College Campuses as Holistic Learning Spaces

In their article “Recognizing College Landscapes as Learning Spaces,” Kathleen G. Scholl and Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi argue that today’s universities should provide students a holistic learning environment with both indoor and outdoor spaces so they can experience both community interaction and personal reflection. Using the evolution of college campuses, the benefits of human-nature interactions, and the characteristics of holistic learning spaces, Scholl and Gulwadi argue their point.

Laboratories were the first spaces on college campuses that were specifically designed for learning.

In order to fit the needs of a twenty-first century college student, universities are having to evolve. Scholl and Gulwadi argue that simply upgrading technology and adding on to buildings is not enough; instead, universities should create spaces that provide a holistic learning experience. Early American colleges were built to be self-sufficient. The goal was to build a space away from the city in order to limit distractions. College campuses consisted of “closely clustered buildings designed to protect students from the lures of the outside world” (Scholl and Gulwadi). With the addition of laboratories and observatory spaces in 1862, physical campuses were beginning to add to student learning. The previous “closely clustered” buildings were being replaced by open spaces and zones for specific disciplines. For the first time, college campuses were being looked at as learning spaces, not just groups of buildings set up outside of the city. Scholl and Gulwadi state that “older campus plans emphasized disciplinary boundaries and newer campus designs are more amorphous and integrative.” This transition shows the evolution of college campuses and their response to changes in education.

Outdoor spaces, like this one at the University of South Carolina's campus, provide students with the opportunity to experience human-nature interactions.

Outdoor spaces, like this one on the University of South Carolina’s campus, provide students with the opportunity to experience human-nature interactions.

Using the Attention Restoration Theory, Scholl and Gulwadi argue that certain campus design features “help mentally fatigued individuals.” The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) states that exposure and interaction with nature “has specific recovery effects on the human attentional system” (Scholl and Gulwadi). A university’s learning environment is more than just classrooms; Scholl and Gulwadi believe that the learning environment also includes the open space found outside. These open spaces add to the holistic learning landscape by providing students a place to interact with nature. Spending time in nature is beneficial for restoring cognitive functions such as concentration and direct attention. Scholl and Gulwadi urge universities to find a balance between indoor and outdoor learning spaces so their students can experience human-nature interaction.

An example of a traditional university classroom.

While human-nature interaction is necessary for the productivity of all students, outdoor class instruction is not suited for all academic subjects. Scholl and Gulwadi argue that a holistic university landscape, combining both human-nature interaction and the traditional indoor classroom, is the solution. Traditional classrooms “provide ample opportunities for structured learning experiences that draw upon students’ direct attention” (Scholl and Gulwadi). The typical classroom setting, while necessary, requires all of a student’s direct attention. Human-nature interactions allow students to restore this direct attention, equipping them with the cognitive functions needed to productively work in a classroom. In order for college campuses to be as efficient for student productivity as possible, Scholl and Gulwadi believe a holistic landscape is necessary. This landscape includes the open space outside and the traditional indoor classroom.

 


Works Cited

Scholl, Kathleen G., and Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi. “Recognizing College Landscapes as Learning Spaces.” The University of North Carolina Greensboro, 2015.

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Grace Wilmeth

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