Learning Spaces

Pedagogy + Technology + Space = Inspire Learning

Space – a teaching and learning frontier. No longer are classrooms defined by the front of the room, with row upon row of individual desks.

Traditional learning space arrangements.

Imagine instead a space that engages learners through collaboration and creativity! Educators are transforming their environments from the limitations of the past to innovative, state of the art learning spaces. Join us on our mission at MCC as we explore the deep enriching universe of learning spaces.

The Space Race – Tradition to Transformation

Technology and the needs of learners are changing at the speed of light, but educators and educational spaces have fallen into a black-hole. At Mesa, explorations into this bold frontier are re-imagining spaces to mirror the world outside. Faculty have been challenging the traditional paradigm and discovering new options to transform from the factory line industrial approach to the future – education 3.0.

This video describes the history of teaching environments from Education 1.0 (the one room schoolhouse), Education 2.0 (the factory line delivery) to Education 3.0 (new frontiers).

Going from the Education 2.0 to Education 3.0 takes more than just the movement of furniture to successfully engage the learners. The space has to be flexible to meet the instructional approaches for lesson design. For example, consider the types of learners and spaces that one may consider:

  1. The cave: the quiet focus space or researching and deep thinking
  2. The campfire: pulling the learners together in small groups to share their knowledge
  3. The Mountaintop: pulling the whole class together to share their group discoveries

Creating a dynamic space, that meets modern teaching and learning needs, requires furniture that is as flexible and as mobile as the people using it.

The concept of transforming classroom space is not new. Educators have moved desks and tables to collaboratively engage students to create classrooms that match what they know about learning. What is new, is that educators are now realizing that the design of a classroom is much more than the rearrangement of furniture, buying new carpet and adding colorful paint. It is the purposeful integration and alignment of pedagogy, technology and space to inspire learning.

With flexible furniture and the purposeful planning of space we can fluidly adapt the classroom and assess teaching and learning–a universe of possibilities.

Planning a Space Mission – Vision to Assessment

Step 1: Create a Vision

This is high level brainstorming; pie in the sky! Gather the stakeholders together and discuss where they want to be in the future. Talk about how they teach now versus in 5 years or even 10 years. Discuss their learners’ needs and how to best support them. Ask them to envision how the learners will connect and engage with the space.

Step 2: Research the Vision

Tour the campus or nearby facilities that demonstrate dynamic spaces. Compile photos and spaces to analyze the options. Also, include IT for any technological needs for the room and other stakeholders such as media, facilities, maintenance and operations, purchasing, etc. Do not assume that the room will have the sufficient capabilities to complete the vision. Narrow it down to the top 3 choices that best represent the vision and invite vendors to the table.

Step 3: Design the Space

Partner with your furniture vendors.  Meet with the sales person and designer in the space while discussing the team’s vision.  It is important to have the designer present to save time translating the space to paper with furniture. Provide them with a CAD drawing for room specifics and measurements. Come to a consensus, choosing the best plan that represents the vision. Don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board if your needs aren’t met. Meet with the sales person from the selected design and be sure that all items are represented in the bid. Begin the purchase order process.

Step 4: Order of Operations

Create a schedule to organize the installation process for the remodel. However, be sure to have included all stakeholders such as painters, carpenters, electricians, etc. Have the room completed before the new furniture arrives. You need a coordinator from your institution to orchestrate the installation of the vision. Be sure that the room is available with sufficient time to complete the installation and pad the time. Meet with the installation company’s manager to show them the space and check that the plan matches the final copy. Check in frequently and test everything at the completion of install to make sure that it is functioning properly. Sign off for completion.

Step 5: Develop Training

Provide training for the pedagogical and functional (mechanical) usage for the space. When things go wrong…who does the instructor call? Guide instructors through a demonstration of the purposeful integration and alignment of pedagogy, technology and space to inspire learning. Plan a diversity of training deliveries formats (face-to-face, online, hybrid, etc.). Scaffold the training to help them reach the full potential of the space. Additionally, communicate changes, updates, etc.. Develop a user-group to discuss their teaching and learning experiences. Showcase instructors and their stories in future trainings.

