I recently had the chance to speak with Richard Holton about active learning and what to consider when approaching learning design for higher education. Richard is a writer and education consultant, as well as an Assistant Vice Provost for Learning Environments Emeritus at Stanford University. Previous to that he had a 30-year career as an educator and academic technology leader.
What follows is a summary and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
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Summary of the Conversation
Richard Holeton wrote a critically recognized hypertext novel 20 years ago. He is now engaged in planning and designing learning spaces. Holeton shares, 'My writing career, especially writing with new media, and my career in academia has been fortunately mutually reinforcing'.
The first computer classrooms, which some people will remember, were basically designed by technologists. The technology-enhanced classroom that we were lucky enough to design at Stanford with that grant from Apple was one of the first that was designed by teachers.
Holeton explains, 'I had a mentor at the preschool where I mainly taught who was all about learning spaces. She taught us, other teachers, to constantly redesign the room, divided into discreet spaces. Each space had to be defined, and in those days, we wrote each on an index card. I'm really fascinated by the idea that learning space in the physical environment took a while to be considered. Initially, learning spaces were designed by technologists, and only up until a certain point was the educators involved.’
So you have these learning spaces that actually can contribute to mutually enforcing the ability of a teacher to, transmit knowledge or, encourage learning. The LSRS is a rating system which means it has a series of credits. It's a tool for measuring the design of these classrooms to the degree to which they can facilitate multiple modalities of learning and teaching.
The LSRS has two seven sections in two basic parts and two main parts. Part A is focused on the global or macro level. Part B has four sections and it's about the stuff that goes into the spaces.
Holeton states 'Research that our stuff is based on, but there's research about designing online interactions and online spaces. Interaction design and so on is a whole field with its own set of research and expertise. We intersect with that. And importantly because all experiences are hybrid or blended, so you always have one foot in the physical.'
The LSRS is a self-rating system so far. It's not intended to be an all-inclusive framework applied to hybrid, online, and physical spaces. The tool is very useful in comparing your worst spaces with your better spaces.
The ratings for that section are going to be mostly the same for every classroom. They ask questions about your support and operations operation. Are you preparing faculty to teach in your spaces? What's the training like? Do you have an online module?
One of the drivers for creating this was to simply call attention to the state of the learning spaces. You can compare yourself, you can do the play to get things done at Stanford, and you usually want to compare to the peer institutions.
The quality of any learning experience is mostly determined by the students and the instructors more so than by the physical environment. Research does show that aspects of the built environment can impact learning. 'You can't learn very well if you're hungry, thirsty, too hot too cold, and so on'.
We're getting, constantly, messages from the environment that impact our cognition. A lot of these messages are non-conscious, the air pressure the temperature, and so on. But they affect our behavior and they affect our cognition.
LSRS is all about what activities are enabled, right? Because we can't control what happens in the space that's controlled by the teaching. But we can enable things to happen by the design of the room. We wanna enable activities that research has shown are effective for learning.
The LSRS is a tool for those who want to enable learning and improve these spaces or design these ideal spaces from scratch. Holeton shares, ‘When we started in the early 2010s, we could see that a substantial community had evolved already around learning space design in higher ed. We wanted a tool that we could use to call attention to spaces that needed attention to try to get resources,' he says. 'And then I guess at the same time, putting a stake in the ground and saying here's a way to tried to measure things'.
LSRS is a shared language and a shared taxonomy for learning spaces. There is no direct competition between LSRS and WELL building standards. FlexSpace.org is a searchable database of learning spaces where anyone can upload photos and information.
LSRS is a set of tools that can be used to assess and improve learning environments. The tool is available for free download from the LSRS website. There are thousands of downloads of the tool.
Holeton continues, 'Learning spaces in general have improved over the last decade or two. It's an ongoing project to convert a vast legacy-built environment of classrooms that were built to support the pedagogy of a hundred years ago. If money were no object, everyone would rebuild and retool all their classrooms.'
