An EdTech Space Collaboration Conundrum

The mixed-use productivity / social space that we need.

January 6, 2015
We have an edtech space problem. Our work, if you work at the intersection of learning and technology, increasingly resembles that of a tech startup. The spaces that we work are, however, unlikely to have been designed around how we work today. Edtech work patterns and edtech work rhythms have left our legacy office designs behind.
This is a different problem than our open office problem. Edtech folks love to debate open offices. How many people sent you the link for the 12/30 Washington Post article Google Got It Wrong. The Open-Office Trend is Destroying the Workplace. 
What I’m talking about is an edtech space problem even when folks have private (or shared) offices. This is an edtech collaboration space challenge.
What EdTech Needs:
  • Inviting mixed-use productivity and social spaces. 
  • Places where we can go to work on our laptops while leaving ourselves open to conversation and collaboration. 
  • Places that are can fluidly and comfortably flex between completing solo work and engaging in impromptu conversations.  
  • Places where colleagues from around the institution want to come visit, hang out, and work. Gather magnets.
  • Areas that are rich with white boards and places to tack up note cards.
  • Furniture that is as conducive to drinking coffee and eating a snack as it is to working on a laptop or a tablet.
  • A mix of spaces that encourage a few people to sit together and talk with space that is more attractive to solo work.
  • Enough space that visitors can feel fairly assured of finding a place to park and work and chat, but not too big that the space always feels empty.
  • Quiet, private space where we can close the door if we need to engage concentrated work, participate in a phone call or webinar, or an ad hoc small meeting.
  • Larger conference or meeting space with good windows and a door that can close.
What EdTech (Usually) Has:
  • A physical department and office layout that matches organizational charts but not today’s edtech work patterns.
  • Offices and shared office space that is sometimes adequate for the edtech units, but that is rarely robust enough to encourage other campus colleagues to hang out and get some work done.  
  • A lack of professional academic mixed-use social and productivity spaces.
  • The absence of an area where edtech teams and colleagues (such as faculty and librarians) are drawn to hang out, work, and talk.
  • A general lack of private space for concentrated work, private meetings, or phone / web meetings.
  • A shortage of mixed-use work / social space where random conversations around the intersection of learning and technology are likely to occur.
  • Too little white board and other collaborative work surfaces.
In our higher ed world the challenges of edtech office and collaboration space seem particularly intractable. Funding for collaborative work and study space is directed, quite appropriately, at students.  
Academic libraries are amazing centers of architectural innovation around social and collaborative study spaces.  These spaces, however, are reserved (again quite rightly) for the students.   There is little appetite to invest significant resources in creating creative mixed-use productivity and social spaces for staff.  Perhaps this will start to shift as collaboration between faculty and staff increases around blended learning, flipped classes, and online courses.  Institutions may be willing to invest in joint faculty/staff collaborative work spaces.
What are some ideas for solving our edtech space conundrum?  
How has your institution thought about the space that your creative learning technology professionals are working?
What strategies do you employ to overcome physical space constraints as you seek to encourage collaboration and information sharing?


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