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An Intelligent Design Paradigm

When planning for the design and construction of learning spaces, faculty, IT staff, and facilities planners should work hand in hand from the very beginning. Sounds like a no-brainer, d'esn't it? Within the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) we call that "connecting the dots." Unfortunately, the dots frequently do not get connected, or are connected backward or after the fact. A guest opinion from Jerry B'erner of Azusa State University addresses a significant planning issue that often results from the inter-departmental boundaries we are all familiar with: learning spaces designed first by facilities planners, with IT consultants pulled in as an afterthought and faculty not consulted until it's time to show them the new space. There is a better way!

A Guest Opinion by Gerald L. B'erner
Azusa Pacific University

Consider the traditional paradigm for the design of learning spaces. The college’s facility planner and the architect are responsible for basic definition of the space. They determine the size, layout, and other details of the space; they also are involved with the selection of classroom furniture. When these basic decisions have been made, the IT department is brought into the process to define how the learning space will be connected to the campus network (both data and video); they also decide the type of instructor station and projection equipment will be incorporated into the space. When all these decisions have been made, faculty are scheduled into the learning space and must adapt their teaching styles and methodologies to the facility, as designed. The teaching-learning pedagogy takes a back seat to the facility and IT planners!

What we need is a new paradigm that makes the process of learning space, nee classroom, design a joint effort of all parties involved with that facility. The new paradigm should include all three groups from the start of the learning space design, as we (B'erner, Brashear and Jantzi, 2003) have defined at the recent Pacific Regional SCUP Conference. Each group has major contributions to make to the design of an "intelligent" learning space. When each group contributes its individual expertise to the process, more advanced, intelligent learning spaces can be developed.

The facility planners and architects know how to deal with the realities of designing a classroom, especially in terms of building codes, selection of materials, and the development of a positive learning environment by providing appropriate air conditioning, lighting, and other physical attributes of the space. The IT personnel bring their expertise in bringing the campus network (wired and/or wireless) to the learning space, the design of the instructor station (desktop and/or laptop) to facilitate access to the technology, and other elements of providing projection (video and data) to a screen viewable to all students. The faculty bring their understanding about how the learning space will be utilized by instructors who may employ a variety of instructional approaches. In addition, the selection of classroom furniture and student computers, especially mobile, wireless carts for use in the learning space. When all of these parties participate in the planning, the teaching-learning process can be adapted to the goals of the instructional program and needs of the students.

The result: a new paradigm for planning and a more effective learning space to facilitate instruction. Students will be better served and faculty can employ the most appropriate pedagogy for each class. This new paradigm is a win-win situation for all parties!


Part of higher education's richness comes from the independence of departmental units. Is it surprising, though, that an unintended consequence might be ineffective planning? Not really. Pursuit of the institutional mission suffers when the head of the Facilities Department is viewed as an antagonist by department chairs and the Provost's Office may not have effective communications channels with the CIO—a not-uncommon situation on many campuses. We can do better.

Note: B'erner's opinion addresses classroom design, but the issues he describes remain issues even for larger planning efforts. For those who are interested in a perspective on just how complicated multiple-constituency, campuswide planning can be, we recommend this article: "Campus Triage: Planning for Comprehensive Change."

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