Design thinking is applied to space in order to enhance the activity, in this case, the activity is teaching, learning, or the transfer of knowledge. So there's another emphasis right now with the DEI, or I think in higher education circles it's EDI, but equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Inclusion begins before you're designing the actual space. The main way that you create an inclusive learning environment is through teaching practice, through pedagogy. You can have a room that scores a thousand percent on the LSRS and there's no guarantee that inclusive teaching's gonna take place there.
The LSRS is designed to welcome learners with different physical abilities. Physical inclusion is about making sure everyone can have the same chance to have the same experience in this space, including access to all the affordances of the room. Cognitive inclusion is really about applying UDL, which is a Universal Design for Learning and applying that to the physical design of the space.
The LSRS team has wrestled with this for years, actually. How do you quantify cultural inclusion? How can the physical environment help create a sense of belonging and make spaces welcoming and inviting to different people? And the way that we thought about it is in the sense of social identities.
A trend in modernist architecture has been to generally remove cultural markers and make spaces neutral or culture free. We should note that many of our campus spaces were designed historically in a context of exclusion, of excluding certain groups. Changing the language in the description of a STEM course to make it more gender-neutral or making it more of a visual representation of women can increase the enrollment of women.
The aim, as Holeton describes is that 'We hope that LSRS principles of the LSRS apply not just to classrooms but beyond. We know that most learning takes place outside the classroom, not inside the classroom. So in that sense, the general campus environment is even more important.'
Ian Evenstar: Tell us about yourself and how you went from writing a critically recognized hypertext novel 20 years ago, and now, where you find yourself engaged in planning and designing learning spaces. That's quite a trajectory. Tell us about that.
Richard Holeton: I feel I've been really lucky in so far as those two trajectories that you described have co-developed for me. My writing career, especially writing with new media, and my career in academia has been fortunately mutually reinforcing. As a fiction writer, I was an early adopter of new technologies. I go back to the first max in the '80s and including the early web and so on. And likewise, I was teaching writing and as a writing teacher, I was teaching in and managing early computer classrooms, what we called them then at Stanford beginning in the late 1980s. So at the same time, I was exploring hypertext as a mode for writing fiction, which led to my novel. Then my novel, by the way, became obsolete, but has been resuscitated and is now available on the web in modern web software. I was then introducing students to networked interaction, synchronous and asynchronous electronic discussion, the emerging internet, and the web. So in the 1990s, we had the early days of what's come known as blended learning or hybrid learning, where some activities are still taking place in person, face-to-face, co-located, and some activities are starting to happen online, outside the physical classrooms.
The implications of all this for the design of physical learning spaces became apparent quickly. And the first computer classrooms, which some people will remember, were basically designed by technologists. They wanted to put the computers in rows because that was how the other classrooms were, or that was the easiest way to connect to power and the internet, and so on. So they just copied that. The technology-enhanced classroom that we were lucky enough to design at Stanford with that grant from Apple was one of the first that was designed by teachers instead of by technologists. So we put the computers around the perimeter of the room so they weren't in between students. And in the middle, we put movable chairs. And tables were arranged in seminar-style seating so that tables could be moved around and rearranged for small group work, and the chairs had casters so we could wheel around and go to the computers when we wanted to use those. And everything was connected and there was a big display screen and so on.
So anyway, that was the beginning for me, of my thinking about designing or redesigning college classrooms for teaching and learning at the same time that I was writing a hypertext novel. Now I can add that the seed for all this about learning spaces was actually planted for me years before that. I had a mentor at the preschool where I mainly taught who was all about learning spaces. And she taught us, other teachers, to constantly redesign the room, divided into discreet spaces. Each space had to be defined. And in those days, we wrote each on an index card for each space, defining how many people were supposed to be there and what the learning activity was. Was it dramatic play or small motor skills, etc? And we divided the spaces with partitions hung from the ceiling. I guess the fire department would not like that nowadays, but the excitement of the kids when they came in each morning to a different classroom was incredible. So that was my first introduction to learning spaces, which kind of got buried until I ended up teaching college later.
