,” says Halligan. “So now schools have to get comfortable working with consultants. That means choosing the right firm, writing the right RFPs, and dividing up the work.”
According to the latest Signature Report, “Reverse Transfer: A National View of Student Mobility from Four-Year to Two-Year Institutions” from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center
, reverse transfer students may become the new “normal.” Reverse transfer is defined as a student enrolled in a four-year institution that transfers to a two-year school. As more and more universities are partnering with community colleges to make conventional transferring smoother, this new behavior may require new thinking.
Another report, “Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Pre-Degree Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions,” sheds more light. The study focuses on first-time-in-college students who entered four-year colleges and universities in fall 2005 and follows their college enrollments for six years through the summer of 2011. The report examined the prevalence of reverse transfer to two-year colleges, with contextual information on summer session course-taking behavior in two-year institutions as well.
Findings are enlightening: Within six years, 14.4 percent of first-time students who started at a four-year institution enrolled at a two-year institution outside of summer months, and only 16.6 percent of these students returned to their original institution while 28.3 percent returned to a different four-year institution. The majority of transfer students, 71.1 percent, stayed in two-year institutions for more than one term. By the end of the six-year study, two-thirds of reverse transfer students had neither credentials from nor were still enrolled at a four-year institution. Finally only one in 10 of these students completed a degree or was still enrolled at the original four-year institution by the end of the study.
However, enrolling in a two-year institution during the summer months has a different outcome. According to the study, 77.5 percent of students who started at a four-year institution then enrolled in a two-year institution over summer break, returned to their original school and completed a degree. By contrast, of those students who started in a four-year institution and did not go to a two-year institution, only 58.4 percent completed a degree at their institution of origin. Additionally, depending on the length of stay in a two-year institution, only 33 to 40 percent of the students who started at a four-year institution, enrolled in a two-year institution in non-summer months, and then returned to their original four-year institution successfully completed their college careers.
What does this mean for higher education? “The findings from this study have implications for policy at the institutional, state, and national levels,” states Dr. Doug Shapiro, executive research director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Institutions can use this information to craft policies that help them reach enrollment goals. Students will be able to make better decisions about their educational pathways. Both institutions and public policymakers will have more comprehensive measures of student success, and better indicators for institutional accountability.”
Going to the Dogs
For the stressed out students at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, relief arrived on four legs in 2012: puppies. According to the Huffington Post
, the University offered a puppy room for students in early December, courtesy of Therapeutic Paws of Canada. Dalhousie isn’t the first Canadian school to bring in the dogs, as the University of Ottawa and McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, also received visits from furry friends.
“Some students said they missed their family dog back home and needed to get a puppy fix. Others had come from an exam and were looking for a distraction,” McGill student and event coordinator Amanda Fraser told OpenFile
Dogs are wagging their way onto campus on this side of the border, as well. Dogs on Campus
offers pet therapy at Ohio’s Kent State University, while Macalester College in Minnesota also has a puppy program. Boston-area schools, including Boston University, Bentley University, Suffolk University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided meet-and-greets with trained therapy dogs in an effort to help students relieve some of the stress and anxiety that finals bring. Students can even check out a pet like a library book at Harvard Medical School or Yale Law School, according to USA Today
Also in December, during finals, New York’s University at Buffalo (UB) Libraries invited more than a dozen pooches to visit two UB libraries, offering students a chance nuzzle with something aside from their schoolwork. The dogs and their human companions that partnered with UB came from Therapy Animals of Western New York, or TAWNY
, an organization that promotes the healing powers of dogs and other animals. UB’s Health Sciences Library began bringing therapy dogs on campus during final exams in December 2011.
“We had a student who came in and a staff person commented they had never seen that student smile,” says Richelle Reid, a law librarian who started Emory University’s pet therapy program on the school’s Atlanta, GA, campus this year after reading about one at the University of California, San Francisco, in USA Today
. “It has had positive effects, helping them to just have a moment to clear their minds and not have to think about studies, not have to think about books.”