Design Features for Project-Based Learning
Section 3 | return to introduction and contents

The Interdistrict Downtown School. Another school was the Interdistrict 
Downtown School (IDDS), which was located in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. The design for the school was developed using the New Designs Process under the leadership of George H. Copa, who at the time was a professor at the University of  Minnesota, St. Paul. The IDDS was due to open three months after our visit so I was not able to observe learners in this environment. The school principal and the managing architect led the tour of the school site.
       The concept of an IDDS in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Minnesota Public Schools, 
1995) was first discussed in 1989 to address the issue of voluntary racial desegregation 
and to design a focus or magnet school with multiculturalism as one of the themes for 
learning. The Minneapolis School District and nine neighboring suburban school 
districts, all having different racial compositions, participated in the visioning and 
designing processes for the school. 
        As stated in a 1995 report, the vision for the IDDS was first crafted in 1989 and 
was to create a neighborhood school in an urban setting. In spite of several years of set 
backs in trying to find an affordable piece of property in the downtown area, the 
proponents of the project kept moving forward. In 1992-93, a Downtown Task Force was formed to address key issues and possible actions for revitalizing the downtown area. 
       The urban setting was chosen to provide a rich learning environment by accessing 
existing public and private facilities that included public theaters, the YMCA, and the 
public library. Access to the public facilities provided the opportunity to design a school 
facility that did not need its own gymnasium, library, and stage/auditorium. Additionally, 
the location provided learners the experience of being in the downtown business and 
community environment.
       In 1995, a Design Team was formed to guide the final development of the IDDS. 
The Team selected five comprehensive learning goals that were being advanced by the 
Minnesota Department of Education as the basis for designing the learning context of the 
school and learning expectations of the students. The five selected learning goals 
included: (a) purposeful thinkers, (b) effective communicators, (c) self-directed learners, 
(d) productive group participants, and (e) responsible citizens. 
       Taking the five learning goals, the unique setting of the school, and the 
multicultural theme, the Team established the learning context (Minnesota Public 
Schools, 1995) for the IDDS that: (a) models 21st century learning and school design, (b) 
uses the learning richness and possibilities of the downtown, (c) makes use of related 
experiences and practices from the nine participating districts, and (d) promotes 
collaboration and integration among grade levels and disciplines. The learning context 
established the foundation for the development of the learning expectations and learning 
processes for the school (p. 11). According to Pease and Rowell in Minnesota Public 
Schools (1995), the Design Team then established specific learning products that would 
give evidence that learners had achieved the above noted learning expectations.
       Skills to be developed through working on learning products (Minnesota Public 
Schools, 1995) included: (a) learning research skills by gathering information through the 
use of surveys, interviews, and focus groups, (b) defining and developing materials, (c) 
using appropriate technology for research and production, and (d) building trust and 
resolving conflict. Settings where the learning products could be researched and 
developed were: (a) library/resource center, (b) community areas, (c) businesses, (d) 
cafeteria, (e) private spaces, (f) outdoors, and (g) learning spaces within the school (pp. 
26-29). 

