Susan J. Wolff


1 Introduction, Summary Features

2 Process, Findings,
Case Studies

3 National & International Conferences, Case Studies

4 International Conference, Case Studies

5 Heinavaara School, 
Center for Applied Technology, Alpha High

6 Design Studio Kennedy Elementary
Design 1

7 Kennedy Elementary
Design 2

8 Kennedy Elementary
Design 3

9 Understand- ing & Future Research

10 Summary Table
summarizes 32 design features 

11 Acknowl-
edgements & Bibliography

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Design Features for 
Project-Based Learning

Susan J. Wolff, Ed.D.

This publication is a condensed version of a doctoral research study by Susan Wolff entitled "Relationships among People and Spaces: Design Features for the Optimal Collaborative, Project-Based Learning Experience."  Dr. George Copa, Oregon State University, was Wolff's major professor. Although the study was directed primarily at the community college level,  the findings of the study are pertinent to all levels of education and have implications for physical learning environments for other types of active learning processes. acknowledgments

The findings from the study included a synthesis of 32 design features of the physical learning environment that support and enhance collaborative, project-based learning. The features have been placed in six categories and are summarized in the chart below:

Design Features of the Physical Learning Environment
 for Collaborative, Project-based Learning


       The purpose of this study was to: (a) determine the design features of the physical learning environment that support and enhance collaborative, project-based learning at the community college level; and (b) to gain an understanding of the rationale for the selection of the features. The characteristics of the physical environment investigated in the study were scale, location, functionality, relationships, and patterns. Aspects of the rationale or purpose for the selected features included: (a) important factors for consideration, (b) sequence of consideration among the factors, (c) relationship among the factors, (d) derivation of the factors, (e) design process considerations, and (f) theories used to make the recommendation. 
       The literature review indicated a need for changing learning expectations to prepare learners for rapidly changing roles and responsibilities in work, family, and community for the 21st century. Collaborative, project-based learning was identified as a pedagogy that prepares learners for these new learning expectations by conceiving, developing, and implementing projects relevant to the learners' and the communities' needs. This active learning process teaches critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, negotiation skills, reaching consensus, using technology, and taking responsibility for one's own learning.
       Data were collected in three phases using a phenomenological approach to gain an understanding of the two foci areas of the study. Methods for collecting data included site visits, observations, text, interviews, and designs. Participants included architects, educators, and learners.
       The findings from the study included the initial identification of 44 design 
features of the physical learning environment that support and enhance collaborative, project-based learning at the community college level and the determination of the rationale for the selection of the features. Analysis and synthesis of the features resulted in 32 design features that were placed in the following six categories: (a) learning group size, (b) functional spaces for learning activities, (c) adjacencies, (d) furnishings, (e) psychological and physiological support of the learners, and (f) structural aspects. The essence of designing physical environments that support and encourage collaborative, project-based learning is the interrelationship among the categories and features within 
the categories.

       The majority of the current community college facilities were built beginning in the 1960's at a rate of one new college being constructed each week (American Institute of Architects, 1999; O'Banion, 1997). During the heightened building phase that continued through the 1970's, the facilities were produced in box-like, minimalist structures using concrete load bearing and exterior walls, low ceilings, and few windows (Brubaker, 1998). According to Lindblad (1995), the design features described by Brubaker, limited the sense of community among learners, reduced the ability for learner to learner and learner to teacher interaction, and inhibited the ability to create a variety of  learning environments that support active learning processes. Colleges that thrive and prosper in the 21st century will be those that are able to anticipate change, redefine themselves, and align their facilities to support their institution's mission and academic plan (Reeve & Smith, 1995). 
       Community college presidents, boards of trustees, and legislators all over the country are faced with the dilemma of having learning facilities that are reaching the end of their useful and safe life spans at the same time resources for new capital construction or renovation are limited. Examples of the need for new or improved facilities are the following:
       1. Three-fourths of the 2001-2003 biennial capital budget request to the 
Legislature by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (2000) in the State of Washington was to: (a) repair aging buildings, (b) modify facilities to use today's technology and serve today's students, and (c) increase capacity to serve the baby boom echo and adults seeking retraining.
       2. On the general election ballot in November, 2000, five Oregon community colleges requested approval of a total of $244 million dollars for the  improvement of their facilities.
       3. In 2000, the state of North Carolina passed a statewide bond for $3.1 billion dollars for new construction and renovation of facilities for community colleges and universities. For example one of its colleges, Guilford Technical Community College, received $33 million dollars of this allocation and earlier in the year 
had passed a local bond for an additional $25 million. Out of the $33 million, the college allocated $5 million for repairs and renovations with the remainder going for new construction at their five sites. Of the earlier $25 million, they set aside $3 million for technology.
       4. The North Harris Montgomery Community College District in Houston,
Texas, passed a $186 million bond in 2000 for new construction for the ensuing three years. $90 million will go to build the new Cy-Fair Community College, $15 million will be allocated to each of the other five colleges in the district, and the remainder will go the district office. 
        Donald (1997) states that college policy makers have paid comparatively little attention to identifying the appropriate learning context and process for achieving stated learning outcomes and even less to the design of the physical learning environment that support the learning process. There is an abundance of research studies and published articles (Lawton, 1999; Mayer, 1999) discussing the various forms of learning processes and the linking of these processes to learning outcomes relevant to the changing context of work, family, and community life; however, there is very little research or literature on college campus and facility planning that is supportive of the needed learning processes. 

Focus of the Study
       The study had two areas of focus. The first area of focus was to identify 
and describe the desired features of the physical environment, the lived space for learning that supports and enhances collaborative, project-based learning in community college settings. The characteristics of the physical environment investigated in the study included scale, location, functionality, relationships, and patterns. The second area of  focus of the study was the thinking behind or rationale for the desired characteristics being recommended. The thinking behind or rationale included the following aspects: 

1. What factors are important to consider?
2. What is the sequence of consideration among the factors?
3. How are the factors related to one another?
4. How are the recommendations derived?
5. What is still puzzling about the process?
6. What theories are applied in making the recommendations? 

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