Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Does Space Matter? Assessing the Undergraduate "Lived Experience" to Enhance Learning

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Does Space Matter? Assessing the Undergraduate "Lived Experience" to Enhance Learning

Article excerpt


IN THE LIVES OF STUDENTS, LEARNING IS SHAPED by experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Yet primary research on student-user experiences outside of a classroom is limited, as is information on how non-classroom spaces such as libraries and learning commons impact the experiences of students. Developing an understanding of the lived student experience in relation to physical space is critical in order for designers to create spaces that work for the mobile, fast-paced, and multifaceted lives of university students. A user-oriented research collaboration between Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Herman Miller, Inc.'s Insight and Exploration teams sought to further define the lived student experience. The research took place in the G. Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, also known as the Clough (pronounced Cluff) Commons, at Georgia Tech's campus in Atlanta.


HISTORY OF RESEARCH COLLABORATION This research project is a continuation of an ongoing relationship between Georgia Tech and Herman Miller that began in 2005. Previous collaborations included user-oriented research and engagement of the student advisory team at Library East Commons (LEC). The Clough Commons collaboration resulted in a unique research opportunity to observe how students interact with learning commons environments.


Named in honor of Georgia Tech President Emeritus G. Wayne Clough, the Clough Commons was developed in response to Georgia Tech's growing student body with a special emphasis on supporting undergraduate academic needs. The guiding principle of the Clough Commons was to bring together all components of undergraduate learning in a centralized location, including classes, laboratories for first-year students, ubiquitous and flexible study spaces, and just-in-time tutoring, advising, and technology support services. The facility opened in August 2011 after a decade-long period of thoughtful student-centered conceptual design, prototyping, and construction; students were engaged in the facility planning discussions through a student advisory team. The facility is dedicated to undergraduate academic enrichment, innovative learning experiences, advances in teaching pedagogy, and the integration of technology into the classroom. It is also a showcase for sustainable building methods and operation; the facility received a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2013, making it one of 16 LEED-certified buildings on Georgia Tech's campus.

The Clough Commons is a 24-7, 220,000-square-foot, five-floor facility. (See the appendix for detailed plans of each floor.) It offers a Starbucks cafe open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. and ubiquitous Wi-Fi and electrical infrastructure (i.e., outlets). In addition to the academic support units housed in the building, the Clough Commons includes flexible SCALE-UP classrooms, breakout study rooms, first-year science labs, and, perhaps most important for students, over 700 seats of varied furniture styles and functions to accommodate a multimodal style of learning and interaction. The Commons spaces are varied in arrangement, furniture type, and design to accommodate the wide variety of use modes.

Although the Clough Commons provides academic support geared especially to first- and second-year undergraduate students, the facility and its resources are also widely used by upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff, making the Clough Commons a true crossroads for academic enrichment and innovative learning. In fact, the Clough Commons sits at the geographic center and academic crossroads of Georgia Tech's campus. The Commons is a short walk from the Student Center and directly across from a large multipurpose classroom building. The facility is also physically connected to the library on two floors, and there is a flow of users between the library and the Commons 24 hours a day. …

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