IE: So I'm sure this question is gonna pop up for those listening, but give us the name of the novel, you said it's been resurrected, so if anyone looking for that, what's the name that they should search for there?
RH: You bet. It's called "Figurski at Findhorn on Acid." It's a pretty specific title there. It's got every combination of three characters, three places, and three artifacts are the basic structure of the novel.
IE: Thanks for sharing the name there. So I'm really fascinated by this idea that learning space in the physical environment took a while to be considered, right? You mentioned that initially, learning spaces were designed by technologists and only up until a certain point were the educators involved. I'm also fascinated by this idea that one's career, whether it's writing or teaching, or educating, can be mutually enforced, right? So you have these learning spaces that actually can contribute to mutually enforcing the ability of a teacher to, transmit knowledge or, encourage learning.
But now we're moving into a learning space within a digital environment, and I feel like there are still those early adopters, or there are still a lot of people grappling with this idea of how we make the digital learning space conducive to learning. How do we make it mutually enforcing, to use your phrase there, and you give us some guidance on this. You've developed a "Learning Space Rating System" or the LSRS, and I guess this is to assess the potential. I'm gonna quote you here, it "assesses the potential of physical environments to enable teaching and learning engagement." Is that correct? And what can you expand upon with regards to the LSRS and how it's helpful with this initiative of designing good learning spaces?
RH: The LSRS is about physical learning spaces. And so far, that means mostly formal learning spaces—that is classrooms. And yeah, it's a tool for measuring the design of these classrooms to the degree to which they can facilitate multiple modalities of learning and teaching. That's, we're on version three now and due credit to my colleagues—three different groups of colleagues. I've been with it for three versions now. And we released version three last year after a lot of testing and feedback from the higher ed community mainly on the earlier version. So it's a rating system which means it has a series of credits like the LEED system that is commonly used in the US for rating green building standards that many people are familiar with or the WELL Building Standards, which is more used in the UK, I think, but somewhat used in the U.S. These systems apply metrics to aspects of the built environment. So LEED, as many people know, measures sustainability features and the WELL system measures things that impact the environment impact health, and well-being. The LSRS is intended to measure aspects of the built environment that impact learning and there's plenty of overlap between learning and health and well-being. And the well system is definitely complimentary to the LSRS and I recommend people look at that.
So the LSRS has two seven sections in two basic parts, two main parts, and part A is focused on the global or macro level. The campus context and its sections are integrated with campus context planning and design process and support and operations. Quick examples of credits, within say support and operations, are called training of the support team faculty instructor development—where you get points for training faculty to take advantage of the capabilities of learning space. Then part B has four sections and it's about the stuff that goes into the spaces, the design, and affordances, the actual things. So its sections are environmental quality, layout, furnishings, technology and tools, and inclusion. So you get credits or you don't get credits. For things like seating density, how many square feet per student have lots of visual displays and writeable surfaces? I often joke that we call 'em writeable surfaces, but really, all surfaces are writeable, but not all surfaces are erasable. So call them erasable surfaces.
IE: That's funny. So the LSRS feels like it could be applied not just to a classroom or campus environment, but it could be applied to co-working spaces, office spaces, and creative studios. Would you agree with that?
RH: To some extent. It's pretty specific to classrooms, but many of the principals, I agree can be generalized to those kinds of environments.
IE: And how does this evolve? Is it part of the plan for this to evolve into considerations for the digital spaces that we're now learning through and partaking in as learners and educators?
