Design Features for Project-Based Learning
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Phase II of the Study
       The first event of Phase II of the study was participation in a national conference session, titled High Performance Student Work Teams Deliver Powerful Training Solutions, held at the annual conference of the National Council of Occupational Educators (NCOE). The session demonstrated one community college's efforts to address a major enrollment increase by exploring options of delivering curriculum using different learning processes. One process being explored was the use of collaborative, project-based learning to provide service learning opportunities for the learners and from which the college gained ways to connect with the growing community. After the session, I 
conducted informal audio-taped interviews of two of the three presenters to ask about: (a) 
the benefits of collaborative, project-based learning, and (b) the design features of the 
physical learning environment that supported and enhanced the use of collaborative, 
project-based learning. 
       The second event was participation in an international conference, Innovative 
Alternatives in Learning Environments that provided opportunities for site visits in The 
Netherlands to educational facilities, some of which used collaborative, project-based 
learning processes. Several of the conference attendees became participants in my study. 
Additionally, I attended a workshop at the conference that brought architects and 
educators together in an intense time frame to design space for learning. The workshop 
provided insight into my initial thinking of who to have as participants for and how to 
design the design studio, which was Phase III of this study. 
National Conference Participation. 
While attending the 2000 Annual NCOE conference held in Denver, Colorado in October, I participated in a session about project-based learning being used as a service learning tool for the benefit of the learners and the college. High Performance Student Work Teams Deliver Powerful Training Solutions was presented by two faculty members and one administrator from Tomball Community College (TCC) in Houston, Texas. 
       Tomball Community College is one of four colleges in the North Harris 
Montgomery Community College District and was in the midst of a 33 percent 
enrollment increase. Tomball is a comprehensive community college that serves learners 
ranging from those seeking basic education skills, gaining career and life skills, and those 
continuing to a four-year college or university experience. Tomball Community College 
was exploring different methods in delivering curriculum in ways to better prepare the 
learners and seeking ways to increase efficiency to serve the most students with the same 
facilities and funding levels. According to one of the presenters, "this tremendous 
increase in enrollment caused the College to tear up old ideas and to look at their 
curriculum and facilities differently."
       One of the classes offered in the Business Core at the college was High 
Performance Work Teams.
In the conference session, it was explained that in the High 
Performance class, the learners: (a) applied team concepts to real-life situations, (b) 
integrated interpersonal skills, group dynamics, and leadership activities in the work 
team, and (c) effectively applied group participation and problem-solving techniques. The 
learning occurred through collaborative, project-based learning and incorporated the 
concept of service learning, both of which provided the opportunity for learners to 
practice the skills they were learning. 
       To emulate a real work situation, the learners in the class were given a written 
description of what tasks needed to be accomplished for each project. The tasks included: 
(a) expected deliverables, (b) accurate timelines, and (c) appropriate rewards and 
consequences for finishing or not finishing the project. Prior to starting the project, the 
learners received training on problem solving, decision making, and communication 
skills. The learners were given the tangible support they needed (e.g., supplies, space, use 
of telephone/copier/fax, and coaching. In addition to learning how to work in teams to 
produce a product, the students gained skills in using available technology to enhance the 
development of the product as well as to deliver the service. 
       During the conference session, I asked the presenters to describe the physical 
learning environment in which the current course was being offered. Their responses 
indicated that the traditional, lecture-based classrooms were the only available spaces and 
worked for collaborative, project-based learning as best they could with minor 
adjustments made by the students. In the subsequent personal interviews, I asked the 
question again seeking to see if their responses would have changed after thinking about 
the earlier question and being able to answer privately and not in a conference session.

Design Features of the Physical Learning Environment
       In the interviews with both presenters, I asked each of them to describe how they 
would design the physical environment for project-based learning and what features were 
needed in that environment. Individually, and yet almost identically, they both talked 
about walking into their existing classrooms and seeing the tables and chairs all pushed 
up against the walls and finding the learners working on the floor.
Seeing this, both 
participants stressed the need for furniture that can be easily reconfigured according to 
the needs of the learners and the activities.
        One presenter described the ideal project-based space as "having civilized 
amenities like what you would find in an office or a work space." The amenities or 
features of the physical environment included: (a) telephones, (b) fax machine, (d) copier, 
(d) ability to plug in laptops at each table, (e) access to the Internet , (f) differentially 
sized tables or work surfaces to accommodate different sized projects , (g) places to sit on 
the floor, (h) seating for groups, (i) presentation areas, (j) a laptop teaching station, and 
(k) access to food and beverages
. In the current spaces at the college, "…we have tables, 
chairs, and a desk. The teacher has to bring the scissors, tape, and stapler—all those little 
things so they can take what they are working on and do something with it."
        The second presenter added the following additional features to a project-based 
physical learning environment: (a) good lighting, including track or task lighting and a 
light table, and (b) an adjacent space that is similar to what you find in an ambassador 
club at the airlines. While further describing the space in an airline club, the presenter 

They are the best models for individual breakout spaces and for smaller 
scale collaborative type activities. This space may not be conducive for a 
class, but would be for individual teams to meet and to establish a learning 
activity. It would be more like a learning center where they have access to 
technology and resources and where they actually produce a product. 

