Thursday, 17 March 2011

Designing Spaces for Collaboration. The first step?

I was at a project meeting yesterday to discuss the change of a traditional lecture theatre into a collaborative learning space. There were a few things that came out of this but the biggest one for me and, to be honest, one I had not previously considered is what is meant by collaborative?

I think of a collaborative space as one where groups of approximateley 7 people collaborate around some suitably shaped table. I now realise that this is just one, possibly the most common, model.

Others may consider turning to the person next you collaboration. Peter and I discussed this and decided that this is not collaboration but more of a chat. Others may disagree.

Another option is where people move about between the different groups. It may be they are unhappy with the group they are with and decide to take their ideas and input to a more suitable discussion.This may not be possible if the design of the space does not allow ease of circulation.

No doubt there will be other colllaboration models. I would like to hear of them.

Peter informed the meeting that pedagogically sound collaborative spaces should ideally hold no more than 70 seats. No doubt he will expand on this.

So with the growing number of requests for collaborative spaces those involved in the design need to establish what it is the client means by collaborative at the outset.
Of course this can only happen if the client has a clear idea of what it is they want to achieve,this often only becomes apparent when discussed with a broad range of stakeholders.

This is starting to touch on the process of designing spaces which Derek Powell at UQ and I discussed and which I will revisit here.

1 comment:

  1. Yes Nigel, the issue of 'collaboration' and how it is understood by various folk, is probably on a par with the equally contentious term 'flexible'.... some of you know my feelings about that! When we are discussing a project at the outset, and when the space is described as a 'collaborative classroom' which often happens, we need to immediately seek a very clear answer about what this means. This is best done by seeking a description of what students are expected to be 'doing' when learning in that space. There is a massive difference between a situation where a teacher asks a student to turn and discuss a matter briefly with a student sitting beside them, and when a student feels (and is physically able to) free to move about a classroom and interact with their peers according to their particular needs and interests. Each has its place, but they are very different... and they have vastly different spatial implications re the design of the setting. One thing I have found in some of our 'collaborative classrooms' in Engineering, is that in long, three-hour problem-based learning sessions, students regularly move about the room (which are relatively spacious) at key moments when they want to, or need to, interact with other students. This often takes them away from their immediate study group. I have observed that this process seems to occur at the point in the session when students have progressed to a stage of the task where they have something to 'exchange' with other students. The fact they can do this, and feel that it is a natural thing to do in the class, is directly related to the design and feel of the physical environment itself. Just boxing students around (even well designed) tables in tight classroom spaces for 'small-group' work may limit who students can interact with (just their immediate group) and severely restrict broader interaction amongst the entire class group. These are important matters to consider when someone utters the seemingly welcome term 'collaborative' into the conversation at the next project meeting.


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