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Collaborative Learning Space Opens in Lamont

collaborative learning space

Science Reference and Cartographic Librarian Reed Lowrie looks around the newly-renovated Collaborative Learning Space in Lamont Library. The space is designed to foster collaboration between small groups.

November 2, 2009 – Every aspect of the soon-to-be-opened Collaborative Learning Space - from the technology to the movable tables, chairs and white boards – is designed to foster collaboration.  Located in Room B-30 in Lamont, the space brings a new level of flexibility to library instruction and includes features unavailable in other HCL classrooms.

“This is an innovative space that librarians and students can use in many ways,” said Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian for Research, Teaching, and Learning, who initiated its creation. “It is different from other classrooms, because instead of sitting in fixed rows, people will be gathered in groups, and the movable furniture allows for endless variations. We’re trying to engage students, and this space will allow librarians to explore different ways of doing that.”

The newly renovated room was designed to allow librarians to experiment with different teaching methods, said Fliss, but will also serve as space where librarians can come together to collaborate on identifying best practices and to work in groups in collaboration with HCL’s academic partners.

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Technology is integral to the room.  It is outfitted with two built-in projectors and two screens. The dual projectors give instructors the freedom to display two images simultaneously – a librarian teaching a class on how to create a bibliography might show a course Web site on one screen, while the other might be used to demonstrate how to access related library materials and use programs like RefWorks or EndNote. Both projectors are connected to computers equipped with a wireless keyboard and mouse, giving instructors the freedom to teach from anywhere in the room and engage students with a more hands-on teaching style.

The room is also outfitted with ten laptops for classroom use, a DVD player and VCR, a document camera which can be used to project everything from hand-written materials to three-dimensional objects, and a wireless control system which can be used to remotely operate all the various systems.

A feature anticipated to be popular with students doing group projects is TeamSpot, a software application that allows users to view, edit and annotate documents, presentations and web pages as a group, and even record which person made which changes, said Kate Vale, Director of Academic Technology from FAS IT. The software runs on a computer outfitted with a 46-inch plasma display, eliminating the need for students to huddle around a single laptop.  It is located in a corner of the room with its own work table and soft seating.

The room’s most important feature for collaboration, however, may be its most low-tech. In addition to rolling chairs, the space is outfitted with rolling, teardrop-shaped tables and chairs, all of which can be easily moved, making it easy for librarians and student to rearrange the furniture in any way they see fit.  Movable white boards allow users to create physical separations for small groups.

  collaborative learning space

Science Reference and Cartographic Librarian Reed Lowrie examines some of the new room's technology. The room is equipped with a wide array of technology to facilitate collaborative work.

Before librarians can begin hosting classes in the new space, however, they will have to be trained to use the new technology. Training sessions will be led by Julia Starkey, Senior IT Liaison and Instructional Technology Support at Lamont Library. In addition to leading training sessions for staff, Starkey is working with Paul Worster, Multimedia Librarian at Lamont Library and Ramona Islam, E-Learning and Curricular Design Librarian in Research, Teaching and Learning Services to create a series of training videos about using the new learning space.

“This new space will offer a lot of flexibility for staff as they explore new ways to instruct and work with their colleagues,” Starkey said. “As they develop new and effective ways of using the room’s technology, we may produce additional videos to share those techniques with all of HCL.”

Librarians seeking to reserve the Collaborative Learning Space for a class can do so via the Booking Instructional Space in Lamont section of the HCL staff web site.  When not being used for library instruction, the room will be open for students seeking group study space.  They can check availability on the Collaborative Learning Space Calendar on the HCL public site. 

“Whenever we survey students, they tell us they want more group-study space,” said Reed Lowrie, Science Reference and Cartographic Librarian at Cabot Library and chair of the Teaching Spaces Implementation Team, which helped design the new space. “At Cabot, there are six or seven group study rooms, and they’re heavily used. In some ways, this is an experiment - we want to see how students move the furniture, and what technology they use. Early next year, the Teaching Spaces Implementation Team will meet to begin work on ways to assess how the space is used.”  Other team members include: Jeff Bernhard, Sue Gilroy, Cheryl LaGuardia, Marty Schreiner, and Julia Starkey. 

Work on creating a collaborative space began more than a year ago, with the formation of the Teaching Spaces Working Group in early 2008. Headed by Gilroy and then-Librarian of Lamont Heather Cole, and consisting of research librarians Barbara Burg, Schreiner, Lowrie, and Director of HCL ITS Deb Morley, the group spent months gathering data on what library users and staff wanted the new space to include and outlining best practices based on similar renovation projects. Group members also visited several other institutions, including Northeastern, MIT and Yale, and explored similar classroom spaces at other Harvard locations.

Although the design of the room was scaled down due to the challenging fiscal climate. “all the essential elements are there,” Fliss said.

The Collaborative Learning Space opens on Tuesday, November 3.