Reading Summary 3:” Recognizing Campuses as Learning Spaces”

Kathleen G. Scholl and Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi discuss the often understated importance of college environments in their writing, “Recognizing Campus Landscapes as Learning Spaces.”  Firstly, they frame their message by outlining the scene of colleges in America today.  The number of students in college in the U.S.A. is higher than ever before, and with high enrollment rates there are high expectations for the learning environment.  The authors insist that we already have an image of what a college campus should look like in our mind.  However, why does the ideal campus look the way it does?  Is there any real purpose for having campuses in a seemingly secluded small town with only the college itself driving the local economy?

Due to the notion that learning is a process that never goes on summer break or takes the weekend off, an institute of higher learning should promote learning in areas outside of the classroom.  Especially since most of the students’ time is spent outside of class anyway.  Today’s generation of youth is defined by a culture of multitasking and the quick spread of information.  While society demands a large amount of attention, college demands even more, creating a very dynamic lifestyle for the college student of the 2010’s.  That reality is one of the main reasons why a calm, relaxed college setting is imperative.  The school environment is most effective in helping the student succeed when it provides a refuge from the normal level of attention that usually is required from the student.  According to studies, campuses that are more natural and incorporate nature into the daily sights visible by students on a daily basis allow for students to avoid mental fatigue and focus better when it counts.  This is apposed to being surrounded by the lights, noises, and hustle of a big city that command just as much attention if not more than a college professor.  Environments that do not allow for one to take a mental break put students at a higher risk of mental exhaustion.

Historically, colleges have always been placed strategically in towns where students can focus solely on academics, dating back to Princeton University in the 1770s.  With that being said, the typical college campus did go through some changes to become what we imagine today when we think of a major university.  The Morrill Act of 1862 required new buildings and the end of World War 2 saw a rise in students.  Then, Fredrick Law Olmstead’s research further solidified the point that certain physical landscapes can affect human behavior.  From his studies he concluded that “Natural scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigorating to the whole system” (Olmstead).  Based off of Olmstead’s findings, several other scientists have worked to form the Attention Restoration Theory, which focuses on the idea that internal and external factors affect one’s cognitive ability.

The issues associated with the ART theory are relevent when attempting to define what exactly is nature, and what is considered to be direct attention.  Nature, when being discussed in this context refers to physical features of the Earth from a non-human origin.  Direct attention is when someone uses mental effort to remain focus on a particular task or thought.  On the other hand there is also a such thing as involuntary attention, which is activated when anything that is intriguing to the mind is presented before someone.  All of these terms come to life and connect through different landscapes.  Different layouts of the land we live and work on are classified into different landscapes to make sense of what we are exposed to.  Some examples are indoor, urban, fringe, and wilderness.

In conclusion, each landscape differs in appearance and feel to the human, and each can impact us in a different way.  Most importantly, it has been found that an open, fringe landscape is very beneficial to student minds.  It is crucial to pay attention to ways to help make learning environments less stressful and more conducive to progression, especially for young people.  Through studies and writings such as these, you can expect the physical landscapes of college campuses to have more impact on students’ decision on where to enroll, which equates to more dollars for schools with better spaces.


Scholl, Kathleen, & Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi. “Recognizing Campus Landscapes as Learning Spaces.” Journal of Learning Spaces [Online], 4.1 (2015): n. pag. Web. 19 Feb. 2016