RH: No, because I would say that the flow has been rather the other way around. That is, there's research that our stuff is based on, but there's research about designing online interactions and online spaces that in some cases, we've been inspired by or tried to say, how does this apply to physical space? But that's not what we claim to have expertise on, and that's a whole other thing. Interaction design and so on, it's a whole field with its own set of research and expertise. We intersect with that. And importantly because all experiences are hybrid or blended, so you always have one foot in physical, almost always one foot in a physical learning space, even if it's your bedroom or a coffee shop, and one foot in online spaces. And so thinking about how they work together is important.
IE: But you're suggesting that the framework that you've developed here actually intersects with other frameworks. It's not intended to be an all-inclusive framework applied to both hybrid, online, and physical. Let's say a senior administrator, vice provost, maybe even president of a university, and I want to go through this exercise of taking the assessment, if that's what it is, but basically applying the LSRS to my campus and to my classrooms, how would one go about that?
RH: You download the tool from EDUCAUSE with whom we've partnered recently. Right now it's a PDF and then there's a score sheet that you can download. You don't have to be in higher ed, anyone can quickly establish a profile and log in. Then once you do that, you're good to go. The reason we do that is so we can gather some data about who's using the tool. We recommend having someone from teaching and learning, someone from the IT area or AV area, classroom support, and the classroom people. Obviously, that's depending how your place is organized. If you're renovating spaces or building new spaces, then bring in the architects. And get students to participate and then it's a self-rating system so far. So we don't have a set of trained raters who can go around and certify your results, so it's really for your own information for the most part. And it's very useful in comparing your worst spaces with your better spaces. Look at the scores. Look at the different dimensions in which they differ, and identify weak spots and you get a really good evaluation of your classroom stock or individual classrooms.
IE: And you mentioned this can be applied to the campus environment as well. So it's a macro assessment as well as a micro assessment? Or is it geared more toward the classrooms?
RH: The macro part is going to be, the ratings for that section are going to be mostly the same for every classroom because they ask questions, like about your support and operations operation. How do you train people, what the support is, what is the planning and design process, and does it include students in your diverse set of students in your planning process? Are you syncing up with your other campus strategic plans? Is there a master plan for learning spaces on your campus? So it's all those kinds of global questions. Are you preparing faculty to teach in your spaces? What's the training like? Do you have an online module? Do you have people that go and hold their hands? And so those are all global campus level and sometimes political questions.
IE: So you do the assessment, there is some self-reflection, basically, you have to answer honestly. Do you then get a report on the areas you should fix, or is it intuitively based on how you answer those questions of what remedies or fixes, or changes are needed?
RH: Yeah, it's a self-analysis, basically, and it's apparent what the range might be and what the areas of weakness might be. We've said, we think, and one of the drivers for creating this was for those of us working on campus campuses to simply call attention to the state of the learning spaces because almost every campus has all these legacy spaces that are sometimes pretty crappy. And so the classic strategy for those advocating for resources to change has been to take those senior administrators and have a meeting with them, but meet in the worst classrooms that you can find that you have, because they may not have ever been there. And so you sit down there and you might say this scored 21 or something out of 87, or whatever it might be, and here's why. And they're like, "we didn't know we had classrooms like this." And we're like, "yeah." You want students to learn here and have an equitable experience and so on.
But yeah, it's self-analysis. You can compare yourself, you can do the play to get things done at Stanford, and you usually want to compare to the peer institutions. Everybody compares to their peer institutions. We play that well at Harvard, they're doing this, and yeah that's whatever the comparable thing is at State University or at community college, at wherever. You can compare, but we caution that LSRS scores are not really comparable, right? Because everyone's measuring their own spaces and so it's subjective to your campus. So they're most, although maybe on gross scores, you could say they rated all their classrooms X and ours average Y.
IE: I appreciate this ability to benchmark against peer institutions, or if you are a community college, give yourself an honest assessment and then see maybe how you stack up against the Ivy League score. So thanks for taking some time to walk us through the mechanics. I know we got pretty tactical in terms of how this works, maybe we can take a bigger or broader view now, and just walk us through the rubric. It's really fascinating that you've developed such an intelligent rubric and identified those aspects, those criteria, if you will, on what makes or what enhances the learning experience. So how did you come up with this rubric and how did you identify those ideal aspects of learning spaces?