       At the end of the interviews, I took the opportunity to query who should be 
involved in the design of physical learning environments. I had been thinking about the 
selection of participants for the design studio in Phase III of the study and that if we are 
building spaces for learners, should they not be involved in the design and decision 
making? When I asked one of the presenters if learners were involved in their design 
processes, the answer was "one." The presenter went on to say: 

I think it is a good idea to have students involved when discussing student 
spaces and open spaces. They can give you ideas for how they would like 
to see things arranged. For classrooms, I really can't say, and yet my 
experience of going into the classrooms and finding the tables and chairs 
shoved against the walls would say that students probably do have ideas of 
how they want their spaces to work for their projects. 

International Conference Participation
       The Innovative Alternatives in Learning Environments conference was held November 6-11, 2000, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The conference venues were many and varied in scope from a pre-conference workshop to site tours of educational facilities, conference sessions, and a post-conference site tour. [For more details on the conference, including plans and photographs f case studies, see Amsterdam Conference site, hosted by Design Share.]

Pre-conference Workshop 
       DHV, Consultants for Accommodation and Real Estate, in Amersfoort, The 
Netherlands, sponsored a one-day pre-conference workshop for a group of Dutch 
architects. Bruce Jilk, KKE Architects and chair of the conference, and George H. Copa, 
Professor at Oregon State University, were the presenters. Some of the architects at the 
pre-conference workshop had previously worked with Jilk and Copa and organized the 
workshop as a briefing of the presenters' newest thinking related to designing educational 
environments and to have an opportunity for in-depth discussion. Only the direct 
statements related to the focus areas of the study are included in the findings. 
       According to Copa (pre-conference workshop, November 6, 2000) education is in 
the process of evolving from being classroom-based to a broader learning system that 
involves a broad network of people providing learning opportunities. In moving to a 
learning system, the thinking, planning, and designing of learning facilities changes from 
being teacher-centered to learner-centered and from being building-based to one of a 
more community-based model. As an analogy, Copa told of how the telephone 
companies did not change the features of the telephone booth, but instead developed the 
cell phone. Using this analogy, Copa then asked, "What do learning environments need to 
be now and for the future?" 
       In the areas of work, family, and community, people need to have the following 
skills: (a) be more proficient as team members, problem solvers, producers of goods and 
services, and (b) contribute to a diverse and global economy. Copa's next query was, "Do 
our current educational facilities restrain the type of learning that needs to be taking place 
to teach these skills?" Copa advocated that the learning space needs to be able to change 
quickly and easily from moment to moment, day to day, and program to program to be 
maximized in usefulness. Jilk (pre-conference workshop November 6, 2000) advocated 
that the built learning environment should provide a sense of the following things: (a) 
one's own space, (b) connection with others, (c) meaningfulness, and (f) relevancy to the 
        Another aspect of learning that needs to change is the way learning is organized 
by the more common time frame of 50-minute class periods. Collaborative, project-based 
learning needs to be organized around longer blocks of time for learning and to access 
both formal and informal learning events that facilitate development of the project. Copa 
asked, "How would these things impact the scale of the learning spaces and the buildings 
in general?"
       When new designs for physical learning environments is advocated, the concern 
of adequate resources to build these new environments is frequently voiced. Developing 
strong partnerships with other learning providers, agencies, and with business is one 
avenue to address the resource concern. According to Copa, partnerships help provide the 
additional resources needed to build facilities that are used by the school, college, or 
university and by the community partners. The mixed-use concept creates new sources of 
       Additional examples of education/community partnerships given by Copa, were: 
(a) the North Harris Montgomery Community College District in Houston, Texas, seeing 
itself as building an electronic network between local school districts, community 
members, agencies, and businesses rather than building single buildings or campuses and 
(b) the Advanced Printing Technology Center at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational 
Education where prototyping and production activities are used for learning, providing 
service to the community, and generating resources. The pre-conference workshop 
reinforced: (a) the need to create a learning system that provides relevant and meaningful 
learning opportunities with the help of partnerships and (b) the need to look beyond 
traditional thinking and models of how to deliver learning.

