University of Wisconsin–Madison

Learning Space Improvement Report

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Executive Summary

The Ad Hoc Committee on Learning Space Improvement was formed in the fall of 2015 by the Provost’s Office and Facilities Planning and Management to identify priorities for learning space improvement projects. The committee received input from department chairs across campus and examined recent projects at other R-1 peer and UW System institutions. They also considered growing trends and practices that reflect recent studies on learning in higher education particularly in regard to active learning and new forms of student engagement.

The university is in a transition state between traditional lecture-based teaching methods and emerging active learning techniques1 often enabled with technology, with some instructors wishing to use the prior and some wishing to use the latter in the same space in any given day of instruction. The physical classroom requirements for one method versus the other are dramatically different. Many department chairs reported faculty desiring to shift their teaching to active learning methods but being constrained to traditional lecture-based teaching methods by the physical classroom layout and furnishings. In particular, large class sizes (approximately 120 students or more) provide both some of the greatest needs and the greatest challenges for classroom venues that facilitate active learning. The committee noted that in general, the UW-Madison campus has an existing classroom infrastructure that is physically outmoded, lacking the flexibility and technology necessary for optimal teaching and learning innovation, despite a few examples of exemplary active learning environments. In addition, the current policies and planning processes used for course scheduling neither allow optimization of the use of the physical infrastructure nor provide flexibilities needed to accommodate the transition to greater use of active learning approaches.

A large scale plan would be needed to bring many outdated learning spaces to a contemporary standard. Some of the most difficult learning spaces are in outdated buildings and would require:

  1. Create “neighborhoods” across campus of shared contemporary active learning spaces to enable access and maximal utilization with cost efficiencies in staffing, technologies and upkeep.
  2. Re-examine policy and procedures on course scheduling to better align with instructional needs to more efficiently use our physical T&L infrastructure and emerging technological tools that provide new teaching & learning capabilities.
  3. Identify funding sources for classroom upgrades that could supplement allocations from UW System. In contrast to major structural remodeling, many classroom redesign needs may be accomplished with less expensive furniture and technology upgrades.
  4. Return on investment should guide learning space remodeling, even though that return on investment may be based on subjective data.
  5. Seriously deficient classrooms that are either too expensive to upgrade, or that are located in buildings that are not envisioned to have a significant remaining life, should be taken out of the general assignment classroom pool and repurposed, even if small investments must be made to repurpose them.