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How To Design A Collborative Learning Environment

Is there a more necessary skill in today’s workforce than the ability to collaborate? It doesn’t appear to be so, with over 80 percent of white-collar workers claiming collaboration as a necessary part of their job.

It’s no wonder then, why educators are seeking out ways to create more collaborative classrooms. Because what better way to empower our children than by teaching them the skills they’ll need to contribute and thrive once they exit the school system and enter the workforce?

The Benefits of Collaborative Classrooms

People are a product of their environment. So naturally, if the goal is to create critically thinking, cooperative, problem-solving, and curious students, then the classroom needs to reflect and encourage these skills.

Teaching primarily through lectures limits students’ abilities to learn anything more than the curriculum. Conversely, when children are actively involved in a lesson – collaborating with other students – we see an increase in higher-level thinking.

Furthermore, research spanning over 80 years and involving 17,000 students globally found that when teachers promoted cooperative classrooms, “students felt more support and connection with their peers, had better success on academic tests and tasks, and sustained higher levels of achievement.”

While it’s clear that collaborative learning environments are beneficial to students, there is certainly extra work involved for teachers. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University agree that it takes considerably more effort on the part of teachers to plan “cooperative activities compared to traditional lecture method.” But when considering the outcome of a lesson, the extra preparation is worth it.

Layout and Furniture

In an effort to make collaborative learning possible, the way the classroom is designed needs an update.

Traditionally, up to a third of the classroom is designated as the teacher’s area, which isn’t really necessary. Instead, teacher’s can free up space for student work while promoting a more collaborative atmosphere. How? By trading the standard, fixed teacher’s desk and whiteboard for mobile teacher stations.

Smaller, moveable desks allow teachers to immerse themselves in student activities. Furthermore, the teacher is situated equally from each student, with everyone enjoying “the best seat in the class.” These ‘seats’ are also different from a normal student workspace. Walking into a collaborative classroom, people will see group desks, housing several students at a time. This contrast to the conventional rows of desks typically seen in a classroom allows kids to work and learn together.

Of course, not every situation in the class calls for group work. Just like in the workforce, collaborating doesn’t mean working in groups constantly. Rather, students may brainstorm together at the beginning of a project, delegating tasks based on skillset, and then separate to complete their individual tasks – meeting occasionally throughout the process.*

As such, the layout and furniture in a classroom must accommodate frequent transitions from group to private stations and then back again. The transitions should flow smoothly, so as to minimize wasted time and disruptions to other students.

In addition to structured work at a desk, teachers can maximize classroom space by finding unique locations for collaboration. The walls, floors, and even windows can serve as effective work surfaces. Just picture a group of students conducting a ‘team meeting’ at a window – using erasable markers to map out their brainstorming sessions on the glass.

Technology

More than just teaching young people how to work cooperatively, today’s educators are tasked with incorporating technology into the collaborative learning process. With the explosion of technological use in recent years, many educators and parents express fear that too much technology will damage students’ ability to engage with others.

However, when used effectively, technology provides new opportunities for group-focused, interactive learning. Edutopia, an online community that shares evidence and strategies for improving education, described the collaborative classroom as, “alive with action -- teaching, learning, innovating, creating, making, and exploring,” stating that “innovative learning spaces can encourage both individual and collective voices.”

The key is using a variety of technologies for different learning purposes. Thanks to educational apps, “physical spaces can…be connected to virtual spaces” – providing exciting new learning opportunities for students.  Teachers can demonstrate lessons to students that they previously couldn’t, including demonstrations of “how a cell divides, or the details of the internal organs of a medical patient.” (Concordia University)

Make The Dream A Reality

Effectively designing a collaborative classroom requires an understanding of both teaching and design methodologies. At CDI Spaces, our consultants have been working with educators for over 30 years, creating balanced spaces for teachers and students alike.

Passion for education fuels our commitment to designing spaces that allow all students to thrive. We’re confident that we can successfully transform your learning spaces into a collaborative learning environment you love. To book a meeting with a consultant, contact us today.

* Lippman, P. C. (2013, February 13). Designing Collaborative Spaces for Schools. Retrieved November 1, 2016, from https://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/02/13/Designing-Collaborative-Spaces-for-Schools.aspx?m=1&Page=1

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