Site Tours
       The conference included site tours during and after the conference. The 
participants chose from several tours, each including educational facilities for all levels of 
learning and urban development or re-development projects in Amsterdam and several 
other cities. The site tours provided visual exposure to the concepts and work of various 
architects and stimulated more questions in my mind related to this study. The tours were 
to the following sites: 
       1. Utrecht University where the group toured four recently constructed
educational facilities designed by noted Dutch architects Rem Koolhaas, Neutelings 
Riedijk, and the Mecanoo Architekten firm. I noted that the building spaces ranged from 
cavernous rooms with rows of desks used mainly for the purpose of testing, to a variety 
of group instruction spaces, to informal learning and gathering spaces. 
       2. Several other educational facilities, ranging from kindergarten programs 
to postsecondary sites were toured. Some of the facilities were stand-alone buildings in 
urban and suburban areas and others were located within housing and business areas in 
and around Amsterdam and Rotterdam. 
       3. The town of Hilversum to observe how significant growth in a town was
planned for in such a way as to meet current and future needs of the residents. The 
significant growth of the town occurred in the 1920's, and W. M. Dudok, an architect, 
was hired to develop the city plan. He designed several of the public buildings and parks 
facilities in the city, including his well-known Town Hall and several educational 
facilities that have served as models for school buildings in the United States. 
       The significance of Dudok's structures is two fold: (a) the design and features stay 
relevant regardless of the changes seen in society and the city since they were built 80 
some years ago, and (b) the design allows the facilities to be used for other purposes 
without extensive renovation. Two examples of design features that he placed in his 
buildings that are both functional and aesthetic are: (a) the extensive use of windows to 
incorporate natural lighting in as many ways as possible and (b) circulation patterns that 
encourage movement between and integration of activities in a non-disruptive way. He 
included these features long before they became more main stream in designs years later. 
The furnishings in these buildings looked and functioned as well today as they did eighty 
years ago. 

       The conference was held at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, a university for professional education at which the primary learning process being used was project-based learning. According to Tom DeGraff, who led the design planning team for this university site, the focus of the university was based on how to learn as well as acquiring knowledge. In recognizing that 40 percent of the students failed their first year and that 80 percent of 
those students fell behind within the first three months of school, the university: 
(a) organized the teaching staff into teams; (b) organized the learners into teams; 
(c) designed the learning spaces to keep the faculty close to students and provided shared 
teacher- student spaces; and (d) used project-based learning as the primary learning 
process. The majority of the learning spaces were open working spaces that incorporated 
small group space, laboratory space, and project space. Support areas included: (a) the 
library/media center, (b) cafeterias, (c) large common spaces, and (d) computer 
       Another postsecondary site that I toured was Icthus College in Rotterdam. The 
design features of the college relevant to this study were: (a) large, open common spaces, 
(b) access to food and beverage at all times, (c) access to technology and resources, (d) 
small group spaces interspersed through-out the building that provided individual and 
team work stations, and (e) areas of high flexibility in rearranging the learning space 
quickly to accommodate changing learning activities.

Electronic Mail Interviews
       After returning to the United States, I used electronic mail to invite some of the 
attendees to participate in electronic mail interviews. Eight gave consent and participated. 
Five were from the United States, and two were from The Netherlands, and one from 
Israel. I asked the participants four questions. Questions 1, 2, and 3 were focused more on 
the challenges of the design process used for educational facilities. Those questions were 
informational and only the comments made that were specific to the focus areas of the 
study were included in the findings. Four Participants noted the challenge of inadequate 
funding for building learning facilities in general and specifically for spaces that were 
traditionally viewed as non-learning spaces. 

Being able to sell the need for "student space [non-classroom]" for 
interaction and learning is difficult when funding is so often 
lacking or inadequate. In a construction market where costs are 
escalating dramatically and without defined parameters, anything 
outside of basic and known teaching services are often the victims 
of "value engineering" or lack of vision with administrators. 

       Another participant described a project in which funding of non-classroom space 
became an issue with funding agencies. The project was for a proposed addition parallel 
to an existing vocational, one-story, traditional shop area and a recently renovated, 
computer-based technology lab. The college faculty and administration supported the 
idea, but it was difficult to gain approval from funding agents.

When we suggested moving the addition closer to the vocational 
building and roofing over the space between the buildings to 
provide a high-bay, flexible student project space adjacent to both 
the vocational shop spaces and the technology space, the faculty 
and administration were excited. After two intense meetings, the 
state construction office allowed the design to proceed, but would 
not provide funding for it, since it was not a "classroom."

       A third participant corroborated the above challenge stating that "…although 
the notion of interactive learning environments being more expensive and less efficient is 
generally false, it is a belief that is somewhat pervasive in many institutions and in the 
voters' and legislators' minds."
       Question 4 asked, "What are the key features of space designed for active 
learning, specifically for collaborative, project-based learning"? The three areas that 
emerged from the question were: (a) needing flexible and multiple-use spaces, (b) 
providing a sense of ownership, and (c) recognizing the use of non-classroom spaces for 

       Flexible Spaces. All the participants mentioned the need for flexible spaces as a 
key feature for the physical environment for collaborative, project-based learning.

