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Help Your Students Succeed by Building Spaces

Where They Can Talk With Professors


Selingo, Jeffrey J . The Chronicle of Higher Education ; Washington (May 6, 2018).

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ABSTRACT (ENGLISH)
When I was a reporter for The Chronicle more than a decade ago and found myself on college campuses looking
for professors to interview, I would inevitably head to the academic buildings that housed faculty offices.
[...]faculty members got as much room as before — 120 square feet — but 40 were in a collaborative space and 80
in a private office. Jeffrey J. Selingo, formerly editor of The Chronicle, is founding director of the Academy for
Innovative Higher Education Leadership, a partnership between Arizona State University and Georgetown
University, and a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities.

FULL TEXT
The traditional faculty office, tucked away in a different building, doesn’t lend itself to casual conversation after
class. But there are spaces that do.
When I was a reporter for The Chronicle more than a decade ago and found myself on college campuses looking
for professors to interview, I would inevitably head to the academic buildings that housed faculty offices. And on
almost every campus, I saw the same scene: long, narrow hallways lined with doors that were often closed.
As I walked down those hallways, I looked for office hours posted on the doors, and knocked only as a last resort,
to see if anyone was there. If I, a college graduate, was intimidated looking for professors in their offices, imagine
how today’s undergraduates must feel —especially new or first-generation students unfamiliar with navigating the
customs of higher education.
Colleges are under increased pressure to raise graduation rates, improve retention, and better engage students. In
response, they are spending precious budget dollars to beef up their professional advising staffs and invest in
technology that constantly tracks student performance. Yet most institutions are failing to encourage the one
practice that is widely known to boost student success: faculty and student interaction. Office hours are the
traditional place for such interactions, but the problem is that professors must wait for students to come to them.
Much as active-learning techniques have transformed teaching on many campuses, so too must faculty-student
interactions change. And that starts with designing better spaces for students and professors to meet.
Given the variety of activities professors perform, the faculty office of the future is unlikely to follow that of the
corporate world and move to open designs, with no or low partitions and row upon row of desks. Nor is the design
likely to be a standardized concept adopted by a few colleges and then copied by everyone else.
Recent research I conducted on behalf of Steelcase, a manufacturer of office and classroom furniture, illustrates
three approaches for redesigning faculty spaces that meet faculty needs for privacy while ensuring maximum
benefits for student success. Some universities are already experimenting with these ideas, but innovation is rare
because few institutions want to be seen as tampering with the personal spaces of faculty members.
The first strategy —"meet students where they are" —distributes faculty offices throughout academic buildings and
creates private "huddle spaces" outside classrooms. In studies of office-hour use, professors and students report
that the times before and after class are, in effect, unofficial office hours. But these interactions usually happen in
less than ideal spaces —in the front of the classroom, in the aisles between desks, or in crowded hallways. Huddle
spaces could provide room for those discussions, with subsequent one-on-one conversations moving to a faculty

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office nearby.
Cornell Tech, in New York City, is using elements of this strategy. Although it is a graduate-focused engineering
school, its dean told me its goals are similar to those of undergraduate institutions trying to encourage
collaboration. Its first academic building on the new campus has no private faculty offices. Instead, each professor
gets a room smaller than a traditional office that is open to others when the faculty member is not there. The
square footage saved by forgoing conventional offices was put into a variety of other spaces distributed
throughout the building —open offices, private huddle rooms, and conference rooms.
A second approach to the future of faculty offices is a "third place" that establishes neutral space elsewhere on
campus, perhaps in the library, where students can meet professors (who have private offices elsewhere). One
advantage of such spaces is that they can also provide a home for adjuncts and retired professors.
Richland College, in Dallas, uses a version of this design in its Science Corner. The tutoring and advising center is
surrounded by faculty offices, which have glass walls that start four feet above the floor and extend to the ceiling.
The design promotes serendipitous interactions between students visiting the center and professors in their
offices. A study by Richland found that visits to faculty offices increased by 57 percent in the year after the space
was completed.
A third strategy for colleges is a layered one that includes diverse spaces, tailored to the work being done. Think of
these as the campus equivalent of WeWork or other shared office spaces. This could include a combination of
open areas, huddle rooms, and traditional private rooms where people can work alone —all in a compact space.
Such configurations don’t always save money or space —but they use the latter more efficiently. When the fast-
growing University of Washington at Bothell renovated a building in 2015, administrators worked with faculty
members to modify a long-held, and expensive, proposition —that every professor gets a private office with a
window. In the end, faculty members got as much room as before —120 square feet —but 40 were in a
collaborative space and 80 in a private office.
What makes discussions about faculty offices particularly difficult is that they’re about people’s feelings as much
as they are about the actual physical layout. The private office has long been a special signifier of professorial
status. But with the current sense of urgency about student success —and a projected surge in enrollment from
groups historically not well served by higher education —faculty members must think more broadly about how
their offices and other campus spaces can promote greater interaction.
Jeffrey J. Selingo, formerly editor of The Chronicle, is founding director of the Academy for Innovative Higher
Education Leadership, a partnership between Arizona State University and Georgetown University, and a visiting
scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. This article was adapted from a report he wrote for
Steelcase.
Credit: By Jeffrey J. Selingo

DETAILS

Subject: Higher education; Students; Collaboration; Success; School buildings; College


campuses; Design; Colleges &universities

Location: New York Arizona Georgia

Company / organization: Name: Georgetown University; NAICS: 611310; Name: Richland College; NAICS:
611310; Name: Arizona State University; NAICS: 611310; Name: University of
Washington; NAICS: 611310; Name: WeWork; NAICS: 531312; Name: Georgia
Institute of Technology; NAICS: 611310

Publication title: The Chronicle of Higher Education; Washington

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Publication year: 2018

Publication date: May 6, 2018

Publisher: Chronicle of Higher Education

Place of publication: Washington

Country of publication: United States, Washington

Publication subject: Education--Higher Education, College And Alumni, Education--Teaching Methods And
Curriculum

ISSN: 00095982

Source type: Trade Journals

Language of publication: English

Document type: News

ProQuest document ID: 2052886209

Document URL: https://search.proquest.com/docview/2052886209?accountid=2909

Copyright: Copyright Chronicle of Higher Education May 6, 2018

Last updated: 2018-06-11

Database: Research Library

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