Today we welcome to the Mosaic Blog, Kelly Hanson who is a Lecturer in the Communication Skills Department of the Kelley School of Business. Recently, Kelly participated in our first Annual Mosaic Design Symposium. Along with Mosaic Fellows from many of Indiana University’s seven campuses, Kelly engaged in a day of workshops and conversation about the future designs of Indiana University’s learning spaces. Below, Kelly, shares her experiences with her “small classroom” design group.
What would our college classrooms look like if we had no limits? What if funding was not a concern; if space was readily available; if advanced technologies were easy to procure and simple to use?
In June, the Mosaic Design Symposium posed these questions to Mosaic’s Faculty Fellows. We spent a day brainstorming, designing, and imagining our ideal classroom space. Moveable furniture? Sure. Green building materials? Check. Computers and screens that students can use? Add it in.
The beauty of this exercise was that we did not limit ourselves to the practical. Instead of starting with what classrooms are, we asked instead: what can the classroom be? Armed only with our imaginations and some whiteboard markers, we set off to design our dream classroom.
Our small group consisted of four intrepid instructors from disparate IU campuses: Bloomington, Kokomo, Columbus, and Indianapolis. We all teach in different fields, and our courses have divergent goals.
We began by looking at images of some models of active learning classrooms and sharing our own experiences. We liked mobility. Windows were a must. We needed storage space for tools to engage students—portable white boards, tablets, and writing materials. We needed screens to project PowerPoints and student work.
And then, we started to think outside of the limits of our own experiences. What about the physical space of the building itself? What about the area immediately outside our classrooms? Study rooms would be helpful. Green energy and environmentally friendly architecture would be cool. A nearby coffee station would be nice. And wouldn’t it be neat if students in fields like engineering, urban planning, and architecture could use the building itself as a learning tool? And so, we began to dream.
Inspired by “tiny houses,” we created a pipedream project: an energy efficient house containing 2 active-learning classrooms, 1 large study lounge, 6 small breakout study rooms, and a small coffee bar. The classroom itself held exciting possibilities: floor-to-ceiling white boards to allow students to write and share, moveable desks to make group projects easier, huddle boards that allow groups to write and share their work were just a few of our amenities.
Our dream classrooms draw on familiar technology in new ways, creating active learning classrooms that engage students in the learning process. Similar to IU’s other Mosaic Classrooms, they open up the possibilities for classroom engagement, using Solstice to allow students to project their computer screens to the shared classroom screens and offering white boards for students to write on and share with the class
But our tiny house departs pretty radically from the conventions of classroom and building design seen across IU’s campuses. We were most excited by the possibilities afforded by our “in-between” spaces that surround the classroom: students walk out of class and into a study area where they can work, collaborate, and converse. Small study rooms allow for convenient group meetings or conversations with the teacher. And then there’s the coffee bar: our dream coffee bar offers cold brew coffee on tap and students simply scan their IDs to purchase.
I’d wager that to the casual observer, this all seems a bit over the top: an entire small building is a luxurious use of precious campus space, green building can be expensive, and the technology to make our coffee bar feasible is still in its infancy, only recently rolled out by companies like Amazon or Whole Foods.
I’ll grant you that it makes the budget-oriented part of my brain spin. But I still have to ask: why not? If we want our students to learn new ideas, chart new courses, and create a new world when they leave our classrooms, shouldn’t we also think outside the box about where that learning happens in the first place.
“Thinking outside the box” isn’t just a metaphor here. Our tiny house classroom rests on the belief that a classroom doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the space around a room is just as important to learning as the room itself. If we design our classrooms to optimize student learning and collaboration, we can also create public spaces that extend the work of the classroom.
Our tiny house, like the Mosaic Initiative itself, dreams big, inviting us to rethink what a learning space looks like and where learning happens.
In October, the Fellows will be presenting their designs to the Architect’s office to engage with these ideas further. Our next Annual Design Symposium, will occur in late Spring 2019 and will be open to all Indiana University instructors. Let us know if you wish to join us!! Keep up with all the Mosaic Initiative is doing by following us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and of course, by subscribing to our blogs here.