Author Archives: hlhsieh

JLS Staff Lounge project update

How would you know if it’s working?

Our design goal is to create a space that welcomes teachers and staff and allows them to relax, connect with others, and collaborate with one another. In order to test if the design  works or not, we could do a post-test survey to compare with the pre-test we did before, and possibly an on-site observation, through which we would be able to see the dynamics in the learning space. The criteria for evaluating efficacy include:

1. time: do teachers and staff spend more time in the space after the intervention?

2. people: who comes to the space after the intervention? are more people making use of this space now?

3. activities: what kinds of activities do teachers and staff do in the space after the intervention? how many of them are newly established? does the space allow new           and productive kinds of activity to take place?

4. satisfaction: how do teachers and staff feel about the space after the intervention? do they find the space welcoming? do they feel secure, relaxed, and satisfied? do they enjoy their experience in the space?

5. connections: does the space help teachers and staff to feel a sense of belonging and a community? are new relationships being encouraged and fostered?


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Storyboard: JLS Middle School

The Staff Room in JLS Middle School serves multiple functions for the staff. It’s the work room in which teachers prepare teaching materials (using the copy machine and other stationary); it’s storage for expensive computer devices the school owns; and from time to time, some teachers gather there to talk (because there isn’t enough meeting space on campus). This storyboard imagines the traffic happening when all functions are being utilized.

JLS storyboard

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Update: Lounge@JLS Middle School

What is special about this place, and the learning that happens in it?

The teacher’s lounge at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School serves multiple functions, few of which have anything to do with being  a “lounge”:

  1. 5 times a year, it serves as a thoroughfare between the indoor corridor (where ping-pong tables are stationed) and the “Cafetorium”, in which the school dance is held.
  2. Every day there are teachers using the copy machines it houses to prepare materials for teaching. They might come and use the fridge and microwave as well.
  3. Sometimes it serves as the venue for PTA meetings, during which coffee and bread are offered for participants to take away.
  4. There are big storage lockers for computer carts, which are accessed many times a day.
  5. If the staff working in the “Cafetorium” want to use the bathroom, they have to go through this space.

Apart from these functional activities, the only time the space is used for “learning” purposes is when teachers want to collaborate together but cannot find a meeting room elsewhere on the school campus.  Many of the teaching staff recently took part in a workshop at the at Stanford in early January, and they seem to be keen on using design thinking in their teaching — it would be good if this space could be made to support their newly-acquired collaborative ethos.

What “aha”s or insights help to constrain your design?

  1. Since the room has high traffic (people coming in and out for copying, and computer carts coming in and out for usage and storage), furniture in the room should be easy to move. 
  2. Principal Ofek expressed her visions for the room in terms of adjectives: relaxing, comfortable, professional and collaborative.  These seem to suggest a space that is  relatively cozy, but also professionally productive.
  3. Principal Ofek also mentioned that many teachers, especially those who are younger and those who have their own  classrooms, rarely come to the lounge for downtime. Motivating teachers to come and collaborate is part of the challenge too.

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Field Notes: Science and Engineering Quad

Author: Hsiaolin Hsieh

Event: Site visit to SEQ, Stanford University

Time and Date of event: 13:15-15:50, Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Date of Record: Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Tour guide: Luke Thivierge, Associate Director, Building Operations, Facilities Planning & Management

Related articles:

Huang Engineering Building- self guided tour

New science and engineering building quad planned for campus core

A brief intro to Y2E2


1. The physical layout of the space(s)

Connection” is the design principle of the Science and Engineering Quad. It is represented in the layout, the location, the interior design and the decoration of the buildings, as well as in the overall appearance of the Quad.

  • Layout:  the Quad is surrounded by 4 buildings, the Huang EngineeringCenter, the Hewlett and Packard Buildings, the Y2E2 Building, and the James and Anna Marie Spilker building, which are linked underground “by an 18-foot-deep basement of shared laboratory space that is sure to be in high demand because of its state-of-the-art equipment and controlled environment free of outside light, noise and vibrations” (Stanford News). The link between buildings presents a vision of interdisciplinary collaboration in science and engineering.
  • Location:  the Quad is built along an east-west axis which coincides with that of the Main Quad, and which bridges the central campus and the west side of the campus (School of Medicine). This orientation follows the original campus plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and the overall appearance of the arcades and the quad, and the limestone tile façades and red tile roof, present a historical connection with the school as a whole.
  • Interior design and decoration:  inside the buildings of the Quad, there are exhibitions of the stories of individual people (prominent faculty and donors) and inventions that are associated with the schools connected with the Quad. These exhibitions highlight the intellectual heritage that connects current students and faculty with those of the past and contemporaries in industry today.

2. People who typically come to the space

Students, faculty and staff are the typical users in this space. In comparison with the other buildings dedicated to specialist graduate research, the Huang Engineering Building has been designed specifically for students activities. Its main entrance is on the second floor, and functions as a dining hall for students and faculty. It’s interesting to see that both the GSB and the SEQ put their “kitchens” in the most convenient and obvious places, and use them as the incentives to recruit students to learning — a powerful example of human-centered design!

