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C-Level View | Feature A Hub for Sharing and a Platform for Research

An update with leaders

During the past few months, higher education institutions have had an urgent need to respond to the challenges of a pandemic and reconfigure learning spaces quickly with very little room for trial and error. has proven to be both a hub for sharing what works and a platform for longer-term research on important questions that impact the future. Here, CT talks with Executive Director Lisa Stephens, also senior strategist at SUNY; Associate Director Rebecca Frazee, also faculty of Learning Design and Technology at San Diego State University; and Susan Whitmer, a research consultant (Susan Whitmer Studios), to find out how is serving the community with both useful models and ongoing research.

FLEXspace offers detailed resources on learning spaces, uploaded by community members (image courtesy

Mary Grush: Has the pandemic affected the mission of

Lisa Stephens: Our mission is the same, but the pandemic has certainly put a new sense of immediacy into our work — with the community needing to answer questions like: How do you address social distancing? How do you rapidly repurpose spaces?

We had spent so much time over the past few years, working with our faculty to understand active teaching and learning techniques. And that was effort well spent, often with understandably long timeframes. But now, practically over night, faculty have been, in a manner or speaking, thrust into online learning, and we are focusing on questions like: How do you adapt all of those good active learning practices to an online environment? And how do you do this quickly?

Grush: Has the community relied on for answers to these questions? Has been responsive, as a platform for sharing urgently needed information?

Rebecca Frazee: The platform has definitely proven its value in responding quickly to the community's needs. I'd like to add that we've always had features in the portal such as the toolkit and quick references — but now we've been able to add relevant content more quickly and curate the great resources that we find.

In the toolkit area, we pursued specific questions we were seeing, such as how institutions were responding to the challenges of social distancing, issues of lower capacity, ways institutions are preparing spaces for Hybrid Learning or HyFlex or BlendFlex, and how to support face-to-face and online learners concurrently. We were able to begin gathering what we were hearing immediately, and we put wonderful resources together in an extraordinary time frame.

Institutions can't afford a lot of trial and error right now. They need advice and urgently need to connect with peer institutions to understand what works. We have found that provides a hub for the community to locate that kind of information.

Susan Whitmer: Institutions have stepped up, sharing the ways they have been adapting models to respond to COVID-19 — not just physical spaces, but virtual spaces as well.

This has been a work in progress. I don't know that anyone has an ideal situtation. Everyone is working through it, and it's a very fluid environment — we have several types of campuses that are sharing their work with us.

So, we do have ample evidence that the community has responded productively, and that the platform has been effective for sharing information during challenging times. But, it's important not to put all our resource attention into COVID-19. We have to be thinking beyond, asking: How do we integrate these practices into what happens next?

Grush: What are just a few of the research areas you may be following?

Whitmer: What we've done with our newly formed 14-member research advisory group is to get ideas and topics to tackle as well as help in following up on existing research. We can't do this alone — so identifying ongoing efforts is an important step for us.

One research area that's getting a lot of interest is the notion of inclusiveness — understanding how we get to an inclusive environment for higher education. Among my initial thoughts jotted down are: "The pathway to inclusion is lead by anti-racism, equity, diversity, accessibility, and well-being." So when we think about inclusive environments for learning spaces today, it's not just the physical environment — probably from now on, we'll be toggling between the hybrid, virtual, and physical, and understanding each of them in the context of inclusion.

Another research area that's risen to the top is how the delivery of content has an impact on how that content is designed. For example, do we really understand how students are consuming video content? This research should include some type of qualitative findings around the student perspectives, and how these experiences lead them to their outcomes, or student success.

Another area that is really important to us is to use storytelling in our research design. As we think about the new hybrid environments, for example, what are the stories around questions like: What did you do? How is it working?

An important area for discovery, too, is the role of the faculty — not simply as content experts. This can inform what faculty development needs to include as the role of the faculty changes.

Clearly, our research goals will emerge more distinctly as we work with our board going forward. And certainly, additional topics will open up for us long term. But these initial highlights can immediately begin to offer insights that allow us to leverage our recent experiences into productive strategies.

In fact, I think most of what we learn during this intense period stemming from COVID-19 is going to inform, to a greater measure than we might expect, how we move forward.

Stephens: I'd like to mention here that one of the things that sustains everyone on the team is the generosity of colleagues. Everyone understands how their colleagues' backs can be up against the wall with current challenges. More people take time to upload their own examples to (Note: With our custom portal, this keeps getting easier!) I think they often don't realize how truly useful this is for other people. And these days — thank goodness — we're seeing an uptick of those kinds of uploads, with people graciously willing take a moment and share their spaces.

Beyond our community members, our partnerships — far too numerous to detail here — are greatly productive as well. I'll mention briefly a few particularly exciting things our partners are bringing us right now: the Learning Space Rating System from EDUCAUSE is now "baked" in to, with version 3 coming soon; our new monthly column in the Higher Ed AV e-magazine created by Joe Way out of HETMA; and especially our good fortune of bringing Susan Whitmer on board — who is freshly retired from Herman Miller and working at her own consultancy (Susan Whitmer Studios).

It is incredibly rewarding to see all of this sharing, and the potential to build on it — is genuinely about educators and education partners helping other educators through the lens of their expertise.

[Editor's note: Image courtesy For more information, visit]

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