Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Observations from an Open, Connected, and Evolving Learning Environment: The Improvisational, Risk-Taking, and Risky Culture of Openness, Evolution, and Connection Most Define Design Lab 1 and Its Ability to Support Effective, Authentic Learning and Engagement

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Observations from an Open, Connected, and Evolving Learning Environment: The Improvisational, Risk-Taking, and Risky Culture of Openness, Evolution, and Connection Most Define Design Lab 1 and Its Ability to Support Effective, Authentic Learning and Engagement

Article excerpt

A ROOM WITH NO NAME

IN 1999, A ROOM NAMED "THIS ROOM HAS NO NAME" opened its doors in the heart of the Media Union, a grand new facility for the University of Michigan's colleges of Art, Architecture, Engineering, and Music. A small group of students and faculty members from each college had worked together for months to decide on the initial contents of the room. With the goal of attracting peers who would work across disciplines and outside the prescribed curricula, they requested empty space, sketching tools (digital and analog) (1), "converging technology" (unsanctioned, edgy tools of interest to emerging groups), and, most importantly, student employees whose interests would drive new investments and whose regular presence would foster both academic and social connections among new participants. Gradually, the room developed into a multifaceted learning environment with a distinctive cultural character representative of its members.

Today this room, now known as "Design Lab 1" (DL1) (2), is thriving. A recent mixed-method descriptive study of the environment suggests that DL1 offers unique advantages and opportunities and that users highly value the cultural, physical, technological, and programmatic features that allow them to feel comfortable, connected, productive, and free to initiate change in the space. Informed by DL1 practice and research, the University Library's Digital Media Commons (DMC), of which DL1 is a part, is beginning to introduce the Design Lab learning environment model in companion locations. These will not be generic learning spaces; DMC Design Labs will each have a unique character, reflecting the different ambient (and emerging) academic interests and cultures--as expressed through use--of the cross-disciplinary "anchor" groups in each location.

As interest grows in learning environments that support connected learning (3), we believe it is valuable to describe DL1 as viewed from our data, highlighting elements of this model that appear fundamental to the user experience. In the core of this article we present a "show and tell" of data and narration (primarily using time-lapse video and respondent quotations, but also researcher observations and summary survey data) to create a window into course-focused DL1 activities. Through this we hope to communicate something of the complex, interrelated structures observed there that enable users to truly engage and DL1 to come to life.

INTRODUCTORY MONTAGE

First, video 1 presents a brief montage of motifs in time-lapse video (4) in order to provide an introduction to DLl in use and to begin to illustrate the ways in which users continuously adapt the space to meet their needs.

RESEARCH PROCESS OVERVIEW

The DL1 research reported here was conducted under a project initiated and funded by the University of Michigan Library to develop an evidence-based, descriptive understanding of both the DL1 as it is today and the historical GROCS (5) program. Two teams of U-M graduate student researchers and one faculty-level independent researcher, led by the assistant director of the library's USE Lab (6) conducted data gathering and initial analysis activities throughout 2012. While DL1 and GROCS teams were administratively linked and provided mutual support in periodic joint research meetings, data gathering and other activities were separate. (7)

DL1 data were collected from February 2012 through the end of December 2012, spanning two full terms of course use (winter and fall terms) and one summer (a less active time without scheduled courses).

Research activities began with gathering and review of DL1-related historical materials and ethnographic observations in the space (observers were immersed and visibly present in the space, creating written observation notes and even participating in some ways). These observations, primarily conducted by the independent researcher, continued throughout the yearlong study period. …

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