Essential to all renovations in College of the Mainland is the need for active furniture that can be moved easily to create a diverse variety of learning settings. These need to include not only classroom furniture, but casual seating areas for students to congregate before and after class.
Small conference rooms are located throughout the academic areas to provide a space for students and staff to work on shared tasks and projects. These are often lined with glass walls to allow for visibility in and out of the room, and they provide quiet work spaces for students to utilize before, during and after class.
COMPONENTS OF SUCCESSFUL OUTDOOR LEARNING AND ENGAGEMENT SPACES
Natural light, LED lighting and improved acoustics are essential to the learning environments. Research has proven these components can increase student and staff performance. Next generation learning environments utilize high performance elements that also improve energy efficiency and reduce operational costs.
IMPORTANCE OF STUDENT CENTERS
College of the Mainland’s campus has continued to embrace the need for student centered activities and to that effect, has provided spaces to allow for student activities to take place. The evolution of college has placed significant importance on the student center campuses in order to serve the needs of tomorrow’s students. The campus student center that served only as a pass through space between classes in the past is no longer viable as students need spaces to engage in conversation and collaboration. They are facilities where students can gather with friends and classmates to socialize and to study, to see others and to be seen.
According to Susan Whitmer, research lead at furniture manufacturer Hermann Miller, the student center’s impact extends beyond the campus itself. She explains that “student centers provide an opportunity for the community at large to engage on campus.”5 Student centers help colleges keep students on campus where they can participate in alternative learning opportunities. These centers now contain a large number of activities, from counseling to social and cultural offerings, all with the individual student experience in mind.
Currently the student center is not entirely dedicated to students, the administration functions that currently occupy this building while necessary are not ideal. Effort should be made to relocated these functions to the Administration Building or LRC in order to return the Student Center entirely for student use. There are any number of ways to utilize this square footage to the benefit of the student experience and provide the students with a building all their own. The center must become a recruiting tool to help drive enrollment with improved food service and other aesthetic improvements beyond simply adding more functions. Finally, the dichotomy between social and collaborative learning environments can also be introduced into the Student Center. This building is has the potential to become the hub of the student experience both socially and academically.
The new Student Center can also potentially become places of innovative learning that draw students to campus. Today’s increased emphasis on inter-disciplinary work and partnerships with industry has begun to shift the campus environment towards hands-on learning environments. The student center can be designed to be a place where students spend all of their time, including their in-between class time, and look for inspiration in the activity and energy of the place.
In its essence, the student center is a place that fosters civic and social life, bringing together groups of students who might otherwise never have an opportunity to do so. College of the Mainland could greatly benefit from this, as Texas City and its surrounding areas are diverse, with many ethnicities continuing to fill new and existing communities. New student centers draw students to campus by promoting their social network, and this network of peers stays with students long after they graduate. This feature can help differentiate College of the Mainland from other area colleges.
Some of the key spaces and components found in the next generation of student centers are:
• Counseling Center
• Wellness Areas
• Dining Areas
• Math/Writing Think Tank Labs
• Gaming Zones
STAFF WORK AREAS
• Large Displays and Technology Zones
• Huddle Rooms
• Innovation Center
• Student Organizations Meeting Areas
• Large Group Presentation Areas
TRANSFORMING COLLEGE OF THE MAINLAND'S LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
College of the Mainland’s buildings can be renovated to become next generation learning environments that will provide varied and diverse settings for its students. The renovations can be simply performed by maximizing the existing spaces and introducing next generation elements into the spaces. One opportunity for this is the Math and Science Building. The space is very efficient, with classrooms and offices flanking the hallways. The building currently holds large, outdated science labs. If new labs were built, these existing labs could be renovated into Next Generation Learning environments that take advantage of these large spaces and existing infrastructure. Next Generation renovations at this campus would include:
LARGE GATHERING AREAS
The outdoor learning and engagement spaces come alive when a college organizes events such as concerts or performances. Successful outdoor spaces include a theater and stage that can be totally man made, or completely natural. Stepped amphitheaters provide for a diversity of uses and activities, such as presentations or concerts, while at the same time providing for comfortable settings for student down time. The key factor in designing these performance venues is to integrate it into the overall master plan, so that it is not alien in feel to the rest of the space.
HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPONENTS
Students today need the opportunity to work independently, and, charge devices between classes. Touch down spaces and the media bar allow for this to take place, happening more quietly in the touch down locations, and more socially in the media bar.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WAYFINDING
A recent study conducted on wayfinding strategies concluded that we have eight seconds to provide the right answers to a new user or visitor to the system. A person will become frustrated and walk away if they spend more than eight seconds interpreting signs and maps. With the many distractions of everyday life, our mental ability is greatly diminished, so complex or non-existent signage will lead to frustration and anger. A successful wayfinding master plan provides for simple cues that easily direct us to our destination. Signage can be designed and installed to represent landmarks, or “bread crumbs” along the travel path. In his Ted Talk “Making sense of Maps”, Aris Venetikidis explained how our brain reads and recreates maps. Our brains simplify the information into simple diagrams with landmarks along the way. This helps us remember where we are going and how we got there.
Landscaping in the courtyard should include a variety of trees and plants, as well as lawn areas. Well groomed lawn areas are inviting to people, and create a playing area for all. Tree selection should include large trees, or trees that will be large at maturity. Large trees provide shade, which is usually a most welcome outdoor feature. Plants should include color variation and flowers. Research has shown that outdoor settings that include colorful flowers help reduce stress and feelings of discouragement. In order to define open spaces, dense planting areas should be created, as they can help frame the outdoor environment. A densely planted area with a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers can serve as a backdrop to an outdoor learning space.
MEDIA BAR AND TOUCHDOWN SPACES
Classrooms open up to the adjacent areas with the introduction of movable glass walls, allowing for learning to spill out into the collaboration areas. Glass walls also allow for connectivity between the activities inside the classroom, and those in the collaborative areas. An additional benefit of glass walls is that is allows for borrowed light to permeate the center of the classroom areas, as light is “borrowed” from the exterior windows through the glass.
TRANSFORM FROM EXISTING TO NEXT GENERATION LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
College of the Mainland (COM) academic buildings are efficient in their design and layout, with classrooms and labs flanking double loaded corridors. In some instances, wider hallways and gathering spaces are sprinkled throughout, providing gathering opportunities for students and staff. The buildings are traditional in nature and have been well maintained, having successfully served the needs for students over the last 50 years.
As COM looks towards the next 30 years, the environments within these buildings need to change in order to serve the next generation of students. Today’s students have changed, educators have changed, learning itself has changed. According to Milton Chen, Senior Fellow & Executive Director, Emeritus of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, 21st Century learning uilds upon such past conceptions of learning as core knowledge in subject areas and recasts them for today’s world, where a global perspective and collaboration skills are critical. It’s no longer enough to know things. It’s even more important to stay curious about finding out things.
This shift results in a different way of teaching. By putting the focus on students experiencing the environment, they will start developing their higher order thinking skills, effective communication skills, collaboration skills, and all other skills that they will need in today’s workplace. Technology also plays a major role by allowing for 24/7 access to information, constant social interaction, and shared digital content. Next generation learning allows educators to leverage technology to create an engaging and personalized environment to meet the changing educational needs of today’s and future generations.
COM’s learning environments will need to evolve to best support this shift in the educational model. Next generation learning environments are active, agile environments that can change to enhance learning activities. These environments are open and fluid, no longer isolating activities from each other, but rather working together to provide a constant learning experience.
Collaborative work areas and spaces allow for students to work together before, during and after class, and provide the setting for collaboration and team work. These are important spaces as they provide students with the opportunity to interact with peers and socialize. Collaborative areas provide locations for students to remain on campuses between classes, which increases their overall engagement.
Glass walls from the classroom to the hallways and learning commons will allow for connectivity between classroom areas and the active learning environments outside them.
All learning areas are enhanced by a robust wireless access system, as well as having technology tools that foster collaboration and interaction, such as interactive LED screens, tablets and linked project centers. Charging stations are also provided throughout the spaces allowing students work areas on off periods. Technology is also used for signage and displays that are interactive and invite staff and students to participate.
