The interior design classroom and lab at Front Range Community College, in Fort Collins, is a relatively new space in a recently constructed building. The room houses approximately 18 seats with Windows 7 computers and design software. It includes a scanner, a printer, some material storage, and a separate room for materials. The desks not only serve as computer workstations but also drafting tables.
(The Interior Design Classroom Front Range Community College)
The curriculum is relatively ‘individual achievement based’, such as, students almost always work on their own projects for the purpose of their own portfolio. However, students will often congregate in areas to get advice from other students or watch over someone’s shoulder as they perform work in CAD software. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we could create these situations more intentionally? Although designers typically perform work intrinsically in software, the best designs always shine through team efforts between several designers, architects, clients, and end users. Our students could be more prepared for the ‘real world’ if we made it easier to collaborate.
(Instructor console Interior Design room FRCC)
The instructor console is off center. To demonstrate on the computer half of the class is on the opposite side of the room. It’s hard to keep everyone engaged. It seems the further the instructor is away from students the less interaction occurs. Some students on the far side of the room face the wall and are isolated. There’s a lonely ADA desk over there as well. I’ve already considered some ways we could improve this in an equity reflection.
(Isolated ADA desk, furthest away from instructor, faces away from group)
Before I can consider a redesign of this space I’d like to point out some challenges:
Drafting desks are large and rectangular. They cannot be moved but can they be replaced?
Must accommodate 18 workstations
Must integrate ADA better
Allow for appropriate distinct individual and shared work areas
Space required for the scanner, printer, and drawing supplies
Must integrate materials better
Instructor console integrated better
Easy access to all groups and groups can co-mingle
It may not be possible to address all of these challenges, but establishing an overarching goal would be sufficient to address many concerns. Of course, the ultimate goal of the classroom re-design is to create a better space plan to promote collaboration between students and instructors. I will attempt to address this goal and the considerations of this ‘collaborative’ space in another blog post featuring the space design in the near future.
How can we create more collaborative learning in the classroom? There are a number of ways to do this, such as project based learning (PBL), and working in small groups. To do this effectively, we should really be thinking out the space and the setting for learning, otherwise known as the collaborative learning space (CLS). For many teachers, it can be a challenge to balance the number of students with the given furniture and space. The goal is to create spaces that allow for better interaction between students and access to the instructor. The instructor should be able to observe and wander between these groups freely.
The classroom can be set up in both formal and informal ways depending on the needs of the students, space, and curriculum. Here we explore three different collaborative learning spaces and discover what might be learned from them.
1. An Informal and Homey Setting
Let’s look at “The Learning Lounge,” an informal learning setting for 5th graders with flexible seating. Teacher Sherah Cash explained that she wanted to eliminate the desks and make a comfortable ‘home-like atmosphere.’ She says, “the space invites more conversation and deeper connections to content through peer interaction.” Students are also presented with the freedom to choose from different areas to hang out and learn. Each area is designated to a task such as reading a book, playing a game, or studying the “Facebook” board which is utilized for social studies. Students play a large part in their own learning by the agency provided. Some of the furniture is ‘fold-up’ and portable and can be taken into the hall or outside for even more areas to engage in learning. Much of the furniture Sherah found at yard sales or thrift stores and dressed them up a bit. She has some furniture in progress (examples of her DIY furniture) to share. Other pieces of furniture have come from DonorChoose. A program where people can choose to donate funds to school projects of their choice online.
What can be learned from The Learning Lounge?
Deeper connections through authentic peer interaction
(Remake Your Class Part 3: Exploring a Collaborative Learning Environment. Edutopia. August 6, 2013)
Steve Mattise, a math and science teacher at Roosevelt middle school was looking for ways to promote more collaboration and deeper learning. His classroom was too small for the amount of students. The Third Teacher+ and Steve came together with their students and the community to redesign the classroom. The focus of the collaborative effort was to create an environment that meets the learning and teaching goals with limited means. The Third Teacher+ worked with the students and collaborators to draw out ideas by use of image boards and post-it notes. Faculty members, community members, the students, and The Third Teacher+ all came together in a weekend to remake the classroom. You can watch the transformation in the three part video series:
The CLC at John Hopkins is a space for a variety of courses and workshops that have previously presented themselves as lectures. As opposed to other spaces with loose frameworks and varieties, the classroom is designed to provide singular group focused activity with brief lecture periods. Each round table group area has white boards directly adjacent and a screen where laptops can be projected. The instructor has two screens to project onto and access to each of the groups. The instructor, Rebecca Pearlman says students seem to intuitively know what to do. Their grades have stayed relatively the same, but engagement has increased and the quality of work has improved. The format was seemingly more pleasant for both the students and the instructor. Although this is a higher ed setting, this format can be applied appropriately to grades 7-12.
What can be learned from the CLC at John Hopkins?
Students are more actively engaged
Quality of work improved
Students were more ‘on task’
Defined expectations for the course
There isn’t one clear cut way to design a learning space. You need to rely on the students, members of the community, teachers, and experts to make the best decisions. Some spaces are flexible while others are more rigid. I hope these examples have provided you with some motivation to think critically about your learning spaces and if they are serving you and your students best needs. If you are looking for ideas on how you can design your own collaborative learning space, check out the Pinterest board for Collaborative Learning to get some ideas!