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High Performance Collaborative Learning Spaces

Today’s BYOD educational settings challenge teachers to blend in-class and online environments to create exceptional learning experiences. Key design principles drive success to help motivate students, improve retention and enhance learning.

The Multi-Faceted Design of Learning Environments

"Teaching is the purposeful structuring of experiences from which students cannot escape without learning."

Dr. John Cowan
Director Emeritus of Open University (Scotland)

Modern educational experiences combine an in-class, physical component and digitally mediated interactions that take place in a “virtual” world. Often we think of these two realms as distinct and separable, but in reality anytime students are working online they are doing so from a physical context. Although the GUI design remains the same for these virtual spaces, the context in which students experience those cloud-based environment varies depending on the nature of the physical space from which they are accessing it.

Consider, for example, students working together on a document in a Google Drive environment. The experience of 3 students working on this document together from their separate homes is different than if they were working together in a single room using a large flat-panel monitor to display their work as they discussed changes, reacted to each other’s non-verbal communication cues, and gestured to elements of the content. The experience would be different still if these three students were discussing their changes in the midst of a 30-student class where a teacher and other students were observing the discussion and interjecting at certain points.

The physical setting for an online educational experience thus impacts what we often perceive as an unchanging virtual environment, and it becomes important to consider the physical design of technology-enabled classrooms beyond just the form factor of the BYOD devices that students bring to them.

Multi-Dimensional Learning Outcomes

Students' schemas for "taking a class" and "going to class" have permanently changed and will continue to change. They expect online access to high-quality learning content and to be engaged in active learning during class, not passive listening. Positive learning experiences will be those that achieve goals in both motivating students and encouraging deeper learning. 

Motivating Student Learning
The way in which students learn is a critical factor in motivating them to pursue their learning to a mastery level. Raised in a world of interactive technologies, today’s students get energized when they are able to actively share ideas and work collaboratively together using technologies that allow them to share ideas freely. A properly balanced design will encourage the kind of interaction where digital content augments face-to-face interactions.

Encouraging Critical Thinking 
Students develop problem solving and other higher-order skills through interactions with faculty, course content, and each other. To support such learning, students need to be actively engaged in course activities using technologies that help all students to participate. Open-ended assignments in which students draw from current events, publicly-available databases, or digital archives to answer questions encourage critical analysis and require students to justify their answers with evidence-based arguments.

Key Design Requirements

The design of technology-enabled classrooms involves consideration of learning goals, pedagogical plans, technological capabilities and the physical affordances of both technology systems and the learning space. Together these dimensions should reinforce three important principles to provide a high-quality learning experience.

Full-Access Participation
Successful collaboration requires that every person involved feels that they can contribute meaningfully to the activity. From a technology standpoint, this means that anyone in a class or small group, at any time in the course of what is often a dynamic discussion, needs to be able to easily share anything with the rest of the group using any device they may have brought with them. Fully participative experiences ensure that all students contribute and remove excuses for students who might otherwise shy away from making their voices heard.

“I saw collaboration as I’ve never seen it. I’ve always done some level of collaboration, but I’ve never received the work product from groups that I’ve gotten from the collaborative groups [who used ClassSpot PBL™.] It’s not a little bit more, it’s a lot more. And it’s not just a lot more, it’s a lot better. They take everything further, and the quality of the work that they’re going to send to me as a document … is far, far superior.”

Prof. Yvonne Ekern, J.D.
Santa Clara University Law School

Fluid “Room-scale” Interfaces
Research studies have shown that individuals working in collaborative groups focus on a particular idea for only 6.4 seconds on average. This means that technology interfaces need to be so transparent that it takes only a second or two to accomplish a particular task; otherwise, the technology will interrupt the flow of ideas. 

Most technology-equipped classrooms contain multiple device interfaces – display controls, interactive whiteboards, instructor laptops, student devices, etc. – as well as a rich collection of physical affordances. New advances in all digital content distribution and software-based interaction solutions are creating new opportunities for creating cohesive interfaces that span multiple technologies, systems, and users. These interfaces do more than merely eliminate cabling needs to present slides wirelessly; they create entirely new ways for students and teachers to share and manipulate content in truly collaborative ways.

A Phased Progression of Experiences that Teach Best Practices 
Students who have grown up with technology access don’t necessarily know how to best use those technologies in collaborative settings. Too often a team project is dissected into multiple parts that team members complete individually rather than as a true group, and in such cases the opportunity for collaborative peer-to-peer learning is diminished.

Technology-enabled spaces should deliver a progressively advanced series of learning experiences through which faculty can model effective collaborative strategies in class and help students ultimately apply effective collaboration skills outside of the classroom. To support this, the student experience might be designed to progress through multiple stages. (In each of the above contexts, the students are able to access “virtual” learning environments that exist in the cloud.)

Stage 1: Active learning in standard classrooms
Any of the many “standard” classrooms on campus can be easily upgraded to allow students to more fully participate in class.  Students learn to be active contributors and to think critically about material presented to them rather than just passively observing one person’s presentation. They change from being an audience for one presenter to being an engaged group that exchanges ideas.

Stage 2:  Team-based learning in specialized classrooms
Team-based learning classrooms – sometimes given the label SCALE-UP, PBL, or Active-Learning-Studios – extend the idea of active learning, giving students practice working together in groups with faculty guidance. A class can easily shift between teaching and teaming as the students huddle in groups and the teacher roams the room to coach students on project work.

Stage 3:  Project spaces for team collaboration
Once students have had an opportunity to learn and practice advanced collaboration techniques under faculty guidance, they will be ready to apply these skills on project work they complete outside the classroom. As they work together in small study rooms or other informal group huddle spaces, they will get more out of their group work experience as they learn the course material and practice their digital literacy skills in collaborative contexts.

Keys to Sustainable Deployments

What if you could easily and effectively transform teaching practices in all your campus classrooms to help motivate students, improve retention and enhance learning? As with any deployment decision, it is important to look beyond short-term needs and consider factors that will result in long-term success.

Invest in Scalable Solutions
Transforming learning on a campus requires more than just a handful of advanced-capability showcase classrooms. Forward-looking institutions need solutions that  put appropriate technologies in every classroom, and yet can be  cost-effectively supported at  that scale. Selecting both the right technology and the right support model is crucial in any proposed solution. Software solutions emerging in the marketplace provide significant cost and time savings, deliver flexible, easily upgradeable capabilities, and simplify support. 

Ensure Faculty Success
Just as students need to see models of best practices for collaborative learning, faculty need help in  planning how to best use new technologies effectively. The way in which this support is delivered will largely determine the success or failure of  transformation initiatives. Well-planned, professional development programs aimed to reinforce strategic learning goals with practical applications of technology are a critical consideration for schools that want to make the most of their investments in technology and facilities.

“[Tidebreak] has changed the way our faculty members teach, improved the way that our students learn, and opened us up to a world of possibilities since it’s so easy to use and cost-effective.”

Dr. Ken Graetz
Director, Teaching, Learning, and Technology Services
Winona State University

Samsung and Tidebreak are working together to create learning space solutions that help students perform to their full potential in collaborative settings. Through our collaboration together and with other partners, we are addressing the design considerations outlined above and helping schools and higher education institutions to create exceptional learning experiences for their students. Learn more about our work and our solutions at and