Episode 27

Reimagining Learning Environments

ONEder Grant 2020 Team EHDD tackled Reimagining Learning Environments for Higher Ed. Thinking beyond the classroom to an ecosystem of space, resources, amenities and environments that support the unique community of students and faculty and staff, they proceeded with the understanding that learning is social, innovation is social. And we can’t design campuses for the next generation without their input and their ideas.

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It's about thinking beyond just the classroom and the office to a whole ecosystem of spaces and resources and amenities and environments that support the unique community of students and faculty and staff. And, you know, it really varies from place to place, depending on what the needs are. Emily Bello, Designer


CCB: [00:00:01] Welcome to the ONEder podcast, this is CCB your host, and today we have one of our ONEder Grant 2020 award teams joining us. Before I invite them to start talking, I'm going to explain a little tiny bit about the ONEder Grant, which supports exploration and research that impacts environments where work, innovation, healing, and learning take place. We've been awarding ONEder grants for the last two years. We actually are in our third round right now. But there have been nine wonderful award teams over the past two years and the research is as broad and as delightful as our design community here in Northern California. So I'm going to invite two folks from EHDD to join us today and talk about their project, Reimagining Learning Environments. Doris Guerrero from EHDD, welcome. And tell us a little bit about yourself.

Doris Guerrero: [00:01:03] Thanks a whole lot for having us here. I am Interior's lead EHDD, and for those of you who don't know us, EHDD was founded in 1946 in San Francisco, a city known for embracing ideas about the future. This ethos has informed our work since the beginning, resulting in forward thinking design that lasts for generations. Learning environments are a key focus of our practice, including K-12 libraries, museums and higher education. We start from the standpoint of experience and place, how the spaces we design support the experiences, culture and work of those that use them, and what are the unique opportunities of place to be discovered and highlighted. That is also the starting point for this project. Before we get into the project, I just want to say a little bit about myself and then I'll have Emily Bello, senior designer at EHDD as well, share a little bit about herself. I come from an architectural practice that has a lot of various backgrounds in landscape architecture, commercial interiors. I love it all and I always have. All my education has always led me down the path of integrated environments, whether it's landscape or really intimate interiors. So I always look at it through that lens. Emily, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Emily Bello: [00:02:36] Yes, thank you, Doris. As Doris said, my name is Emily Bello, I'm a Senior Designer with the EHDD. And what I love most about our work is it really does evolve out of place and of the people and communities that the projects serve. So this project was a wonderful opportunity to sort of have those broader dialogues about what's really going on in education right now and the tremendous change over the last year and really have the time and space to think about how this will impact our work moving ahead. So it is a real delight to be a part of this project and to have that time. So thank you for that.

CCB: [00:03:22] Certainly, I will say that we are not supposed to have favorites in all of our projects that come through in the ONEder, but there are some that stand out. They truly do. And the work that you guys did is just phenomenal in the way that you've packaged it so that others can review this information after the fact is also pretty impressive. So tell us a little bit about why you chose Reimagining Learning Environments in the higher-ed sphere and how you put your project together?

Emily Bello: [00:03:59] So, you know, as the pandemic began to unfold last year, our clients started reaching out to us and saying, OK, how do we wrangle with hybrid learning? How do we think about potentially bringing students back in a distanced environment? I mean, everything was sort of turned on its head. And so we use that as an opportunity to reach out to a student that we'd worked with before, Jerome Wang, a Public Health student at UC Berkeley, and to build some research to really understand what our clients were really wrangling with in this time of enormous change. And I think what was unique about that process is that it was both having a student steeped in research and in the world of public health do that kind of in-depth research for us. And as we all remember, the day-to-day new research and findings were were being uncovered. So just to have someone to stay on top of all of that was fantastic and to really understand what the real science was saying. And then at the same time, to be able to just have conversations and reach out to all of our clients, to a whole range of students and just talk about what their impacts had been and what it meant to them and where they saw things going. And I think just having that time to really have one-on-one conversations with all those people was incredibly valuable. And so our process really built on those two pieces. And it became clear that the effects were clearly profound and probably not a surprise. But the effect from one student to another, from one faculty member to another, from one campus to another, were so wildly different that it was clear that we really needed to take the time to have those conversations, to choose this moment to sort of reset and figure out, OK, how can we use this time of, yes, profound impact and change, but also use it to sort of leverage that to think about change for the future.

CCB: [00:06:28] Doris, I think you have a question.

Emily Bello: [00:06:30] Well, I had a comment about that.

