Research in Wallenberg Hall

High Performance Learning Spaces Part 1

January 2007

1.a History of Wallenberg Hall

The idea of creating advanced resource classrooms for experimental purposes on Stanford’s campus dates back at least to early 1998. In a proposal to the Knute and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in Sweden, the co-directors of the Stanford Learning Lab highlighted the need for advanced “spaces for learning,” as follows:

What are the design requirements for physical spaces that optimize learning performance, and how do these spaces best serve virtual learning communities? To answer this question the Learning Lab plans to design and construct a new type of learning space. We have found that common classroom configurations do not support innovative pedagogy and pedagogically informed technologies. Similarly, the typical lab suffers serious design deficiencies for integrating current technology and promoting active student learning. We have already addressed some of these issues with a new type of classroom design that allows learners and instructors to control the configuration of their environment. Next we propose to integrate this type of room with other learning spaces to form “flexible agenda spaces” designed to adapt, moment-to-moment to the activity requirements of the user community.

Such spaces serve as a collection of studios for project-based courses. They are instrumented to document meetings and decisions. They may contain many large writing surfaces for planning and brainstorming. They allow for informal discussion; private study and communication. Each of these functions must have physical as well as virtual embodiment. In this regard, there is no precedence for what we must create. Learners will share times, spaces and information with other sites. Flexible agenda spaces must adapt to different activities, different size groups, different levels of public access and privacy. They must accommodate image projection, sound management, lighting, and computer input and output devices.


The animating vision for Wallenberg Hall was thus not simply one of applying technology to education, but a more fundamental break with pedagogies of information transfer in favor of supporting the capacity of work/learning groups. In practice, the range of courses that have been taught in Wallenberg Hall has been even broader than this vision, and has included lecture and seminar classes in addition to project-based classes.

In late 1998, after the Learning Lab’s proposal was approved by both the Wallenberg Foundation and the University’s President’s office, the design phase of Wallenberg Hall began. Beginning in 2000, demolition and then a complete renovation of the building began. In August 2002, the building was completed and its new occupants moved in.

1.b Focus of this Report

The purpose of this report is to answer the following questions:

  1. How are the users of Wallenberg Hall making use of its facilities? What differences do teachers and students perceive in using Wallenberg Hall as opposed to other facilities at Stanford?
  2. What learning goals are actually being addressed in Wallenberg Hall? What subjects and pedagogies do teachers and students see as being particularly appropriate for Wallenberg Hall?
  3. Do users believe that their learning goals are being achieved better or differently in Wallenberg Hall as opposed to other facilities at Stanford?
  4. What are the key factors, including the organization of space, the hardware and software, and the support activities, that are either promoting or impeding the success of teachers and students in Wallenberg Hall?

As our last question suggests, we have found it useful to attempt to understand Wallenberg Hall as what might be called a ‘sociotechnical system’. That is, the high performance learning spaces that are our subject are not limited to the assemblages of hardware and software, but include also the technical, pedagogical and administrative support staff associated with the building, and the teachers and students themselves. The purpose of this insight is to avoid ascribing any effects that we see directly to the physical technology in the classrooms. Instead, we attempt to see the technology and the people as engaged in a dynamic and interconnected pattern of activity that results in particular teaching and learning experiences. Thus we ask, in addition to questions such as “Do the large-scale displays seem to provide an effective method of stimulating class participation?” others such as “How does the presence of dedicated pedagogical support staff affect the flow of teaching ideas among faculty members?” and “How do Wallenberg Hall teachers and students differ in their experience of technology in ways that affect teaching and learning activities?”

A key question that we will not address in this report is, “Based on independent assessment of learning outcomes, do students learn better or more in Wallenberg Hall than in other facilities at Stanford?” We have chosen not to pursue this question for several reasons. First, we already have in the teaching faculty extremely sophisticated and sensitive assessors of student learning. Relying on faculty judgments about student learning will likely yield assessments with a high degree of validity – after all, the validity of these judgments is relied upon by the University in constructing its records of student performance. Second, we lack the resources in this project to undertake a full-scale subject-specific analysis of learning outcomes for each class, and then to produce instruments to measure those outcomes. We have as an alternative adopted a more generic lightweight assessment tool focused on student judgments of their own learning that has proved effective in other settings. Third, it is extremely difficult, given the number of classes that have been taught in Wallenberg Hall, to identify and study sufficient numbers of similar classes taught elsewhere at Stanford to isolate the “Wallenberg Hall effect.”

1.c Description of the Learning Spaces in Wallenberg Hall

Wallenberg Hall was designed to provide learning spaces for university classes and state-of-the-art facilities for research in learning and education, both locally and in collaboration with international partners. The five advanced resource classrooms on which our research study focuses occupy the first floor: four classrooms with capacities of 20 to 22 students, and the Peter Wallenberg Learning Theater, which is suitable for larger classes (up to 50 students) and small performances. These spaces can be used individually or in varying combinations to support a myriad of learning activities. None of the rooms has raised flooring. All of the classrooms contain lightweight, easily foldable tables and lightweight chairs on casters that can be rearranged to move quickly between whole class and small group settings and provide support for a wide range of traditional as well as emerging modes of teaching. Below are links to detailed descriptions of each of the rooms in Wallenberg Hall:

1.d Wallenberg Hall infrastructure

The classrooms and learning spaces in Wallenberg Hall are supported by an integrated building technology infrastructure providing network connectivity, centralized audio and video capture, and mass storage and room configuration “sandboxes” for each class taught in the Hall. Each classroom has its own dedicated wireless network. Video cameras and microphones in each classroom record directly to hard drives located in a server room in the basement of Wallenberg Hall, supporting on-demand recording of classes and other activities in the classrooms. A software application, Conductor, provides each instructor with a dedicated hard drive and classroom configuration settings to ensure that instructors can rely on a known state of the room for each class period, no matter how other instructors modify the room settings.

1.e Description of Method

The analysis that we present in this report is based upon a wide variety of sources of evidence, which we describe in more detail below, including systematic survey data collection, interview data, the experience of staff members, and communications from faculty and students on subjects of their own choosing. The main obstacle that we have faced in conducting our analysis is not the availability of evidence, but the complexity of the object of our evaluation: as our discussion above of Wallenberg Hall as a sociotechnical system indicates, teaching and learning in Wallenberg Hall comprises a variety of physical spaces; technological affordances; course disciplines, subjects, pedagogies, and levels; and faculty and student backgrounds. In order to deal with this complexity, we have identified a number of analytical dimensions of variation that we have used to organize our thinking and investigation, and that also provide points of access for users of our report:

  1. User types. Wallenberg Hall is used by people who have a variety of different roles that are relevant to their activities in the Hall: faculty members (both tenured and untenured), instructors and lecturers, undergraduates, graduate students, technology and pedagogy support staff, etc.
  2. Disciplines. Wallenberg Hall hosts classes from a wide variety of disciplines, from engineering to foreign language to social science.
  3. Pedagogical organization. Classes in Wallenberg Hall have ranged from seminars to project-based courses to lectures.
  4. Technological affordances. The ARCs in Wallenberg Hall contain a wide range of technologies, including large-scale displays, small portable whiteboards (“huddleboards”), flexible furniture, and videoconferencing facilities.

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