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Workshop helps universities hone Living Learning Lab plans

The organizers of the campus Living Learning Lab workshop at Portland State weren’t planning to use the World Naked Bike Ride as part of their curriculum. 

But the quintessentially Portland event—involving thousands of cyclists streaming through town wearing little more than wide grins—took place near the Portland State University campus on the second night of the workshop, and a majority of workshop participants managed to take in at least some of the spectacle. 

The workshop instructors, Fletcher Beaudoin, assistant director of the Portland State University Institute for Sustainable Solutions and Katja Brundiers, School of Sustainability community-university liaison, at Arizona State University, didn’t pass up the opportunity to use the pedaling parade as a teaching moment. The naked bike ride is an initiative able to develop and sustain a critical mass of participants committed to overcoming barriers—societal norms and police-enforced laws prohibiting nudity—and has become a successful, police-sanctioned worldwide celebration. 

The 48 attendees at the workshop, presented by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, came from across the country, Ball State to Penn State, UNC to UCSC, and with backgrounds including administration, facilities and education. Working alone, in teams and in larger groups they defined their visions and approaches for creating a Living Learning Lab at their universities. 

The term Living Learning Lab refers to a concept that encompasses a range of practical on-campus applications of research and experiments that provide students hands-on experience, benefit operations or facilities and enhance sustainability. Ideally a Living Learning Lab positively impacts the “magic triangle” of education, research and campus operations—workshop participants also identified the aesthetic of the projects and engagement with the community as important factors. 

One of the primary goals of the workshop was to create a rigorous framework for developing Living Learning Lab projects and programs and to help universities make progress toward developing their own labs. 

“We took a very outcome oriented approach and facilitated conversations among the three key groups that were represented in the room—faculty, operations and students,” Brundiers said. “Some universities were small, some were big and all were at different levels of developing their Living Learning Labs. Those in the early stage were focused on building buy-in. If they were already more progressed, then it was about creating more coherence and coordination and sustaining and expanding projects campus-wide.”

The workshop featured a number of Living Learning Lab case studies and ample time for teams from each university to hammer out their own definitions and program next steps. Many of the participants headed home with plans to pitch a proposal for a Living Learning Lab strategy for their campus, while others planned to inventory existing projects as a first step toward identifying ways that they could interact as part of a broader lab. 

“By the end people understood where they are in the process and what their key actions are to get to their vision,” Beaudoin said. “They also identified barriers to their progress, and ways to get over those barriers using the assets available to them at their home institutions.” 

Molly Philips, environmental solutions manager for Office Depot, a workshop sponsor, led a session on sustainable procurement. 

Workshop participants also took advantage of the opportunity to visit some of Portland State’s own Living Learning Lab examples—a greenroof with solar panel testing, a learning plaza that pushes the limits of living wall design and urban place-making, and a stop in PSU’s urban plaza to talk about student work in the university’s EcoDistrict. Linking such examples together into a comprehensive program is what PSU is working toward. 

The two-day workshop, offered for the first time in June, was full to capacity, and the waiting list of participants who had hoped to join indicates a heavy interest in another session. Beaudoin and Brundiers are investigating those opportunities and plan to further adapt the sessions based on feedback and follow-up with the group. For starters, they plan to order more coffee for the afternoon sessions for next time. 

Overall, feedback on the workshop was positive, discussions in the workshop room were lively and participants parted ways with plans to check back on their progress. 

“One woman told me her CO2 emissions were well justified,” Brundiers said. 

Contact AASHE to learn about future workshops