Flexibility! The environment must be capable of adapting quickly 
to changes in the learning process. Flexibility can mean many 
things, but the simplest method is to create places where different 
activities can occur within the boundaries of the same space.

       A participant said that, "…the project-based model typically requires
greater flexibility for technology and furniture arrangements [than for spaces using other 
learning process]."
       In describing the desired features of collaborative, project-based learning 
environments, a participant included flexible, comfortable furniture, computers, Internet 
connections, and library materials.

[Generally] this space will serve both as places where individual 
and small-group project work can be carried out in close proximity 
to the faculty, and as meeting places where serendipitous 
interactions among students and faculty can occur
, enhancing the 
learning process. [Specifically] a collection of spaces ranged from 
large, open, high-bay 'shop type' space to more traditional 
lab[oratory] space to 'clean room' space to large and small group 
meeting areas, to 'study houses' and 'slump' spaces for the planned 
a serendipitous meetings, which often generate synergy and new 

       The space and its features are totally dependent on the intended use and 
program. If the program is not specific and does not require obviously unique 
features such as a hydroponics program would, it would seem that creating a space 
that is generic and flexible would be important. A space that could adapt as the 
program changes and becomes more defined or a different program is added to the 

       Sense of Ownership. Three of the participants emphasized the need for a
sense of ownership by the user in the design of flexible spaces.

The biggest issue with using a space for multiple types of learning 
activities is the loss of ownership by the instructor and the 
If it is used by many, no one person feels a need to 
connect with the space and make it a part of their pedagogy. This is 
the biggest complaint we hear about flexible, multi-use space. 
Human beings have a need for identity. Creating places where we 
are treated anonymously generally creates a feeling of 
disconnection and a need to "mark" their presence within that 
space. This usually expresses itself as vandalism. 

The student shall feel at home, students have their own space, the space is 
for and of them. Teachers also will have their own, protected space for 
developing work.

Let the environment pay respect to the student, then the students will be 
proud of their building, their company, and their results. Make a dull 
environment and the students will have less motivation, demolish things, 
etc. Teams of students occupy their own part of the building; they have to 
identify themselves with it. The human scale must reflect on the 
environment, not the economic or organizational scale. 

       Non-Classroom Spaces. Two of the participants mentioned that the key to 
designing spaces for active learning processes such as collaborative, project-based 
learning is to, "look at the 'spaces between."

In other words, find ways that the non-traditional, non-classroom 
areas can support the learning process. In our own work 
environments, the most important discussions do not take place at 
our desks, but in the lunchroom, library, stairs, or lobby
. We treat 
the schools the same way. Wherever possible, we provide 
opportunities for students to sit in hallways and lobbies
with access 
to daylight and technology (high tech data/voice/video and low 
tech whiteboards).

Success is not only in the labs [laboratories] or in the classrooms, 
but also on the "edges", where the interaction takes place. These 
can be lounges, simple benches, marker board areas, study areas, 
etc. Breakout space is needed adjacent to the rooms for smaller 
groups to work. This needs to be a programmable space, as without 
it, the facility will lack the energy and soul it will require to be 
successful. The vitality of programs depends on the support the 
new environment gives to interaction amongst and between the 
students, faculty, administration, and the community. 

       The described features given by the Participants of the electronic mail interviews 
further reinforced the findings of Phase I of the study and the first event of Phase II. For 
the purposes of gathering more data for the study, other activities at the Innovative 
Alternatives conference were rich sources of information. The additional activities 
included: (a) conference general sessions, (b) case studies, (c) and a workshop on 
designing space. 

Conference General Sessions
        In his opening remarks for his keynote address, Herman Hertzberger, an architect 
and professor from The Netherlands, reminded the audience that the "old" thinking about 
learning was that learners were pumped full of knowledge and that truth came from 
blackboards. The "new" thinking is that learning is not just about acquiring knowledge 
and skills, but also gaining an understanding about attitudes, behavior, and 
communication by learning in an environment similar to living and working 
       The environments designed by Hertzberger have no traditional corridors, but are 
designed like streets with sidewalk cafes; only that these cafes are for learning. He 
prefers designing around city squares or city plazas with houses or villas of learning 
surrounding these central gathering places. These plazas or squares are places to learn 
and to discover. When separations are necessary, Dutch doors can be used to provide the 
separateness, but are also used to retain connection.
       One of the more insightful concepts that I learned from his address was that the 
design of space organizes and encourages behaviors. Spaces give the messages of 
"welcome," " walk here," " sit here," and "discover here." Space designed for expected 
behaviors reduces the need for creating and posting rules.

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