Doris Guerrero: [00:06:31] I think we were very fortunate that our research and engagement happened at a time where many people were being reflective and really rethinking what what would stick beyond the pandemic and what made people re-evaluate how we see education, what is the value of education? What will we bring forward after this pandemic? So just about everyone we spoke to had very high quality and very insightful feedback for us. And I think that that watershed moment was captured perfectly at this time. Yeah. And with this ONEder Grant, so it was perfect.

CCB: [00:07:11] Sometimes that serendipity is just spectacular. And I think one of the one of the more impressive elements of the project is not only the scope of contributors and participants and that feeling that is coming from them, the true, the like genuine sharing of information from Jerome's student interaction and all of the broad education clients and administrators that you were talking with. So you're collecting all this information and you're thinking about what is going to be the most effective way of moving forward with it and incorporating it into some format. And you came up with something that's pretty solid in its framework thoughtfulness. So if you talk a little bit about that?

Doris Guerrero: [00:08:09] I want to say a little bit about that just just to begin, and I think Emily will fill in the details, we wanted to make it fun for ourselves, too. So we said, OK, great, we're going to do the research. We're committed to it. We're committed to the hypotheses. But we also want to design and I think at one point we posed as a group and we decided we're going to create prototypes, we're going to put out design propositions that are just iterations. And I think that that for us was the carrot. Emily, do want to add to that.

Emily Bello: [00:08:47] No, I love that. I agree with that completely, that there's the research and what we learn. We then integrated it into a toolkit for designers. And at some point we said, OK, let's test out our own tool kit. Let's see if this is really meaningful. And we sort of turn the lens on ourselves and our own work. So we you know, we reached out to former clients. We looked at former projects and we said, how would we use some of these ideas to really change what we did before? What does it really mean? And I think, you know, the underlying question really became, you know, what is the the value of higher education moving forward? What does it mean moving forward to have a higher-ed campus that is really going to draw students and faculty back? And so it allowed us the opportunity to to test that in our own work.

CCB: [00:09:41] And I had a t-shirt made that says "Learning is Social".

Doris Guerrero: [00:09:45] Yes, there you go.

CCB: [00:09:50] It's been well, I mean, that type of consideration is not isolated to higher-ed. It's not isolated to K-12. Learning happens throughout life. And when you stop and think about that, we've been talking about a lot of the gaps that are taking place at this moment in time because we haven't been able to be together. And that disintegration, if you will, of some of the serendipitous learning. So take it away from there, girls, women.

Emily Bello: [00:10:18] Absolutely learning is social, innovation is social. The campus experience is social. And, you know, when we talk to students, they said, you know, what is the one thing that you miss the most? And it's the friends, being around other people and those connections. And it's so integral to the college experience that it's what we need to be thinking about when we're thinking about our campuses.

Doris Guerrero: [00:10:41] I think one of the most surprising discoveries was when Jerome mentioned that he had virtual online study groups where maybe even people weren't even speaking, but they were studying together virtually Zoom meeting for like, wow, that is really social. So we found surprises. And I think we even tried some of the premises out on ourselves. We took some of the premises to the EHDD office team, as you know. Hey, guys, what about this is a design concept? And we were amazed at the spectrum of responses, even from designers from the same office with the same DNA, really diverse perspectives. And I think that that really helped us when we were crafting the conclusion of the brief and knowing that the user, the constituent, our clients would all be informed in different ways and they take different things from it. So I was really surprised that. Emily, do want to talk a little bit about the the controversial auditorium?

Emily Bello: [00:11:52] And so we had a parallel process in the office where we were bringing these ideas and provocations back to our colleagues and having salons around these ideas. And one of the themes that came up again and again when you talk to students, when you talk to faculty is, you know, the auditorium is dead. I don't want to take classes in the auditorium anymore. There's too many people you know, your sandwich together. And perhaps the you know, with the renewed focus on the quality of the teaching and learning experience, I'd rather just take that type, of course, online. So we posed that back to the office. And you would not believe the uproar, you know.

CCB: [00:12:36] How auditoriums on the drawing board? Wait.

Emily Bello: [00:12:39] Well, exactly. And, you know, we're thinking back to our own college experiences, and that's really our frame of reference is, you know, comments like, no, taking the big survey lecture course in the large auditorium at the rite of passage, you know, and it just feels like, you know, why you go to campus and you realize that our experience of higher education and what we wanted out of it is so different from the next generation, and we have to keep them in mind because they have very different ideas about what they want and what they need, and to have the benefit of Jerome student to reach out to his peers and to have that dialogue and to get their critique, which was our harshest critique in many of our prototypes, which was fantastic because we got to adopt them. It was incredibly valuable. So we can't, you know, as members of the older generation, we can't be designing campuses for the next generation without their input and their ideas.