Apart from the necessary human conveniences, there are also lots of conference rooms and informal social areas (the resting areas outside the labs, around the atria, and big, wide staircases).  Almost all of the conference rooms (as well as the classrooms) are built with glass rather than concrete walls, and the informal social areas are open, public, and equipped with write-on glass walls, whiteboards, and comfortable furniture.  They not only foreground the idea of  “together alone“, but also instantiate “transparency“, a liberation from enclosed property (of knowledge), and suggest an ideology of sharing.

3. Activities that happen in the space

In addition to formal classroom teaching and learning, a number of extra-curricular activities regularly take place in and around the Quad. Eating, experiments, and out-of-class discussion were all in evidence in these spaces, though we didn’t really get to see the classrooms where formal learning actually takes place.

According to my impression of the tour, and the emphasis placed on it by Luke, our guide, learning and research in the SEQ is centered around the sophisticated laboratory devices and equipment.  A great deal of informal learning (discussion and collaboration between peers and teachers), by contrast, is supported by an open, comfy space where there is furniture with an appropriate degree of comfort, and lots of write-on whiteboards/glass, and projectors. Much of the formal learning here seems to be technical in nature, and concentrated on lab technique, while informal learning is focused on communicating and engaging with ideas. It seems to me that this contrast is fostered and reinforced, perhaps quite consciously, by the conspicuously low-tech facilities in the informal spaces (no fancy interactive whiteboards here!) which foreground human and intellectual interaction.  A more prosaic explanation might be fear of theft, which, apparently has accounted for a lot of their relatively comfortable furniture!

Communication is an important motif in the SEQ. I found the background noise from group discussion and also from classrooms/conference rooms actually warmed up a space which might otherwise be a little harsh and impersonal. Human sounds soften and invigorate coldness of steel and uncarpeted concrete floors, and bring a natural cadence to a science and engineering environment.

My last reflection on our visit concerns Luke’s comment on sleeping. He mentioned more than once the importance of having appropriate furniture that increases productivity and discourages sleeping. However, sleeping is an important factor in effective learning. I am not sure if excluding it from learning space is necessarily the best solution for productivity. I certainly think this should be up for discussion, anyway.

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Learning Space: A public fountain

a fountain on campus

This is the fountain between the Green Library and the Main Quad. The picture was taken on Wednesday afternoon, and the observation was done between 14:00 and 15:30. During the observation period, about 8 people (3 women and 5 men) came and sat around the fountain for a while (around 30 minutes or so on average), and then left.

What do Learners do there?

Generally speaking, learners did whatever suited their own plans at the fountain.

First a young girl sat reading, and after she left, another girl, wearing sunglasses on the top of her head, came and sat in the same place and started using her laptop.  A guy sat down a little distance from her and read a newspaper. He was wearing sunglasses and headphones. Another guy brought a book with him and sat on the opposite side from them (under the trees, in the shade). He took his shoes off and started to read a novel.  A third guy came and sat not too far from the guy reading the novel.  He looked around, and wrote (or possibly sketched) something in his notebook.  The guy with newspaper left, while a fourth guy came and sat between the two guys in the shade. He used his laptop, and coughed from time to time, loudly.  The girl with the sunglasses on her head left.  The bright side of the fountain was empty. The second guy put his shoes on and left with his novel, and then a third girl arrived and took his seat. She was also using her laptop. Later on, the coughing guy left too, and his seat was occupied by the fifth guy.  He took his shoes off too, and he was meditating with his hands folded and resting on his knees (legs crossed).

What is the environment like?

It is an open space where there are always people around, including students, faculty and staff, and visitors (especially tourists), who sometimes walk through/past it, take pictures with/around it, or they chat in the area. The fountain is big, and the water never stops. Actually, the sound of the water is so loud that you cannot really hear clearly what people walking by are talking about.

Two big stone benches surround the fountain. There are names on the stone. One side of the benches has shades from trees, and the other side is more exposed to the sunshine. It was a lovely afternoon. The sun was shining, and a light breeze was blowing. Sometimes, a little lady bug or an insect surprises the learner by appearing on the pages of their books, and sometimes the ringing bell reminds them to leave for something or somewhere.

How does it help people learn?

It’s an informal and open space, which invites everyone to come and go, do whatever they like.  The informality creates an absence of expectation which allows creativity and relaxed performance.

The sound of flowing water, the sunshine, and the breeze combined to provide a pleasant and natural setting which was very inviting, and the sound of water in particular actually provides a kind of white noise that helps people to concentrate and be productive.

The stone bench is so hard that one cannot really sit there for long; this likely increases the flow of people coming and leaving the space, but this may not be ideal for a learning environment.

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Learning is like alchemy

Learning is like alchemy. You just have to keep trying and trying and trying.


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