RH: Yeah, that's that's a great question. We've strived or maybe we've striven—I was an English teacher, right? So I guess I should know to base all of our asserted best practices on educational research. And we provide a list of references and resources there on the LSRS site. And those are what we base our claims on in this question of how can the space influence the learning that takes place there, which is a crucial one. I think above all, we should remember that the quality of any learning experience is mostly determined by the students and the instructors more so than by the physical environment. Are the students motivated to learn? How effective are the instructor's teaching practices, the design of the curriculum, and so on?
But research does show that aspects of the built environment can impact learning. And so for starters, I think it's helpful to think about Maslow's famous old pyramid or hierarchy of needs. If you apply that to learning, you can see that, at the bottom level, if your basic safety and physiological needs aren't being met, you're not gonna be in a position to be learning. You can't learn very well if you're hungry, thirsty, too hot too cold, and so on. So the physical environment has to address those needs. And we see that in developing countries and so on like that doesn't happen sometimes. But we're also getting on a higher level. We're getting, constantly, messages from the environment that impact our cognition. And some would say in the theory of embodied cognition suggests that you really only experience things in the context of physical space and in interaction with that space. And a lot of these messages are non-conscious, the air pressure the temperature, and so on. But they affect our behavior and they affect our cognition.
We're affected by the materials that are used in spaces, the shape, size, and colors of rooms, and how high the ceiling is, which changes people's behavior whether they're sharp edges or round, smooth, round curves. And humans respond, usually non-consciously, to a lot of those elements of the environment. And on another level, we get social and cultural messages from the environment. And so a room filled with rows of fixed seats facing a stage and lectern tell gives the message, implicit in the design pedagogy or architecture, gives the message that learning in that space is gonna be about somebody delivering knowledge to a row of mostly passive listeners. And if you walk into a room that's de-centered, it has no stage and it has clusters of small mobile tables, says that some, the activities that are gonna take place there, are gonna involve interaction with other humans.
This all extends to the affordances of the technologies that are provided in spaces. So if you wanna enable certain activities, LSRS is all about what activities are enabled, right? Because we can't control what happens in the space that's controlled by the teaching. But we can enable things to happen by the design of the room. We wanna enable activities that research has shown are effective for learning.
IE: That's a great gift that you are providing to those who want to enable learning and improve these spaces or design these ideal spaces from scratch. I think it's also commendable that you've stayed true to your vision, that this is about the physical environment. And what I heard you just share now too is you can't control the educator or the teaching or the activities, right? You could be in a hot room with sharp edges, very small, and have maybe some of the best activities and the best educator in that room, it's gonna change the whole experience. So I appreciate the parameters that you've put outside of this framework, I think the framework itself is a gift. So what compelled you to create this gift? What compelled you? What was the vision or the impetus, the genesis of feeling compelled to create the LSRS?
RH: When we started in the early 2010s I think the first beta version we released in 2014, we could see that a substantial community had evolved already around learning space design in higher ed, spurred by early work. There was a book by Diana Oblinger called "Learning Spaces" that we were having conferences and workshops on. There's a discussion group in EDUCAUSE called the Learning Space Design Community Group with hundreds of members. So all these discussions have happened and people sharing their experiences. And I think we felt that for that community to evolve, there was a bit of a vacuum in terms of best practices or common practices and a shared taxonomy and shared language. And not only to encourage more research in the field, which was lacking early on, but to begin to create a shared language that we could use, not only within our institutions, but across institutions and with those outside, like architects and designers, and AV integrators and other groups that we work with on campus to build new spaces and renovate old spaces. And I think we tried to reflect the language and taxonomies that we were hearing from our colleagues in all those areas. And then I guess at the same time, putting a stake in the ground and saying here's a way to try to measure things. And I think the other thing I mentioned previously is that, for very practical and political purposes, those of us working on campuses, we wanted a tool that we could use to call attention to spaces that needed attention to try to get resources. Everybody's always, working and competing to get those resources to address those needs, and that's when we would bring people into the crappy classrooms. But yeah I think those were a lot of the motivations.
