I often get asked by my colleagues “how this whole consulting thing works.” Many of them are humanities faculty, and they rarely, if ever, do any kind of consulting work. My language learning and technology or language center staff colleagues who are new to this field are also often interested in how to get into consulting and how the process generally works.
First of all, consulting is only a minor aspect of my job. First and foremost I work for my college on a 9-month contract (which is fairly standard for faculty in the U.S.). If I do consulting during these 9 months, it has to be approved by the administration first. I work hard to make sure that the consulting work does not have a negative impact on my regular job if some of the work happens during the semester. (It also doesn’t happen that often, perhaps 3 times a year.)
Often, though, it enhances my work and job performance because I learn a lot from my site visits and discussions with colleagues at the other institutions. In fact, being able to visit many physical learning spaces is an essential part of my learning spaces work and research.
Only sometimes do I consult via videochat and asynchronous discussions – it’s a lot cheaper because there’s no need to airplane tickets, hotel stays, food, etc. But it is more effective if I get to be in the physical spaces, have discussions with all stakeholders, or see the rest of campus.
A site visit usually last 2 days, and consists of group and individual meetings, a formal presentation, a workshop, and at least one focused campus tour. Meeting all stakeholders is crucial, and so I usually meet with faculty, language center employees, librarians, IT staff, teaching/learning center professionals, campus planning/building/physical plant staff, architects, interior designers, academic staff such as a dean or provost, students, student workers, teaching assistants, and sometimes even alumni or trustees. I try to mostly listen openly to everyone’s ideas and include what i learn in my final report. It is very interesting to learn about the different views, needs, and opinions from different groups and individuals. It is crucial to keep what is said confidential – therefore I cannot and will not disclose any of that here or ever. I have learned a lot about how systems such as colleges work, something I could not have learned through academic publications.
The most frequent questions I get is “How do universities find out about you? How did you get into this?” I’d say most people who contact me either learned about it from someone who had invited me to their campus as a consultant and found it useful. Sometimes people find out about me through my publications, my workshops, or my presentations. After a few years it’s become a regular occurrence that a college contacts me, and I am still very excited and honored, even after a decade of doing this.
The second-most asked question is about honoraria and stipends. I won’t give any numbers here. For sure I am not getting rich through this. But it’s nice to be compensated when you spend several days on airplanes, in hotel rooms, in meeting rooms, and on your computer writing your pre-survey questions or your final report. For the hosting institutions, the cost usually is only a tiny fraction of the cost of a building project. If I can help them avoid one mistake, it’s already worth it for everyone involved.
It is always a thrill to hear about finished projects at institutions I had worked with years ago. It is very satisfying to know that my advice and help resulted in an actual physical space. Unfortunately, I rarely get to see the new or changed rooms or buildings in person (only on photos).
Most of the consulting I do is about learning spaces, but sometimes it’s about digital and hybrid spaces and pedagogy. For me, the two areas are so linked to one another, I would describe this all as learning spaces consulting.
I am excited that so much is happening in the world of learning space design! I am thrilled to learn from so many talented colleagues and to share ideas. I am fortunate to be on the advisory committee of the Learning Spaces Collaboratory, and look forward to exchanging ideas with academics and architect professionals. I am currently working on an edited volume to be published this summer and am otherwise doing wide research in this field: on furniture and campus design, on the history of schools and classrooms, on communities of practice and imagined communities, on formal, semi-formal, informal, and transitory spaces.