Learning Spaces Redux

Rising like a bullet up the record charts of Instructional Technology Issues this year is Learning Space Design, with a lot of good stuff coming out of the EDUCAUSE ELI initiative and the July/September 2005 issue of EDUCAUSE Review.

It’s timely here at Maricopa, having last year passed a very large bond election for major construction at our 10 colleges, which was a factor in our having hosted our own Ocotillo Learning Spaces Day here recently, September 16. It is the challenge of creating physical structures that may last 30 years, when the activities, tools, that are used within have a much shorter frequency of change. Will we build buildings like we did in the 1990s?

On September 16, we had about 120 folks from teams sent by our 10 colleges have a full day’s worth of focus on the topic. It was very well received, appreciated.

Sp part of the “redux” is providing a link to another blog posting of the “post game recap” of the day’s events. We managed to capture a lot of the info, linked from the agenda, including:

  • Copies of presenters PowerPoints (though we had to shave the images from Phil Long’s 86 Mb Powerpoint to the 3 Mb of word slides). Lesson forgotten- always have a USB thumb drive on hand to grab these before they leave
  • Audio recordings from 3 of the primary sessions, which we have linked as MP3s. We’re expanding this to a number of our project sites using MovableType as a simple publisher to create podcast Feeds and a library of summary content files, so there is a collection of Ocotillo Podcasts available
  • Notes from the 4 afternoon breakout sessions recorded directly into a wiki
  • Photos of the day’s activities including the classrooms converted to “Learning Studios”.

I did feel like the morning half was much to heavy on presentation; at least two presenters even noted that the type of future learning spaces needed to provide environments for the collaborative hands on work they saw taking place, yet pinpointing the present irony of their presentation being a lecture mode. Will that ever change?

Our time for the hands on exploration of the Learning Space photos got squeezed, which was too bad as the room came much more alive when the door was opened to exploration rather than listening to a presentation. I was pleased/relieved that the quickly constructed system we programmed actually worked, a “mini” flickr, where reps from the colleges could upload, annotate photos of their learning spaces, which could then be viewed within a fixed set of categories and/or filtered by college site. We ended up with 260 photos there, pretty good, although 3 colleges never got around to it so their photos were limited to the meager set we had on hand. And although we set it up for appending comments, there was not a whole lot of commenting happening.

The other side of the “redux” is that we stirred up interest in this way back in 2001, when as part of the efforts of ramping up to our bond election was a series of technology visioning forums meant to instigate some creative thinking about the future. One of our best sessions was with architect Phillip Parsons on Designing the Hybrid Campus because he challenged our ideas, even analyzing photos of our own colleges he took during a visit. He wrote a summary paper, where under “Next Steps” he suggested:

Any successful development of hybrid learning will require significant development effort at the curricular level, as well as major administrative effort. The first step must be to test in broad terms the hypothesis that hybrid learning will lead to better learning at lower cost. This means looking at how space is currently used, and hypothesizing, in a broad-brush conceptual fashion, how facilities growth in the future might be managed more effectively if a hybrid approach to learning were to evolve. It also means imagining, with the help of faculty at the various colleges, some scenarios in which particular parts of the curriculum might be adapted more completely to the hybrid approach, and thinking through the different building and campus characteristics that such courses would suggest. Ideally, pilot projects will be funded and publicized.

While this work must be highly collaborative, and needs inventiveness and flexibility as well as careful attention to data analysis, it also requires shepherding, or leadership, at a system-wide level. A rich and effective approach to furthering the concept of hybrid learning at Maricopa must draw on and encourage the distinct strengths of each of the colleges, while looking for opportunities for interwoven and mutually supportive development. Ideas and experiences, and even resources, must be shared.

It seems to me that we really did not follow these suggestions, and pretty much have gone down the well trodden path of “business as usual”. At the Sept 16 sessions, I heard a repeated theme I heard as groups came into some of the redisgned learning spaces set up for the event:


Participants were intrigued and enjoyed looking at the flexible configuration, but quite honestly and openly wondered how they could propose these setups in rooms for maybe 24 students when the system pressures classrooms to fill perhaps 30, 35 per class. So while we have carefully crafted and hone vision and mission statements, what comes out is the suggestion there is an unsaid mission that actually drives most things here- we aim to serve as many students as possible, because everything here, funding, resources, is driven be enrollment numbers. No one will claim this is our mission, but it is borne out by the actions.

Lastly, the frustration with having an event, even one that goes well like this, is that it is a one-shot deal. We are asking up and down the organizational ladder- who will champion this? who will lead? who will participate? We can not address the complexity of Learning Space Design with a single event.

Stay tuned. I hope there is something else to say.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.