According to an innovative study, colleges and universities need to create layered, blended and personalized places that support a variety of interactions and digital platforms, rather than creating specialized spaces, such as computer labs.
Furthermore, the study found that mobility has transformed the way students learn, and therefore requires careful attention to physical spaces now more than ever.
The study took place in G. Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons at Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta, where a user-oriented research collaboration between Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Herman Miller, Inc.’s Insight and Exploration teams looked at the “lived experience” of college students.
The aim of the study was to properly determine how learning styles affect the way some students interact in shared campus spaces.
“There were many studies out there of what happens within the formal learning stage [but] there are very few studies out there that focus on the learning that happens outside of the classroom. […] We thought it was really important to tell that story,” said Susan Whitmer, co-author of the study. What made this study unique was its empathetic approach to planning these spatial designs to encourage student interaction.
“It really is about being in the moment as opposed to being reflective, [and] making sure that you can get data right from the person at the moment that they are experiencing it. The experience is the most important part to understand […] the moment and how they are responding,” Whitmer said.
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Through its use of a digital ethnography tool in combination with traditional research tactics to record student activities and behavior that influence experience, the study was able to develop nine key design recommendations for institutions.:
1. “Initiate the new different”— build spaces that promote activities to build new relationships. This recommendation is centered on the idea of enabling students to take part in unexpected activities that may provide opportunities for new interactions at whatever given time. Such instances include, but are not limited to, unexpected encounters with peers, faculty, and artifacts within the given building.
2. “Create anchor points that serve as hubs”— Such design focuses on creating points of greater visibility of people and space to provide students with a higher level of transparency with regards to what is occurring around them, where they can go to meet new people and greater spatial legibility for new users of the given building.
3. “Build in recess”— The study found that most first-year students spend a good amount of time studying, thus preventing them from fellow student interaction. In order to promote a better information retention rate, as well as positive student interaction, this design concept takes into consideration the idea of taking study breaks. This model looks at building an area where students are promoted to take breaks without having to leave the building. It is concentrated on accepting the notion of recess and providing students with spaces where they can go, without a specific reason, that offers a release from collegiate pressures.
4. “Allow for multiple proximity setting by the user”— Given university spaces are all communal grounds for students, this design looks at building spaces that place control of the items and tools that come with the space. It acknowledges that “no two users occupy a space in the same way,” and thus aims at providing students with feeling of comfort, ownership and security in the space of choice.
5. “Accommodate multiple formations of people objects, and environments”—This design looks at providing students with a variety of opportunities in the form of physical space, tools and artifacts in order to set the tone for new interactions and relationships as students organize their daily lives and activities.
6. “Design guided experience”—The study found that students spend a plethora of rime waiting for classes. Therefore, it recommends providing guided experiences throughout the building to convert this waiting time into useful activities where new areas can be explored and new knowledge and information can be discovered.
7. “Use design cues to help users navigate and interact”— This design concept looks at helping students find destinations that fit their specific needs, as well as provide them with environmental updates as they are in constant transition. “Mobility is driving a lot of the behaviors, not just with the students but with all of us,” Whitmer explained.
8. “Allow improvisation when in groups”—Although building spaces requires some level of fixed ground, this recommendation aims at providing students with flexible spaces. It looks at setting the stage for collaboration and community building by allowing students to modify spaces through the mental and physical process of creating an environment that best accommodates their needs.
9. “Make sure one has what one needs”— The last design recommendation aims at providing students with the tools and resources for their learning needs wherever they are. It acknowledges the constant movement of students and look to provide students with the necessary support regardless of the location.
For more information on the study, including details on different student experiences and methodology, read “Does Space Matter?: Assessing the Undergraduate “Lived Experience to Enhance Learning.“