IE: There was a need for a shared language and a shared taxonomy, and there was a need for educators and administrators to substantiate the needs that they could recognize intuitively or otherwise, and make a case for why money or a line item in a budget should be applied to a learning space. So will this one day then be the standard? Is it the standard now? Is it to learning space, is LSRS to learning spaces what LEED is to architecture?
RH: That's our aspiration, but I'd say we're a ways from that. In LEED you can get a gold star or platinum star or whatever you get from LEED for the design of your building. And then people, when they actually use it, they leave the doors open and the air conditioner's running. So how it's actually used is a separate situation from how it was designed to be used. But yeah we would, we would like to get there but we're not there. I don't know that there's any direct competition. I'd say there are complimentary efforts, like the WELL building standards are very well developed, they really have a great website. And you can drill down on all their criteria and they're well researched and they have their standards. I think that is more objective. And so that's a complimentary effort, I think. And then I should mention FlexSpace.org, another complementary effort. We work closely with Flex Space as another partner to LSRS. And they are a repository, a searchable database of learning spaces where anyone, members of the community can upload photos and information about their spaces to share with everybody so people can go and search for them. "We're gonna renovate our lecture hall, so let's meet. Let me see good examples of ones and descriptions of ones that have been done elsewhere." And in Flex Space, you can upload spaces and your LSRS score, so there's a little tool for putting in your LSRS scores.
IE: Nice. What makes for a good score? What's the average?
RH: I can't answer that, I have to look at the instrument and go back and add up the tools or look at the score sheet. For some of the credits, you can get one point for doing this, two points for doing this, and three points for this.
IE: Fair enough. So the vision statement, if you will, we covered that. We covered the how-to and the mechanics, what's included, and how you might implement this, talked a little bit about the need, and why this was created in the first place. Have you seen the results? Has it made an impact? What changes? Or, where have you seen, I guess the evolution or the changes in learning environments? Over the last couple of decades or over this work that you've been engaged in?
RH: It's been helpful to people in assessing their spaces and moving forward and it's starting to show up in research papers. So for example, we're starting to see published research that has used LSRS. There's one about comparing LSRS scores before and after the pandemic, for example. But I think adoption has increased and now we are getting data about its usage. There are thousands of downloads and we know who's using it. And there's lots of interest at conferences and in online discussions. Those are the only real measures we have. We have a lot of anecdotal accounts of people using the tools at their institutions and that has helped them.
IE: Would you agree that learning spaces in general have improved over the last decade or two?
RH: Yeah, absolutely. All because of the LSRS.
IE: You heard it here. [laughs]
RH: Because there's just a lot more awareness. Also because teaching is changing and the faculty are using more active learning pedagogies and have been persuaded that active learning from their own research shows that active learning pedagogies are more effective for teaching this discipline or that discipline than their demanding spaces that help them do that. It's an ongoing project to convert a vast legacy-built environment of classrooms that were built to support the pedagogy of a hundred years ago and adapt it to these other modalities. But that is happening everywhere. And if money were no object, everyone would rebuild and retool all their classrooms.
IE: Every space would have erasable surfaces and props and post-it notes, and anything that you might need for active learning. It's reminiscent of the Montessori school philosophy and having work stations, that the student goes to throughout the course of a day. But I agree that I too have seen an evolution in learning spaces as well as just within our industry of design in general. There's been more interest in understanding how design can help organizations continue to grow and help businesses move forward, so I think there's just a general kind of cultural or societal shift in understanding that design, whether it's physical or otherwise is meaningful to the value of, that artifact that you're creating.