Step 6: Assess and Scale

Assess the effectiveness of the space. Create a survey for both instructors and learners. If you are evaluating a classroom, administer the survey about 6-8 weeks into the semester. This allows for both the instructors, as well as the learners to adapt to the new environment and best practices. Consider a post-semester survey to capture further experiences using the space. Review the data with the stakeholders involved in the process such as the department, instructors, IT and administration. Then, decide how to adapt the space. If the space is effective, scale up and continue the training process.

Make the Case for Space – The LSRS

How does one measure innovation when it has not been defined, yet? Use the Learning Space Rating System (LSRS) to guide planning and design, as well as the potential performance of the learning space. The LSRS was formulated to create a shared vocabulary and philosophy of space. This rating system is a platform to have meaningful discussions about space and how to implement purposeful design to support teaching and learning. By rating a space, one can systematically assess the potential performance of a learning space.

The LSRS is a formative scale defined by 6 Principles:

Section 1: Integration with the Campus Context (ICC)

Measure the alignment of the design of the classroom to the wider campus vision such as the academic strategy, learning space master plan, and IT infrastructure, etc. This section also focuses on promoting evidence-based practice to inform future designs.

Section 2: Planning and Design Process (PDP)

Develop a campus culture for active learning spaces. To create an inclusive process engages all of the key stakeholder groups such as future users of the space, their deans and administrators charged with classroom oversight. Make sure the design process is based on research and documented best practices, and that pilot projects are evaluated for effectiveness before scaling up.

Section 3: Support and Operations (SO)

Identify the learning spaces capabilities pedagogically as well as functionally. Provide a plan to support faculty. How will you help them take full advantage of the space. Consider training (pedagogical and technical), maintenance, scheduling, capabilities, etc.

Section 4: Environmental Quality (EQ)

Determine the environmental factors that influence and impact the learning environment such as room temperature, lighting, comfortability and personal space. Learners spend a lot of time in the classroom space. Each aspect of the environment matters. Recent trends to include the development of informal spaces such as cafes and coffee shops addressing the full range of human needs.

Section 5: Layout and Furnishings (LF)

Anticipate what the learners will be using in the space, and how they will be using it. Include seating density and reconfigurability, visibility of learning activities, writing surfaces and comfort of the furnishings. The design provides opportunities for learners to express and capture the learning process.

Section 6: Tools and Technology (TT)

Integrate technology. Some technologies are foundational to a classroom’s design, such as adequate electrical power or sufficient network capacity. Other, more readily visible, technologies provide what the LSRS calls “distributed interactivity.” In both cases, the critical issue is not how advanced the technology is, but rather whether it is truly capable of supporting the activities anticipated for the classroom.

Planning Innovative Spaces

Think outside the box. How do you define scoring criteria for innovations that haven’t been invented yet? To address this, a credit for innovation has been defined in each section. The idea is to encourage out of the box thinking going beyond the current practices to explore future possibilities of how to best design space.

For more information about the LSRS, explore at:


Spaces Around Our MCC Galaxy

One does not need an intergalactic passport to see how innovative spaces are transforming the learning environment. By implementing incubator-learning spaces, MCC faculty have been able to “experiment” with creative layouts and furnishings right here in our own galaxy. Through this process they have been able to determine the needs to design active learning classrooms and then scale based on the results of assessment.

AS Building (Campus Map) is located at Mesa Community College’s Southern & Dobson Campus. The AS Building is as unique space that houses both student and instructional support services including the Center for Teaching and Learning. The building also features a cafe connected to a unique breezeway where students, faculty and staff can relax, study, and enjoy the life of an active campus. Additionally, AS supports several classroom spaces.

A few quick stops in our journey through our galaxy:

AS191: Goodman’s with tables on casters, lounge and cafe chairs, and wall to wall whiteboards

AS192: Steelcase with tables, chairs and individual whiteboards

AS196: Hon with individual cafe and standard height desks and chairs

For more information about other spaces such as the World Language Lab, the Learning Enhancement Center, the Library Classroom, or even informal spaces, stop on by the CTL and Book a Tour.