NEXT GENERATION LEARNING SPACES
In the PST framework proposed by Radcliffe in 2009, Pedagogy, Space and Technology (PST) form a triangle that contains the learner. They influence each other in a reciprocal manner. The triangle represents the learning environment in which all four elements – Pedagogy, Space, Technology and the Learner - play an active part. The learner is an active participant inside the triangle, influencing, and being influenced by these three elements.
The current and next generation of students, millennial and the post millennial, place significant value on job outcomes. Students want colleges to prepare them for life beyond graduation by preparing them in careers that will help them earn a good living wage. Not only does this preparedness stem from academic success, also depends on students’ ability to succeed in a professional environment. Student centers were originally places where students could go learn soft skills such as how to interview, how to work with others and how to communicate and present themselves. For emerging generations of students, this could be equally important as professional survival in a global, fast paced world is essential. These centers could provide strong and relevant career counseling that will allow students to enter the workforce in careers where the demand is high, and where each student’s talents would be used at their highest level.
However, according to a report published by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 40% of US students reported a lack of familiarity with market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers and doctors. Career counseling discussions that take place are oftentimes disconnected from labor market needs, and devoid of understanding of the skills needed to fill and succeed in these positions. Building a strong career counseling program at College of the Mainland will help align students with high demand careers, and maximize their years spent in college.
Students entering College of the Mainland should be assigned a counselor that can focus not only on the soft skills needed for employment, but can chart a path for each student based on their skills and based on labor market demands. This is especially important for students looking at one-or-two year degrees, including associates degrees and certifications, as the right training and skills can prove essential to employment.
According to the American School Counselors Association, successful career counseling programs include the following components:
1. Students work with their career counselor in charting an education and career path when they start college.
2. Career counselors plan career centered activities for both students and instructors.
3. Student to counselor ratios are kept low. The American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio
of no more than 1:250.
4. Career counselors continue to receive training to remain relevant and informed.
5. Real world workplace examples must be woven into classroom instruction. This requires constant training of
instructors, as well as a commitment to significant partnerships with area businesses and employers.
6. Community level engagement is needed at all levels – employers, municipalities, chambers of commerce – in
order to ensure the information and sources remain relevant and labor market information is accurate and
The introduction of water features in outdoor learning and engagement spaces elevates the quality of the outdoor space and invites people to enter the space. Water brings both excitement and serenity to a space, all depending on the way it is used. A fountain like the one in the image top right provides excitement as it invites students to walk through it on the way to class, while the bottom right fountain provides serenity as the water slowly trickles into the linear trough.
As part of COMPASS, improvements to major building systems should be included. These improvements would include upgrades to state-of-the-art, energy efficient LED lighting, as well as heating, venting and air conditioning systems upgrades for maximum energy efficiency. In addition, architectural finishes such as paint and floor finishes need to be refreshed to bring the environments to current materials and color palettes.
Clear access from buildings to the outdoor learning and engagement spaces will allow students and staff the opportunity to interact in a natural setting. Outdoor learning and engagement spaces can include areas for impromptu conversation, such as large boulders grouped next to each other. Other more planned areas, like benches and tables, should be sprinkled throughout the space to allow for students to work or visit with fellow students. Moreover, walkways and pathways should be planned to create intersections linking all surrounding buildings, and directing users to meet and converse.
Open spaces can be sequenced to connect a variety of settings into a holistic system, creating order and direction for the space. These spaces can be linked to allow for increased interaction, while still maintaining their individuality by utilizing different materials, such as colored pavers and plants.
NEXT GENERATION student experience is an important factor in student recruitment and retention for post secondary institutions. Students are looking for engagement from their teachers, a personalized learning plan that includes diverse course offerings, excellent learning environments and opportunities for social interaction and sharing. Colleges and universities are shifting their focus to respond to this demand by focusing on what students do. By analyzing what students do – time and energy devoted to educationally purposeful activities – they can align their institutions to use effective educational practices to induce students to do the right things. Many studies have been published regarding the need to engage students entering post secondary institutions, as many come apathetic or disengaged. In the study titled “Student Apathy and Disengagement in American Higher Education”, Darielle Christman explains that due to the lack of engagement, students tend to miss classes, not participate in any of the institution’s events or student organizations, and are generally unprepared and avoid class participation.
