Question of the Week

The architects need to cut 3000 square feet out of the proposed plan for the Arts Center. Currently, there are 1800 square feet set aside for a music library and a visual resources library. In our discussions so far, we’ve been pretty confident that within the six year planning horizon the technology will allow all the music and images currently stored in these libraries to moved to a central repository which can be accessed from any classroom or other facility on campus. We also have been pretty confident that the copyright issues can be worked out to legally allow us to build those repositories.

Here’s the question. Are you confident enough to recommend the removal of those two spaces from the design? If the spaces are removed, and the technology can’t be put in place, there are going to be some pretty angry faculty members. However, if we’re right, we’ll save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This will need to be a key part of your memo to the dean.

A Shout Out to My Alma Mater

I just received my quarterly letter from Joan Hinde Stewart, president of Hamilton College, where I did my undergraduate (graduating in 1972) and then served as the director of the Career Center for 14 years. Hamilton presidents have a long tradition of somewhat long, though generally extraordinarily well-written, letters to alumni about the state of the College.

This most recent letter focused on “…on the investment we are making in the buildings that support our core mission: classrooms, laboratories, studios and academic support areas.” One of the facilities described in her letter was the new science building, built at a cost of $56M to serve the needs of a student body of just over 1600.

In the midst of the letter was the statement that “In the case of the sciences, faculty members explored questions related to their teaching methodologies and educational philosophies for years before the College sought an architectural firm for the project.” I couldn’t help but wonder if the results of those years of work by faculty who I knew to be extremely committed to high-quality authentic student learning had been captured anywhere where others could benefit. When I did the google search on science hamilton college planning, the first couple of hits were the kind of PR hype (sorry Mike).

The third hit linked to this resource housed at Project Kaleidoscope, a network of faculty and others interested in creating “a learning environment that brings all undergraduates to an understanding of the influence of science and technology in their world.” Doug Weldon, a fine teacher of psychology, pulled together a group of documents that provided the conceptual basis for the building. It’s a valuable resource those wanting to understand more about how to intentionally tie pedagogy to building projects.

Way to go Hamilton…

Humanities Labs

Link to: Inside Higher Ed :: We Need Humanities Labs

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been a member of a fairly large faculty committee from Arts and Sciences charged with developing a strategy for allocating space that will be made available when the School’s of Education and Business get their own buildings. The committee members are thoughtful, committed and dedicated to trying to use this opportunity to strengthen departments and programs that need more space to grow and develop.

Within such a gifted group of scholars and teachers, I’m finding myself constantly cast as the skeptic challenging whether our current teaching methods will continue to be effective a decade from now–particulalry in light of the changes already underway in computers hardware and software, the immersion in technology by high school students and in the expectations they’ll bring to the college between now and 2016. I’m not convinced by the argument, for example, that jamming the wireless on student laptops so that they have to focus their attention on the lecture is good pedagogy. I think we’d be much better served by trying to come up with ways to more fully engage students as participants in the lecture experience–an idea that didn’t meet with enthusiastic support from my colleagues on the committee.

I’ve also tried to raise questions about the future of humanities research, particularly at the undergraduate level. It seems to me that in order to “compete” with the sciences for space and funding, the humanities will have to find additional models of research that embrace the more social, collaborative practices that contribute to student learning. (In this case, both faculty and graduate student members from the humanities are the skeptics as to the degree to which scholarship in the humanities will–or should–become more communal.) This article by “dissertation coach” Gina Hiatt suggests that graduate departments might benefit from re-framing their roles:

If humanities departments were to proceed as outlined by Kunstler, they would go beyond counting their peer-reviewed publications, and move into creating lasting legacies and nurturing breakthrough thinking. Kunstler identifies the attributes of organizations likely to spawn such changes, including the following: “workers immerse themselves in others’ ideas and work, absorbing creative influences,” and “mentor relationships abound.”

I haven’t read Kunstler’s book, but from the references in this article, it seems to be very much in line with the learning ecology approach that John Seeley Brown has been developing. It will be interesting to see to what extent humanities departments do adopt some more collaborative approaches to research.

Design for learning: New Classroom Models – Design for learning – Aug 12, 2005

Both K-12 educators and those of us in higher education are trying to find effective ways to align what we know about effective student learning with the contruction and renovation of our classrooms and buildings. Jeffery Lackney, an architect and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, identifies several major learning trends that are shaping (or should be shaping) the design of 21st century schools.

In such an environment, students can set their own agendas with teachers who act as advisers. Some teachers focus on collaborative projects that link to the real world, such as building a community garden.
In response to these trends, designers are replacing traditional classrooms with “studios” that contain storage areas for long-term projects and spaces for individual, small-group and large-group work.

I’ve always been impressed with the kind of communication and commitment that is developed in the studios of artists, actors and musicians and the labs of scientists. I’d like to see us explore what learning resources it would take to create learning spaces that would foster that same kind of learning within the humanities and social sciences. I’d also like to see the college work to incorporate some of the ideas mentioned in this article on natural light and others on sustainable building practices.

William and Mary is about to emark on a major program of renovation that will touch the majority of the academic buildings on campus. We’re also looking at a significant opportunity to bring much of the IT staff into a single building. This notion of “neighborhood groupings might be interesting for us to explore with our architects and planners.

There is a push to build smaller schools, with smaller class sizes. When redesigning large school buildings, architects reconfigure schools into “neighborhood groupings” and remove corridors to make more spaces for learning.