Future Focused

Life Sciences Building

PHOTO © BILL TIMMERMAN

Forget four white walls and a chalkboard. Today’s cutting-edge teaching styles demand innovative environments designed to support collaboration, transparency and experiential learning. College Planning & Management found a few examples of these exciting spaces, from tricked-out classrooms to landmark buildings, to get your innovative juices flowing.

LIFE SCIENCES BUILDING, LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY

“Invigorating, lovely and wonderful,” is how James Simeo, Jr., AIA, principal, CO Architects, describes Loyola Marymount University’s new, award-wining Life Sciences Building in Los Angeles. The 100,000-squarefoot, state-of-the-art facility allows for interdisciplinary collaboration while putting the work of science on display for all to see.

Life Sciences Building

PHOTO © BILL TIMMERMAN

The old building divided disciplines — physics, biology, chemistry — by floor. Corridors were narrow, stifling collaboration, and laboratory doors were framed by slim sidelights, offering little transparency. “It was like a beehive with everyone in their own cell,” Simeo recalls. “No one talked to one another.”

The new Life Sciences Building cracks that hive open. The school’s dean mandated that the building destratify the departments, mix disciplines and amp up the odds of a chance collaboration. Corridors were widened to encourage mingling. Large glazed surfaces between the laboratories and corridors replaced sidelights to increase visibility, allowing an easy view of research and teaching activities.

Life Sciences Building

PHOTO © BILL TIMMERMAN

The floor-to-ceiling glass in a lab posed some unusual challenges. The first is storage. Lab planners want all of the wall space they can get to hang cabinets. Convincing them to buy into the window walls took a bit of work. Simeo and his team also heard concerns that students would be too distracted by the activity in the busy corridors. “We found out the students concentrated more when they felt like eyes were on them,” Simeo says.

Instructors, for the most part, were on board with an interdisciplinary approach. They were concerned, however, with how far their offices would be from their labs. Simeo assured them that their space would be nearby.

The LEED Gold-certified building, with its green roof, 8,200 square feet of photovoltaic panels and drought-tolerant landscape, works as a living ecological lab. A large, standalone auditorium serves as a valuable campus resource. “We always ask ‘how do we keep students in a building?’” says Simeo. “The answer is make them so great that they don’t want to leave. That’s what this building does. You feel so physically good inside the space.”

ACADEMIC INNOVATION CENTER, BRYANT UNIVERSITY

Academic Innovation Center

PHOTO © ANTON GRASSL/ESTO

As the Grand Prize winner of last year’s CP&M Education Design Showcase, Bryant University’s Academic Innovation Center in Smithfield, RI, is ground-breaking, forward-facing and evocative. Its more than 48,000 square feet holds a variety of teaching spaces calculated to accommodate multimodal presentations and learning. There are breakout spaces to inspire design thinking and creative problem solving, tiered classrooms to encourage debate and critical thinking and flat-floored classrooms that support different teaching styles while encouraging collaboration. At the center sits the Innovation Forum, a highly flexible space loaded with reconfigurable furniture and lots of whiteboards.

“It’s a space where students can fail fast and fail forward,” explains Bryant President Ronald K. Machtley. That’s an important lesson for students to absorb as they move from the structure of academia to the fast-paced real world filled with disruption. Machtley went so far as to choose hardwood floors over carpet to mirror a rough-and-tumble start-up.

The building was completed in 16 months and came in $2.1 million under budget, thanks to Machtley’s hands-on approach. He scrubbed the numbers “hard” and insisted on completed drawings before ground broke. “The design/build approach is a guarantee for cost overruns,” he says.

Machtley shares some important lessons learned during the process: don’t skimp on whiteboard materials, make sure desks are on wheels and light enough to move around and buy comfortable chairs. He also insisted on installing contemporary and traditional art.

Machtley asserts that the building is not to take the place of content. Still, teachers who want to use this building must submit a syllabus outlining how they will use the space. To assess its success, the Academic Innovation Center will be graded on five innovative competencies.

COLLABORATIVE CLASSROOMS, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, FRESNO

School of Education

PHOTO COURTESY OF CSU, FRESNO

Cal State Fresno’s School of Education had a problem. They needed to squeeze six more students into their computer class, bumping the number from 24 to 30. Otto Benavides, emeritus professor/director, had an idea. Knowing that the existing room couldn’t support the extra bodies or technology, he proposed something new; a student-centered classroom that encouraged collaboration. The result was Cal State Fresno’s first collaborative classroom.

That was in 2012. In 2014 Benavides added two more. Today, those three spaces feature pods of desks, each with their own interactive projector, power ports and screenshare software so students can access and project their own content for group work. Students can also annotate and edit work on the projector and then save and email the results. The classrooms also feature video cameras, green screens and cinema lights.

Faculty has reacted enthusiastically to the classrooms. “The model we created has been replicated throughout the university,” reports Benavides. Still, instructors needed training on how to best use the space. As there is no front of the room, teacher desks were replaced with a table on casters and outfitted with a wireless keyboard that manages all of the technology.

Graduates of this school of education go off to create classrooms of their own. Benavides reports that many of his students have modeled the space for their K–12 students. “They leave here knowing how to use technology to facilitate learning,” he says.

FLEX CLASSROOMS FOR COLLABORATION, SALT LAKE CITY COMMUNITY COLLEGE

City Community College

PHOTO COURTESY OF SALT LAKE CITY COMMUNITY COLLEGE

With 450 traditional, stand-and-deliver-style classrooms, Utah’s Salt Lake City Community College didn’t have much space for flexible, collaborative or flipped classroom learning. Until now. Motivated by pressure from the School of Business, the school now has 12 Flex Space classrooms that combine student-brought devices, mobile furniture, updated cabling and power ports, and interactive projectors. The result looks and works more like the corporate world and supports a variety of teaching styles.

The rooms’ success has inspired other departments like marketing, accounting, computer science and even the nursing program to teach differently. To keep up with demand, the school plans to have a total of 20 Flex Classrooms by September.

But not all of the instructors are ready for the change.

“As a community college, we have hundreds of adjunct professors and they don’t have a lot of time to learn new technology,” says Kurt Shirkey, assistant director of instructional technology services. “Some of them still want blackboards and chalk!”

Shirkey insists that training teachers is imperative to getting the most out of the classrooms. “I hate walking into the space and seeing a PowerPoint presentation projected on five screens,” he sighs. It certainly isn’t the best return on investment. Shirkey estimates that Flex Classroom technology costs about five times what he pays for standard classrooms. “You should get 10 times the flexibility for that price.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

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