Doris Guerrero: [00:13:47] Yeah, and I was teaching. Right. Like when we were concurrently doing the grant. And I feel like I learned more from my students then they learned from me. I mean, so fantastic. A great opportunity. I translated my studio classes to, you know, to online totally virtual. Students from all over the world in India, China, Korea, Canada, and East Coast. And it was a really wonderful time to hear back from students and to really understand at a finer level what works, what we might, you know, what translates and what doesn't and how individuals just sort of respond to those environments differently.

CCB: [00:14:29] So you just raised an issue. One of the ones that I wanted to bring up, which was another one of your statements in the brief, "Technology is an equity issue". So can you speak to that a little bit? I think it's something that we're all feeling.

Doris Guerrero: [00:14:43] I can. I can say first hand experience, not all of my students had equitable access to Internet, wireless resources, robust computers, robust software. The school scrambled to support with extra laptops, get virtual licenses of software. But in all cases, it didn't work, especially if you're abroad or if you just don't have that wireless. So I think it translated, you know, also in terms of connecting online, if you can't have your camera on, then you can't participate in an equitable way. Where everyone's smiling and having a great old time and half of the conversation dismissed. In many cases, our conversations were recorded and kept for posterity, but that person wasn't able to participate initially. So I would say just off the bat, I personally experienced that firsthand. Emily, do you want to add anything else to that?

Emily Bello: [00:15:47] Yeah, absolutely, I think to there that, you know, the issues just in terms of access to technology, access to Wi-Fi over the last couple of years, but I think even moving forward, it's clear that the hybrid model is here to stay. But those existing tech inequity issues are going to persist. So I think there is the go ahead Doris.

Doris Guerrero: [00:16:12] We also might want to add, our conversation started to become about access to campuses, right. Transit, public transit, automobiles, and different kinds of institutions like community colleges versus universities and private--public universities, private universities, and that even access to those institutions aren't equitable. The scope of our conversations went wide. It was about, you know, creating hubs, alternative hubs to suburban and rural students otherwise, and then having those resources maybe reach a little bit further. But because of the scope of our time and the document, we just sort of tried to layer that into the conversation. But it's a really rich topic, not just in terms of technology, but also just physical access and resources.

CCB: [00:17:06] Yeah, well, equity came through and through all of your research as you're reading, the students as well as the educators.

Emily Bello: [00:17:16] Yeah. And yeah, I would add to that list, as you know, technology, there's housing, financial aid, food insecurity. And we're talking students and staff and faculty. So it's the whole higher-ed community where all of those issues need to be dealt with at the campus level.

CCB: [00:17:33] So that just leads you right into the whole wellness conversation. That also was fairly substantial. Talk a little bit about that, if you would. How it relates to the future?

Emily Bello: [00:17:50] What is great is that it was wellness and a concern for health and wellness that kept everyone out of campus in the last year. It's a desire for wellness that's going to bring everyone back. And what we learn from our partnership with Jerome is and from much of our work, wellness is not a one sided thing. We're talking about holistic approaches to wellness. So, you know, mental, physical, psychological, physiological, sociological, wellness is also social. Right? So how do we think of the campus as a resource for health and wellness, for a broader community? How do you bring people together in a social way? How do you provide restorative environments and support to really sort of mediate some of the effects over the last year? And draw people back?

CCB: [00:18:49] And one could argue the decade moving into it. And you also have just addressed that whole difference. The impacts are varied depending on the size of the institution, depending on the nature of the institution, depending on the student body. And so how in your concept do the you know, the overarching frameworks fit for or support each one of those different types of, how did you pulled together enough of a generic, if you will, variety of spaces and solutions that everyone would have an option?

Emily Bello: [00:19:37] So I think in this way, it's, you know, much like many other sectors are similar to the workplace. You're not just creating. It's about thinking beyond just the classroom and the office to a whole ecosystem of spaces and resources and amenities and environments that support the unique community of students and faculty and staff. And, you know, it really varies from place to place, depending on what the needs are.

Doris Guerrero: [00:20:09] And I think what we did is we initially talked about anonymizing one of our existing projects, higher-ed projects, and looking at this room typologies and questioning what's missing. What can we add here? And how can we deconstruct and reconstruct the program of whatever that is? So like a resource room, a small classroom, a faculty hub. We were just sort of looking at existing typologies and really querying like how can we push this forward and what's missing. And so we thought there were a few typologies that were a lot of fun developing, like the Public Private Partnership Gallery, which has a little bit of indoor/outdoor. We also looked at, obviously, the auditorium, but again, we were sort of looking at it through the lens of what's missing. But what can we overlay as well in terms of wellness, technology, access, hybridity? So it was a lot of fun. We just started with that first initial framework and then started to really think about layers and approaches to this typology.

