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The Growing Use of Collaborative Classroom Spaces in Higher Education

by Andy Heaps on July 28, 2013

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Technology is Playing a Key Role in the Move to More Collaborative Spaces for Teaching and Learning

An evolving movement in education is the design of classroom spaces that offer students the opportunity to collaborate on various activities, adding more depth to their educational experience. Colleges and universities are increasingly turning away from the traditional style of lecture focused classroom set up in favor of designs which are better equipped to allow a more interactive style of teaching.

These collaborative learning spaces frequently embrace advances in educational technology. There are a number of ways that technology is being leveraged in order to maximize student interaction and collaboration.

Let’s take a look at some of these collaborative classrooms efforts in higher education.

Collaborative Classroom Presentation Pic UBTech 2013

University of Florida
Tawnya Means, Director for Teaching Learning, and Assessment at U of F, and Jason Meneely, Associate Professor in the Department of Interior Design, recently discussed their work with Collaborative Classrooms at the UB Tech 2013 conference. Their breakout session, “Extending the Active Learning Environment – From Physical to Virtual and the Spaces in Between“, is available for viewing (you need to make a free UB Tech account to view this and all of the recorded sessions).

In discussing the reasons for moving towards more collaborative learning spaces, Means and Meneely discuss the need to facilitate Active Learning Models, enabling more hands-on activities, collaboration, team based learning, etc. These spaces go hand in hand with the transition we are seeing from a ‘knowledge’ era (where what you know is pivotal) to a ‘creative’ era, where we need to know how to use the information at our disposal to work in a creative manner. Additionally, good collaborative spaces remove barriers and encourage comfort and mobility.

U of F recently designed several different collaborative classroom spaces, with tables where students can face each other, and pop-up hubs for connectivity. One of the room layouts has 4 projectors and 8 screens, which can display computers connected to the hubs. Students bring their own devices to connect (there are no computers in the classroom to start with). Teacher stands in the middle of the classroom or sit at a table, so they have to be a direct integrated part of the teaching and learning process. No room for the “sage on the stage” here!

Another learning space the University has designed is the ‘Active Learning Space’. This is a slightly simpler layout, with multiple round tables, each with hubs and monitors, and some with computers in them. This chapter from an online Learning Spaces publication from EDUCAUSE elaborates on these learning environments further.

It can take a while for teachers to get used to teaching in these types of spaces, but many adapt quickly and enjoy it so much that they prefer it to the traditional classroom layout.

Ohio State University
Earlier this year, Ohio State University’s Foreign Language Center introduces ‘The Space’ which is their own take on a digital collaborative classroom. The idea behind the bold design is that learning will be student focused. This is achieved through the use of a wide range of technology, for example, The Space uses a speaker system which allows for the viewing of HDMI not only on the main class screen, but also on smaller screens situated around the five group workstations. Students can connect their group screen with the main class board in order to share group projects with the rest of the class.

San Jose State University
The dedicated 10,000 square foot Academic Success Center at San Jose State University is taking collaborative classroom space to the next level. The classrooms in the center are set up to allow teaching staff to get creative with their teaching methods and encourage students to interact with their education.

One of the major innovations is the Incubator Classroom – a learning space which is designed for flexible learning enhanced by technology. Some of the resources available include a range of software specifically designed to allow collaboration. This includes the RealVNC Screen Sharing, Classroom Presenter which allows for 2 way communication between students and teachers using annotations and Collanos Desktop to allow shared workspaces. All of these tools allow for collaboration in their own unique way.


Hallmarks of a Successful Collaborative Space

These represent just a small selection of the ways in which collaborative classrooms are being utilized in real world situations, but they do not represent the only uses of technology in these spaces. Other things to look for in the most successful collaborative classrooms could include:

  •  Multiple electronic displays including flat screens, projectors and group monitors.
  •  Generous provision of writing surfaces including white boards, magnetic areas and pinboards.
  •  Lightweight furniture that is easily moved into different combinations.
  •  Wireless connectivity including high speed broadband.
  •  Speaker systems and video capability.
  •  Smart lighting, heating and air-con to provide comfort.

As advances in educational technology continue to march onwards we can expect more education facilities to become more proactive in creating classroom spaces that are conducive to a more modern approach to learning. Designing a collaborative classroom is particularly challenging, but the key element is versatility. Through the use of new technologies it is becoming easier to create engaging educational opportunities that will encourage students to grow, and make teaching more enjoyable and engaging.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
6 Free Online Collaborative Interactive White Boards – 2012 Update
Applications to Facilitate Synchronous Remote Classroom Participation
Preparing Students for the Global Workplace with Collaborative Online International Learning

About 

Andy Heaps has over 15 years of experience in the telecoms industry and is now the chief technical advisor and editor for www.thecomparisonsite.co.uk, where he shares his knowledge and opinions on tech related issues and offers broadband comparison advice.

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