Design Features of the Physical Environment. Part of the design process for the IDDS was to envision a 21st century learning environment and link this vision with the 
identified learning outcomes, learning products, learning processes, and learning settings. 
The design of the IDDS is similar to the SES in that it provides a small-school structure 
through the use of "houses" of multi-grade level learners. The building is designed to serve a maximum of 600 students. The houses are designed for the following three learning level groupings: (a) K-5, (b) 5-9, and (c) 9-12 and would have two houses per grouping. 
       In addition to providing a multicultural theme or focus for the IDDS, a second 
theme is to incorporate the richness of the downtown area in which the school is located. 
In keeping with the "downtown theme," Stanton (1999) described how the street level 
spaces of the school were designed to include a large commons area similar to what 
might be found in a "town square or plaza." The adjacent learning areas are designed to 
be similar to a variety of shops and spaces found along a downtown street. One space is 
the resource/media/technology area designed to be similar to what might be found in a 
downtown bookstore or "copy" store with access to resources and technology. Two other 
smaller areas, with wooden floors, are used for presentations, display of work, projects, 
and for practice spaces for dance and movement classes. The smaller spaces have glass-
paned garage doors that open to the "town square" to provide additional space. From a 
picture in the Metro-State Star Tribune, September 5, 1999, learners in a movement class 
were visible through the glassed garage doors to whoever may be in the large, open plaza. 
        Pfluger (1995), the managing architect for the project, described the houses and 
laboratory/project spaces on the upper floors. Five focus laboratories are designed to 
provide specialized space and equipment for hands-on learning, movement, 
performances, project development, and building beyond what could happen in the house 
areas. The laboratories are named: (a) Nature, Wet, and Smelly; (b) Technology and 
Production; (c) K-5 Kids; (d) Big and Build; and (e) Sound.
       With the learning processes being experiential, each of the upper floors is 
designed to have a common, shared space with workbench surfaces, hand tools, 
equipment, storage, and supply areas. The spaces can be closed off with glassed garage 
doors at each end. It is intended that learning "spills out" and not necessarily be contained 
to a specific space or time. The common, shared spaces were defined as the "glue spaces" 
that link the various learning activities occurring on that level. The floors are sealed 
concrete with the idea that project learning could be messy. 
The infrastructure and mechanical systems of the building are exposed, making 
the building a learning tool. Environmental quality and sustainability are elements in one 
of the experiential learning programs offered at the IDDS. In keeping with the concepts 
of designing a physical learning environment that focuses on learner needs, the windows 
open for fresh air and the major learning spaces are on the south side of the building 
incorporating natural lighting.
       A design element incorporated into the building to indicate it is a place for 
learning is a large, cantilevered, glassed staircase at the street end of the building that 
showcases the presence of the learners to the outside community (Pfluger, 1995). The 
design of the staircase serves as a visual link to the marquees of the theatre arts facilities 
on the same street. 

Internship Activities. The internship included: (a) the development of a Master 
Facilities Plan for Clark College, and (b) the pre-design of the Clark Center, a Clark 
College facility to be built on the Washington State University Vancouver campus. 
Concurrently, I worked with HSA Architecture, L.L.C., Vancouver, Washington, on a 
renovation project to bring the Clark College Applied Arts 4 (AA4) building up to current 
code standards and to add a second floor to increase learning space for the College. 

Developing a Master Facilities Plan
       Clark College undertook the process of updating the College Master Facilities 
Plan in the fall of 1999. In addition to updating the existing Master Facilities Plan for the 
main campus, the process also addressed future opportunities and needs in the two and a 
half-county service district of the College. The population in Clark County, Washington 
was growing faster than the state's projected three percent growth rate and the population 
was becoming increasingly more diverse. The population growth was impacting the 
College's ability to meet the needs of its constituents. Updating the Master Facilities Plan 
was also a strategic planning mechanism for preparing timely, capital project funding 
requests to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges and subsequently, to 
the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Legislature in the State of Washington.
        A Facilities Master Planning Symposium was held on November 30, 1999, at 
which key shareholders from the community, State Board for Community and Technical 
Colleges, Higher Education Coordinating Board, and legislators were invited to hear a 
keynote address by George Copa, Director, New Designs for Learning, Oregon State 
University. In his address, Copa provoked different ways of thinking of how the College 
could address the rapidly changing demands of work, family, and community and 
respond to a growing population that had become diverse in its characteristics and needs. 
        A sample of some of the points made by Copa were: (a) interdisciplinary learning 
prepares learners for the complexities of work and society, (b) educators needed effective 
partnerships with businesses, community agencies, K-12 and other higher education 
institutions to provide the context for learning, determine the learning outcomes, and give 
support in terms of staffing, locations for learning, and shared funding, (c) facilities must 
be designed flexibly and be able to be adapted with less effort and cost to keep pace with 
the changing demands of work, family, and community life, and (d) borders between 
educational facilities and the community need to blur and blend to provide for learning to 
take place at the times and places needed by learners. 
After Copa's address, the audience participated in a visioning process to identify: 
(a) the learning needs of the community, (b) the characteristics of the various learning 
audiences, and (c) the facilities that would be needed to support the learning activities 
and the learners in reaching their intended educational goals. A campus team was formed 
to work with LSW Architects to develop the Master Facilities Plan (LSW, 2001). 
       Through the planning effort, a set of design features for the physical learning 
environment was developed. The design features that support collaborative, project-based 
learning, as described in the literature review and from what I had observed at the site 
visits, were: (a) multi-technology enhanced classrooms, (b) shared facilities with other 
learning providers, (c) quiet individual study, small group and seminar spaces, team 
space, project work, full- and part-time faculty team space, (d) secured and adjacent 
storage areas, (e) equipment intensive training areas with up-to-date technology and 
computers, (f) highly flexible, self-contained, and distraction free spaces, (g) adjacent 
work centers for staff and teachers.

