Educational Technologies Committee 2015-2017 — Christopher Watts, chair
As the St. Lawrence community begins the invigorating work of a comprehensive campaign, much of the energy pouring into this process comes from a wave of recent success stories. We have received recognition in key places that aid in our recruiting, and our financial health has been affirmed by the rating agencies. Our student body has gotten larger without getting weaker academically. In recent faculty hiring, the best candidates have accepted our offer in the vast majority of cases. Things are good.
Like every other institution, we have felt the pinch of the Great Recession, and our ability to make capital investments has been severely hampered over many years. Operating budgets in the academic departments have been held flat or reduced over the same time. If there was any fat, it is gone now. Deferred maintenance that was daunting before is alarming now. As we work together on the comprehensive campaign, many of the challenges are quite clear.
St. Lawrence’s reputation has been on the rise in recent years, and we all take pride in that fact. Resting on our laurels at this moment, however, might be the single biggest mistake we could make. As we move forward, St. Lawrence must invest—and ask our donors to invest—in learning spaces: the classrooms, labs, studios, and rehearsal rooms where our core mission plays out on a daily basis.
St. Lawrence must invest in learning spaces: the classrooms, labs, studios, and rehearsal rooms where our core mission plays out on a daily basis.
The Changing Classroom and the Learning Space
The primary driver of changing needs in learning spaces is, appropriately, changes in pedagogy. Traditional lecture-style teaching is not going away entirely, but is increasingly being supplemented or replaced by pedagogies that place the student in a more active role: small group discussion, problem-based learning, and more hands-on activity. These changes in teaching and learning necessitate changes in classroom design, with an emphasis on flexible seating arrangements. This desire for flexibility is strongly expressed in faculty surveys over recent years.
These changes affect not only how classrooms are best configured, but also how other kinds of spaces are used in teaching and learning. For example, less lecturing and more hands-on work means an increased use of lab spaces and other learning spaces beyond traditional classrooms. Many of the technologies that we used to call “classroom technology” are now regularly needed in labs, studios, rehearsal rooms, group study spaces, etc.
As we think about these issues, therefore, it is very important to talk about the broad category of “learning spaces” rather than the narrower “classrooms.” The interconnections are so extensive that a narrower approach is counterproductive.
Changing this approach means both a change in the way we think about these spaces and a change in the processes by which we fund these spaces.
Traditional lecture-style teaching is increasingly being replaced by pedagogies that place the student in a more active role: small group discussion, problem-based learning, and more hands-on activity.
The Current Learning Space Environment at St. Lawrence
The Educational Technologies Committee (ETC) sponsored a walking tour of campus learning spaces in May 2016. A group of about a dozen faculty, staff, students, and administrators walked through twelve academic buildings, visiting as many learning spaces as possible in a six-hour period. Most of the spaces were classrooms, but we also visited labs, rehearsal rooms, art studios, the Brush Gallery, and computer labs.
This tour was eye-opening, and the challenges the institution faces in improving learning spaces became clear. We also see a great opportunity in the current moment to start the process of reinvigorating these spaces, and we are enthusiastic about that prospect.