Emily Bello: [00:21:16] Yeah, I would say, too, we could leverage Jerome's expertise on the research side. So as we started to ideate as a team, what the spaces for innovation, what does that really mean? What are the types of spaces that support innovation? And so as we started to ideate that both for students and for faculty Jerome could do the research and say, OK, there was a study that was done in this this campus are in this place. And this is what science is saying. This is what innovation does to your brain and the environment around you. So we actually got to do that sort of, you know, true research driven design, which we never have time to do and really understand it at that whole other level, which was great.

CCB: [00:22:06] Ok, so you've done all the research, you've created the brief, it's a living document that's kind of floating around now and now there's a couple of months of water under the bridge. How is it settling at EHDD? How is it settling for each of you?

Doris Guerrero: [00:22:23] I think we've already had this one instance where Emily and I have been in a meeting and a client will say, what if we deconstruct that room and rethink it? And, you know, totally we were like, we already did that. And we looked at each other across the room and we're like, right on. We can use this as a design tool and a really great learning. And so I feel like the typologies that we explored, whether they made it into the brief or not, are really pushing us to have these conversations and to really go deeper in terms of how we're thinking about post-pandemic space weather, regardless of of project type.

Emily Bello: [00:23:04] Yeah, and I think, you know, when we're thinking about it's amazing how relevant it is to not just educational environments but to the workplace, to exhibit and user experience environments, everyone is talking about the same things. And there's potential in all of those realms. And the overlap is just incredible. And it seems to me that there's this underlying theme of the potential in the short term in the next three to five years, everyone is saying, OK, who knows really what's going to happen, but let's test it out, let's prototype it. Let's partner with someone and see how it's going to change the way we work, the way we learn, the way we communicate our ideas to a broader audience. And there's incredible potential. And also it's a little scary.

CCB: [00:23:58] I was going to say, how many people, do you start? Not that we haven't heard the prototyping word over and over and over again. And we continue to I mean, from a design perspective, everybody would love that opportunity. How do you find the right people that are going to jump overboard with you and go, yeah, prototyping the space that people are moving into in 20 minutes?

Doris Guerrero: [00:24:18] You know, you'd be surprised. We met with a board not too long ago and they were like, what can we do with this room? We don't need a boardroom. What can it be? And that's when Emily and I looked at the room across at each other. We were like, right on where? We're on the right track. So I think even the most unlikely of folks are ready to just, you know, rip off the Band-Aid and get started on some really interesting space and places. I think I don't see a lot of people, I haven't heard personally, a lot of people that are interested in going back to design circa 2019. And so I think that it's as tragic as covid has been, for those of us who can live to tell, it's been a gift, it's been a gift of introspection and really reassessing what we value. And I find that innovation is the silver lining of what we've been through. So I think it's really cool. Everyone's to me and my perspective, people are really interested in seeing what's new, what's next without fear, which is great.

Emily Bello: [00:25:28] Yeah, absolutely. The appetite is there and the potential is enormous.

CCB: [00:25:35] Well, I just want to end right there because the potential is enormous, but I always like to give you last words. If there's anything else you feel like our audience should hear that we haven't talked about.

Doris Guerrero: [00:25:49] I would like to thank you guys for the grant. I mean, it really was just this amazing opportunity for all of us to make connections with our mentors as well, to have an agenda of innovation. When do we ever get that? Just like that's amazing. Thank you. And I feel like it got us into the right perspective for what's coming, so I feel fantastic. Thank you.

CCB: [00:26:23] Yes, we are very, very pleased to have been able to help out with that, Emily. Anything else you'd like to say?

Emily Bello: [00:26:30] I concur with that wholeheartedly. And to also end on kind of a note of gratitude, I think I was so blown away in this process as well by the Partnership of the ONEder team and also with the willingness of people to spend an hour or two to talk with us and share their ideas. And I didn't know until this process that, you know, I could just call someone up and have a conversation and they might actually be willing to share ideas and thoughts. And so the real sense of kind of shared interest in making change, moving forward and building towards it together was really inspirational.

CCB: [00:27:12] I can only say thank you, thank you again for all the work that you did, the ONEder grant was designed for exactly this to not only promote learning and advancement within your own organization, but to share that knowledge more broadly with our design community so that all of us can get better. So thank you very much, Doris and Emily from the EHDD. I want to say that the ONEder Podcast can be heard on all streaming services, and we are delighted to share the knowledge and the content that we have at our fingertips on a regular basis. Thank you so much.