RH: It's interesting you mentioned Montessori because the teacher, the mentor teacher that I learned from early about learning spaces was Montessori, trained along with other pedagogies. She had mashed up Montessori with other things. But Montessori is very much about—and I taught in a Montessori school briefly too—it's very much about those spaces and the whole language of space. And that learning is going to take place in the context of a space that has some design to it.
IE: Design thinking is applied to a space in order to enhance the activity, in this case, the activity being teaching, and learning, or the transfer of knowledge. And it's really powerful. So there's another emphasis right now with the DEI, or I think in higher education circles it's EDI, but equity, diversity, and inclusion. So how can this system, or in what ways, I should ask, how can this system help promote some of the equity, diversity, and inclusion standards or considerations that we're trying to uphold now in our institutions?
RH: Much of the impetus for our version three was exactly to promote inclusion and apply it to the design of learning spaces. I mentioned in reeling off the sections, we have a dedicated section now, we had smatterings of trying to talk about inclusive learning spaces in version two, but for version three, we created a dedicated section called Inclusion. And I think you had a recent podcast about DEI with Trisha Daho so I know you're looking into this. We have this dedicated section in LSRS. We do feel that these notions permeate throughout it, we have a lot of interrelated related credits and so on.
So an example would be in section two, which is about the planning and design process. I mentioned we give points for creating diverse inclusive design teams, and that's where it starts, who's doing the design? Who are you including that is representative of the learning community? So inclusion begins before you're designing the actual space. The main way that you create an inclusive learning environment is through teaching practice, through pedagogy. So, teachers who are trained in inclusive teaching practices, which we're not addressing in LSRS, although it's informed by those practices, those teachers can implement inclusive practices in virtually any space. What we were talking about before is good teaching trumps bad spaces and bad teaching trump's good spaces. You can have a room that scores a thousand percent on the LSRS and there's no guarantee that inclusive teaching's gonna take place there.
However, our goal is to articulate some things in the built environment that can, first of all, do no harm to inclusion efforts. I'll give an example of how harm has definitely been done in the past. Second, to facilitate and enhance those inclusive teaching practices. Now we're treading a little bit of new ground in so far as there's little direct research on the relationship between space design and inclusion. So we use other concepts that are established by research, including social psychology and so on. So let me go through that cuz this is a part that I have been heavily involved in version three myself and sent an article about this.
So our approach is to take three aspects of inclusion, which we think are not mutually exclusive, but are really overlapping, and three perspectives or lenses. And those are physical inclusion, cognitive inclusion, and cultural inclusion. So first, physical inclusion credit is designed to welcome learners with different physical abilities, not only by providing access, but also the opportunity to participate fully in the learning experience. So in other words, we emphasize people participating fully or equitably going beyond the ADA requirements to just have wheelchairs be able to get into the space and line up against the back. That's not equitable participation to only be allowed to sit in the back or on the margins of space, right? So everything about physical inclusion is about making sure everyone can have the same chance to have the same experience in this space, including access to all the affordances of the room.
Secondly, we've, what we've called cognitive inclusion is really about applying UDL, which is Universal Design for Learning, which is a pedagogy set of teaching practices, and applying that to, what does that mean in terms of the physical design of the space? So with UDL, you wanna offer students multiple ways to receive and engage with and express information. And that's because students, not only those on the autism spectrum but all students, people in general have a wide range of cognitive strategies of how they best receive information, engage with environments, express knowledge, and so on. So in UDL, teachers present content in verbal and visual experiential ways. And likewise, students should be able to process information, respond and express themselves in all those ways. So this really comes down to facilitating multiple modalities for learning and teaching, providing space to move around, writing surfaces, multiple displays, and other technologies. And that's the main thrust of the LSRS itself. So in that way also inclusion is at the heart of the LSRS, I think.
