HLC Self Study
Chapter 6 Graphic

Learning Spaces

Since its opening in 1992, the Institution has leveraged physical space, whether informal or formal, to promote engagement and advance teaching and learning. As part of the College Master Plan, Estrella Mountain utilizes the entire campus as a learning environment. When a student or community member walks across the campus, they experience beautiful buildings and archways that are complemented by native landscaping, peaceful water features and public art. Various courtyards provide informal gathering spaces for students, faculty and staff to meet and engage in social, professional and educational collaboration. At the heart of the campus is the Ceremonial Plaza, which not only hosts a variety of outdoor events and student activities, but also serves as a display area for visual artwork or student social awareness projects.

During the past several years, Estrella Mountain Community College has achieved a national reputation for the design of learning spaces. In 2005, Estrella Mountain explored more effective approaches to the traditional classroom learning environment and engaged in discussions that resulted in the unique transformation of two existing classrooms into prototype spaces. The prototypes, referred to as learning studios, integrated mobile furniture, technology, lighting, and color to create stimulating and adaptable educational spaces.

These new learning studios provided both faculty and learners an opportunity to experiment with radical flexibility in classroom design. Throughout the project, the College collected and assessed feedback from faculty and students. The experience convinced college leaders to abandon the traditional classroom format in favor of the studio model. Since then, Estrella Mountain has opened two new buildings, refurbished most of its traditional classrooms and transformed 70 percent of its classroom spaces into learning studios.

The campus’ newest building, Mariposa Hall, demonstrates a culmination of institutional efforts to provide students with dynamic learning environments. Building features include nine learning studios, one multi-purpose lab and informal learning spaces. Awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – Gold certification, the inherent design of Mariposa Hall speaks to the notion of respect for nature. Incorporating a number of ‘green’ features such as recycled and low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials, smart technology to preserve energy and water collection tanks, the campus community celebrated the building during the grand opening event as one where Sustainability Emerges, Education Flourishes.

In addition to learning studios and various green features, Mariposa Hall also boasts a high-tech nursing simulation lab. This is one of the most unique simulation labs in the State of Arizona, with two small labs, each designed to be a five-or-more bed ward with private, curtained suites. The simulation lab includes a state-of-the-art audio/video system which allows faculty the ability to review and critique student skill performances from the lab’s control room. The facility also contains two additional debriefing rooms, where fellow students can gather and review the work of peers through large LCD monitors. Each lab is equipped with medical equipment including laptop computers loaded with medical records software, medication and patient charts, virtual IV systems, crash carts, and respiratory carts. The lab’s “patients” include computerized manikins that can exhibit a variety of medical conditions, including pregnancy and neonatal conditions.

The Reef Tank is another example of a very unique and specialized learning space at Estrella Mountain. To enhance the educational experience of Environmental Biology (BIO105) and General Biology (BIO281) students, an 800-gallon Reef Tank that supports live reef organisms (e.g. crustaceans and coral) has been integrated into the curriculum by faculty. The tank, which is on display for public observation, is a visible example of how learning can occur outside the classroom.

From flexible learning studios that can be tailored to accommodate various teaching and learning pedagogies, to highly specialized spaces required for diverse disciplines such as nursing, Estrella Mountain has many other examples of educational spaces thoughtfully designed to support and advance effective teaching and student learning. Other examples of specialized campus learning spaces include:

  • Art studio with a darkroom and Apple computers
  • Dance studio with hardwood floors, bars and mirrors
  • Science laboratories with a learning-centered design
  • Culinary area with a kitchen, Regions Restaurant (where culinary students prepare all food as a part of their education) and learning studio

The next opportunity for the College to expand and enhance educational spaces will be the expansion of Estrella Hall. In the final stages of planning, the Estrella Hall project consists of an expansion of the major areas of instructional learning support: Library, Learning Enhancement Center and Information Commons, as well as general and specialized learning spaces.