First of all, let’s tackle why I use the term “collaboration zones” when talking about the design of physical (and virtual) collaborative learning environments. There is considerable controversy about the use of “space” vs “place.” Definitions vary from discipline to discipline. In the context of learning theory and virtual learning environments, place=space+meaning. To avoid the whole controversy, I just use the term collaboration zones.
When we design where people learn, we need to design a learning environment where we think about meaning, in particular the meaning that is emergent, that is made in the moment by learners.
The following is a draft list of considerations in the design of collaboration zones:
- Users have full access to the power of technology to facilitate collaboration, creativity, learning and teaching. The environment supports individual work on university or privately-owned equipment, local group work, a local hub for online collaboration, web conferencing, formal classes, and workshops.
- Technology is pervasive, including loaner laptops (individual and laptop carts), scattered workstations, support for personally-owned devices (including power), tech-enhanced meeting spaces, network infrastructure, network access control, management system for software and hardware, and tech support. (Note: focuses use on machines that students typically use for internet research and word processing.)
- Walls/perimeters are made up of writing surfaces (whiteboards, magnetic, cork, paint)
- Furniture is comfortable, flexible, and considers needs such as storage of personal items.
- Small collaboration zones can be small conference/study group rooms, which support web conferencing, and tech-facilitated small-group collaborative work (face-to-face and blended).
- Mid-sized collaboration zones can serve as blended seminar classrooms, with courses offered simultaneously in both modes: face-to-face and online. Some configurations include:
- Round “Chinese Restaurant” style tables (Chinese restaurant seating has evolved around creating a space for conversation that is optimized, neither too big nor too small) generally seating 5-10 people.
- Lazy Suzan tech bar. Some technology, like web cam, mic, speakers, charging stations, even tablets, could be stationed at the center of the table for easy access. Can also include low tech solutions, pads of paper, multi-color pens, etc.
- Large collaboration zones consist of large, general-purpose technology-enhanced spaces, with the following characteristics:
- Can be configured for different learning structures, i.e., small independent groups, larger classes with a main presenter, conference style, individual study, classrooms with “front,” and those that don’t require a front.
- Have flexible, movable configuration – everything can be rearranged with little effort. This has implications with regard to power and cabling.
- Can be configured to traditional classroom set up if needed
- Provide multiple electronic display surfaces oriented on different walls
- Include wall-mounted panels, 42” or larger, which can be shifted from side to side for small work groups to display computer display materials
- Support the ability to project to all screens from a central podium. Screens can operate together or independently (with local inputs).
- Include large screens (LCD or projector) 1 screen for every table.
- Laptops or tablets (possibly Chromebooks, for ease of management and excellent Google integration) available —possibly lendable from a circulation desk in the library.
- Include moveable “walls” that also are whiteboards, to support sound control, isolation and noisy creativity.