Pre-design of the Clark Center 
       The design process for the Clark Center included faculty, administrators, and staff 
from Clark College and WSUV in addition to the architecture team from LSW 
Architects, P.C. and representatives from various state government agencies. With the 
Clark Center being collocated on the WSUV site, the process addressed the master 
facilities plans of both institutions and the architecture firms from both institutions 
needed to be kept involved and informed.
       When built, the Clark Center will have approximately 63,334 square feet (LSW, 
2000) and house classrooms, science laboratories, nursing and computer-based 
instructional spaces, offices, study spaces, and a community/business training center. 
Clark College also plans to offer at this site, selected vocational programs that will 
articulate into current WSUV degree programs. The two institutions will share plant 
services and infrastructure, student services, library services, food service, parking, 
bookstore services, student activities, security services, and child care.

Renovation of the Applied Arts 4 Building
       The Applied Arts 4 (AA4) building at Clark College was built in 1958 to serve as 
the automotive shop area for Hudson's Bay High School of the Vancouver School 
District. The south side of the building was originally constructed with high bay ceilings 
and a single story addition had been added on the north side. Throughout the years, 
modifications to the building included a partial mezzanine space for added teaching and 
storage space and partial wall partitions as well as more permanent walls were added to 
accommodate changes in programs being offered in the building. It was my opinion the 
modifications had resulted in non-efficient use of the space and "make-do" support of the 
programs. 
       In 1999, the College was awarded funding by the Washington Legislature to 
update the infrastructure and meet new code requirements in the AA4 building. At the 
same time, the College was faced with needing more square footage of general purpose 
learning space to meet the needs of a growing population in its service district and 
subsequently, growing enrollment. During the physical assessment of the building, it was 
determined that due to its structural soundness and high ceilings on the south side of the 
building, a second floor could be added to the building to gain needed learning space. 
The design process included the formation of a campus team including the faculty 
and staff whose programs were located in the AA4 building, the Plant Facilities Director, 
other campus personnel, and the architecture team from HSA Architects, L.C.C. The 
team addressed space and design features needed for the programs to be housed in the 
facility, took a tour of a career and technical education K-12 program that was noted for 
its innovation, and designed a facility that supported integration of the programs and the 
concept of shared space.
       The desired features of the physical environment that emerged during the design 
process were: (a) providing space to meet learner, community, and industry needs, (b) 
providing efficient use of the facility through flexibility in the design, (c) providing a 
better learning environment through integrated learning, shared use of space, and 
adequate, adjacent supply and storage areas
, (d) providing a model student learning 
center by incorporating new technology and providing for growth and change for future 
technology, incorporating natural light into the interior spaces on both floors through the 
use of exterior windows and interior window walls
, (e) designing and placing of faculty 
office space, (f) designing circulation patterns that encouraged and supported the 
integration of courses and programs, and, (g) locating several small group study and 
informal gathering/conference spaces
on both floors. Regarding the design and placement 
of faculty office space, some of the faculty were interested in being in office suites that 
were located close to the learning spaces while others preferred individual offices located 
elsewhere. 

