Q&A

"You'll see learning become more of a continuum between the dorm space, the common living space, and the classrooms. There will be a growing emphasis on human interaction. Otherwise, why be on campus?"

Michael J. Mandl

The Academic Exchange: What is your role regarding the infrastructure of learning spaces at Emory?

Michael Mandl: I see my role as helping put in place what the faculty, deans, and provost need to respond to the evolution of the learning environment. If there are significant physical needs, resource allocations, or investments that are needed to prepare us for that, then I’m generally involved in those discussions. I try to be respectful in the division of responsibilities for education versus administrative, financial, and facilities planning. When you talk about the future of education, it’s impossible to separate them completely. The discussions include faculty and people with my kind of background and skills, such as planning, aligning resources to get things to happen, and thinking about it in the context of local interest and of the larger community. 

AE: How are changes in teaching and learning reflected in the physical structure of campus buildings?

MM: You want to design buildings that encourage interaction, whether it’s a classroom, a residence hall, or how a lab is laid out. A good example is the Cox Hall computing lab, which has evolved in such a way as to encourage interaction with other people rather than interaction with just the computer. The Woodruff Library is another example. A decade ago you’d go there to be by yourself and not mingle with other people—not hear other people. The library is no longer about creating space that exclusively supports quietness and solitude. Some people seek this at the library, but now you have the Research Commons and other spaces that foster collaborative work. 

AE: How has this type of thinking affected the residence halls? 

MM: The residence halls are another example of facilities that exemplify the changing nature of the learning experience. Look at what’s included in the new halls versus what was in those they replaced. There are classrooms in there, which never was the case before. There are full kitchens designed for sustainable cooking. There are study rooms for people to interact and that get students out of their rooms. The living environment itself becomes a learning environment. 

AE: Is it necessary to technologically update all campus buildings?

MM: It’s important that every room that needs to have new technology have it, and we’ve been doing that. I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t need any traditional spaces and that all the old spaces need to change. I think about it as a portfolio of spaces, and that portfolio represents a broader set of options than it used to. There’s still room and still a need for people to be off by themselves, and there’s undoubtedly still some room for traditional lecture classrooms, but it is evolving. 

AE: What are some of your thoughts about distance learning? 

MM: Distance learning is becoming more important at Emory. However, I believe there will also be value in the on-campus experience, because a lot of learning and development occurs outside of the classroom—it’s the chance encounter, the social and intellectual interaction that comes through exchanges with other people and which aren’t planned. 

AE: What’s your vision of the campus, spatially, five or ten years from now? 

MM: I think there will be more space designed for receiving information from elsewhere and fewer large lecture halls, because a higher portion of information will be received outside of the classroom. You’ll see learning become more of a continuum between the dorm space, the common living space, and the classrooms. There will be a growing emphasis on human interaction. Otherwise, why be on campus? The key is intellectual and social vibrancy. Try to think about what can happen here that can’t happen elsewhere, and make sure the space is dedicated to that. The mindset will be different. There will be a more conscious attitude toward the utilization of the space and making sure that it matters and can add value to what happens here.