Now the third area is the diciest, or the most complex or difficult, we've called cultural inclusion. And the LSRS team has wrestled with this for years, actually. How do you quantify cultural inclusion? How can the physical environment help create a sense of belonging and make spaces welcoming and inviting to different people? And the way that we thought about it is in the sense of social identities. Because there is a strong research base in social psychology about social identities and identifying threats as it's called. And it suggests that markers of social identity and social identity are things like groups that we identify with, based on gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, and so on, and markers of identity in spaces do impact, and there's research for this, student performance and student learning, and certainly their sense of belonging. Everyone has a sense—need for a sense of belonging. And these identities, of course, are complex as we know. It's called intersectionality. Most of us identify with more than one of these groups, right? So threats to identity.
One of them is called stereotype threat, which is the perception of negative stereotypes about a group that you might belong to, which have been shown to impair learning and student success. So obviously the presence of those is not a welcome or inclusive factor, right? So this fundamental dilemma is what are the trade-offs between removing those bad or non-inclusive, non-welcoming markers of a social identity that might make people uncomfortable, and adding markers of social identity that might make people feel welcome. So that's how we framed it and speaking of doing no harm removing markers, unwelcome markers.
We should note that many of our campus spaces were designed historically in a context of exclusion, of excluding certain groups. For example, large groups like women, or, ethnic minorities. And for years, nobody even thought about naming a building or naming a residence hall to honor someone who had enslaved some of the people living there, their recent ancestors. Welcoming a new female ethnic minority faculty member in a reception room that is lined with pictures of white men all around. And the obvious question is, do I belong here?
And just a couple more things because this cultural inclusion is a really interesting area and we really want to hear from people about their successes and failures with designing spaces for this. A trend in modernist architecture has been to generally remove cultural markers and make spaces neutral or culture free. And you and I might say that's not really possible to make a space neutral. But you asked about research on online learning environments and there is some research that we've taken and been inspired by there that adding visual, verbal, and symbolic elements can have an effect. Changing the language in the description of a STEM course to make it more gender neutral or making it more of a visual representation of women in promoting those courses, those studies about that show actually increase enrollment of women by making them feel more welcome. So the same thing we suggest will apply to physical spaces.
IE: I think that's a great framework for promoting inclusivity through physical, cognitive, and cultural markers. This has been applied to version three and is available for download. If you go to the learning spaceratingsystem.org, you can actually find that information readily available. We've covered a lot. I've really appreciated learning directly from you in this space, in this environment that we've created together today. Are there any other thoughts or, I don't know, final recommendations or considerations that you wanna leave with the audience?
RH: Maybe one that you alluded to earlier, which is that we hope that LSRS principles of the LSRS apply not just to classrooms but beyond. A future thing we might do is take on informal learning spaces, which are basically everywhere else, right? But libraries, residence halls, and student unions. We know that most learning takes place outside the classroom, not inside the classroom. So in that sense, the general campus environment is even more important. And so I guess I would just encourage people to think about the whole campus, including the online environment because everything is hybrid or blended as one big learning space or learning environment. And as you've also suggested, think about that from a design perspective. How do people move through those spaces, how do they talk to each other? The spaces talk to each other, the technologies talk to each other, and how do students interact with faculty outside the classroom? Because that's also important to student success. And so the design of the built environment and outdoor spaces as well have an influence on all that.
IE: So you're alluding to an LSRS for informal spaces, which are basically all of those other spaces that we learn in. One of those spaces that I can attest to where I'm constantly learning is in my car, right? So maybe we could apply some of this framework to an in-transit university or in-transit learning space, which are our cars or our subway systems or public transportation, but this is absolutely a delight. Richard, thanks for spending time with me today. I know you've brought a lot of value to not only your field and your work but those who are listening. Thank you very much.
RH: Thanks a lot, Ian. My pleasure.
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