However, changes in instructional delivery and environmental changes – both social and physical – have proven to be effective in bridging this gap. Colleges and all higher education institutions will continue to see rapid change in how we share knowledge, how we leverage technology and how we deliver a more diverse, quality education. These changes will affect what happens in the classroom, and what happens within college campuses.
Newer methods of online and technology-enhanced course delivery, including “flipped classrooms,” are showing promising student outcomes. “Flipped” instruction models in particular have resulted in greater student engagement. Adaptive learning technology has also received significant interest. However, in spite of advances in distance learning, students will continue to demand state-of-the-art physical spaces where they can interact with other students and with faculty, where they can put their new skills into action, and where they can focus on their learning.
A shift to next generation learning is needed in order to engage these students. According to “Next Generation Learning: The Pathway to Possibility”: “Next generation learning” isn’t about educating the next generation of students. It’s about engaging with today’s students through “next gen” teaching and learning designs that promise significantly higher achievement for many more students than current generation approaches have been able to generate.”
College of the Mainland has been a provider of high quality learning for area students, however it’s facilities are showing their age. In order to continue this success these buildings need to be able to incorporate the next generation learning goals by adopting strategies such as the design of learning spaces and classrooms that respond to student needs, as well as a master planned approach to outdoor learning spaces and wayfinding. The following pages provide detailed information on opportunities available to the college, as well as research to support those findings. We have focused on four major components as there is significant evidence to their impact on retention and recruitment.
1. Next Generation Learning Environments
2. Student Centers and Career Counselin
3. Outdoor Learning and Engagement Spaces
4. Wayfinding and Signage
These rooms could be used by staff and students for quick impromptu meetings, as well as for concentrated work that requires more quietness and focus. These rooms would have glass to the open spaces, for continued connectivity and enhanced safety.
Furniture plays a vital role in these environments by changing from the traditional static furniture to very active furniture. The ease for reconfiguration allows for team activities as well as individual student learning. In addition, a variety of settings can be accomplished with the introduction of soft seating and casual furniture in the collaborative spaces.
WAYFINDING AND SIGNAGE
College of the Mainland’s campus was carefully designed and master planned 50 years ago, resulting in a character that is timeless. The location was carefully selected so as to best serve the needs of local students. While the location of the campus is excellent, their suburban setting makes it sometimes difficult to see the entrance for the college from the roadways, as signage is not always visible from the overpass or side streets. In addition, once on campus, it is not always easy to find the way, as the overall signage is not clear and visible.
The lack of accessibility and ease of travel to and within college campuses can deter a student from enrolling, as attending college can be daunting enough. Great campus wayfinding offers clear direction, is accessible, and blends effortlessly into its environment, making the college experience more pleasant.
NEXT GENERATION STUDENT EXPERIENCE
Professional learning and collaboration is enhanced by the introduction of shared work areas located within each academic area. These shared spaces foster conversation and provide staff with work areas throughout the campus to support their lesson planning and research work.
LANDMARK OR FOCAL POINT
A landmark or focal point in an outdoor learning and engagement space can provide a visual focus that differentiates an outdoor learning and engagement space from others. The addition of a statue, sculpture, tower, gathering spot or water fountain, helps people navigate through the space. This landmark can also serve as a branding icon for the college campus.
The planning team created a space in the center of the wing that can serve as a Learning Commons. This space can be used for class or large presentations. It is open to the hallways, allowing for participation from all college students. This space would include movable furniture as well as interactive technology.
COMPONENTS OF NEXT GENERATION LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
The goal of a site signage and wayfinding master plan is to produce a clear, concise program that defines the border of the campus and safely and efficiently guides people to their destinations. In addition, the master plan should serve to support the college’s brand, with a look and character representative of the college. Wayfinding takes a layered approach, starting with directing users safely on to the site and efficiently finding parking. Once parked, a detailed level of wayfinding and signage is implemented at the pedestrian level.
Some of the classrooms could be combined to create a large collaborative space that can be used for class, or by students before or after class. These would be equipped with furniture that would promote collaboration, as well as be equipped with technology to support the learning activities.