Innovate, Iterate, Prototype: How failing fast can generate engaging and effective learning environments

Presentation | 02.12.2021

A public school system’s performing arts and indoor athletic facility in Berrien Springs, Michigan, an early childhood center in St. Joseph, Michigan, and a private high school’s cutting-edge STREAM Lab in Hammond, Indiana, will be at the center of a presentation during LearningSCAPES 2019.

Gregory Monberg, AIA, ALEP, director of architecture, and Carl Baxmeyer, both at Wightman, will be joined by Tony Leininger, president of CARMI Design, and David Eichberg, superintendent of Berrien Springs Public Schools to deliver the presentation Innovate, Iterate, Prototype: How failing fast can generate engaging and effective learning environments. The presentation was selected through a competitive process from among submissions by an international field of education and design professionals.

The conference, to be held October 4 – 6 in Anaheim, California, is presented by the Association for Learning Environments, the largest non-profit organization in the world dedicated to improving places of teaching and learning. LearningSCAPES 2019 brings together professionals from across the globe who plan, design, equip, furnish, and maintain places where students learn, and offers educational sessions, keynotes, and a showcase of state-of-the-art schools that move learning forward.

The multidisciplinary presentation team of Monberg, Baxmeyer, Leininger, and Eichberg will demonstrate a variety of design thinking techniques with real world case studies of how these processes produced effective and engaging learning environments for a range of activities and ages. Design thinking is a systematic, human-centered approach to problem solving that draws on empathy and experimentation to address the needs of end-users. In doing so, innovative solutions are developed based on what users want and need to be successful instead of relying only on historical data or making decisions based on instinct instead of evidence.

“It’s exciting to share the story of the collaborations between the Wightman team, our partner CARMI Design, and area educational institutions. The successes happening right here in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana will serve as industry best practice case studies for a broader international audience,” stated Monberg.

A project featured in the presentation will be the visioning and community engagement process used to design a new performing arts and indoor athletic facility for Berrien Springs Public Schools, a $20 million project set to break ground in 2020.

For the Berrien Springs project, community visioning groups were brought together following a successful bond proposal put forth before voters of the school district to build the new facilities for middle school and high school students. By building community engagement through the visioning sessions, interaction across stakeholder groups increased and a vast range of ideas were explored in developing the final design. Superintendent Dave Eichberg has said, “the new facilities will mean richer and deeper real-world experiences for students, opportunities and a source of pride for the community.”

 “One of the goals of design thinking is to fail before you build. By that I mean the process uncovers a multitude of potential solutions. Rapid prototyping then tests those ideas, eliminating those that don’t fit and moving forward with those that do. It streamlines the design process and creates unexpected solutions,” stated Baxmeyer.

Other case studies the team will explore include a look at how design thinking led to a renovated early childhood center for Trinity Lutheran Church and School in St. Joseph, as well as how the process was instrumental in the creation of a cutting-edge STREAM Lab within the confines of an outdated natatorium at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond.

Also, during the conference Monberg will be presenting as part of the Accredited Learning Environment Planner (ALEP) Commission on the core competencies for the ALEP credential, with this year’s topic focused on visioning. Monberg serves on the ALEP Commission responsible for governing the credential that is the most comprehensive professional program in the educational facility planning industry. In addition to serving as an ALEP commissioner, Monberg is the A4LE’s Area 3 Governor for the Midwest Great Lakes Region. In 2014 he was honored with the Outstanding Service Award by the region.