       The building's original exterior wall was constructed with concrete columns 
placed every 20 feet along the perimeter. The construction allowed for the design of an 
adaptable interior with the use of de-mountable walls between the 20-foot spans. 
Mechanical systems were designed with this adaptability in mind. To achieve the 
required ceiling height for both levels of the building, a mechanical system penthouse 
was constructed on the top of the building. 

Findings from Phase I

        I analyzed the 28 design features of the physical environment identified from the 
event descriptions in Phase I to see if some preliminary clustering of features into 
categories could be done. The following four categories emerged when searching for 
commonalities: (a) spaces to hold different sized groups of learners, (b) spaces for 
different types of learning activities, (c) adjacencies among spaces for different size 
groups, different learning activities, and different types of support, and (d) the furnishings 
of the spaces.
The findings also include a description of the design processes observed in 
Phase I.

Group Size
      
The design features relating to group size that were recommended in Phase I 
were: (a) large, open or common spaces; (b) "house"; (c) small group, team space, and 
seminar space; (d) large group space; and (e) teaching team space. Specifics for group 
size were not always given in the descriptions or presentations, but based on observations 
and professional experience, I chose the groups sizes to range from the individual (1), 
small group size (3-15), team size (5-10), and large group size (15-35). The one 
description that was specific in group size was the "pods" or team spaces with 10 learners 
to a pod.

Learning Activities
       
The learning activities mentioned in the study were: (a) group instruction to teach 
concepts or skills to the whole team or group; (b) laboratory learning in which learners 
have the opportunity to discover, explore, practice, and use specialized equipment to 
create and produce information, products, and services for their projects; (c) project 
work; (d) teamwork to choose, develop, and produce a service
or product; (e) individual 
work, study, or reflection; (e) preparation for and presentation
of acquired knowledge and 
skills as a means of assessment; (f) practice space; and (g) informal learning.

Adjacencies 
      
The relationship of spaces to one another showed importance in providing: (a) 
access to the community; (b) galleries, studios, and presentation spaces to show the 
learning process and final products; (c) linked spaces and circulation patterns to connect 
learners and learning activities; (d) exterior windows that provided a visual link between 
the outside and inside of the school/college
as well as provided natural light and fresh air; 
(e) interior windows that provided a visual link between learning activities; (f) access to 
technology
that provided information and links with other sites and people; (g) 
connections in terms of movement of people and products between learning areas and 
activities; (h) "pods" or team spaces in which small groups work together to reach a 
common goal; (i) informal learning spaces for learners, faculty, and staff to gather for 
informal conversations and activities; (j) learner access to teachers and vice versa; and (k) 
adjacent spaces to increase access to resources, supplies, storage, and technology

Furnishings
      
The identified furnishings for the physical environment that supported and 
enhanced the variety of learning activities, team work, and need for flexibility in 
collaborative, project-based learning included: (a) moveable furniture; (b) different sizes 
of work surfaces such as tables or benches
; (c) durability of furnishing; (d) floor space on 
which to do work; (e) tack boards and white boards; (f) task lighting and light tables; (g) 
casements to store supplies and projects, hand tools, and specialized equipment; (h) 
technology in the form of computer stations, copiers, fax machines, and telephones; and 
(i) secure, personal storage spaces. 


Design Process
       The design processes used for the two sites in Minnesota and three internship sites 
involved the formation of design teams comprising educators, community members, local 
and state officials, representatives from other learning providers, and in one case two 
students. Including the voices from these various groups proved to be fruitful in creating 
designs that support learning activities for a variety of constituents. The design activities 
of the internship were important for moving the attention of the study to the community 
college level and for providing a rich, personal experience of working with educators and 
architects in building design activities. 
An observation I made from the internship activities was the need for a clearly 
defined academic plan in which the learning outcomes are identified, followed by the 
selection of the learning processes to be used to facilitate the achievement of the 
outcomes. Without the identification of the learning outcomes and processes, it seemed 
difficult to design the physical environment in a way that would support the underlying 
mission, vision, and values of the institution. The design process may be delayed either 
while the academic plan is being developed or until enough information is made available 
to determine the types of spaces needed to support the learning processes.

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