9 ways to support collaboration in higher ed

Past literature on user experience, the language of place and space, the role of mobility and technology, the value of community building, and the effect of ambient noise provided clear connections between the effect of physical space and student behavior for the research team, of which was used to connect the dots.

However, what made this study unique was its empathetic approach to planning these spatial designs to encourage student interaction.

“It really is about being in the moment as opposed to being reflective, [and] making sure that you can get data right from the person at the moment that they are experiencing it. The experience is the most important part to understand […] the moment and how they are responding,” Whitmer said.

Through its use of a digital ethnography tool in combination with traditional research tactics to record student activities and behavior that influence experience, the study was able to develop nine key design recommendations for institutions.:

1. “Initiate the new different”— build spaces that promote activities to build new relationships. This recommendation is centered on the idea of enabling students to take part in unexpected activities that may provide opportunities for new interactions at whatever given time. Such instances include, but are not limited to, unexpected encounters with peers, faculty, and artifacts within the given building.

2. “Create anchor points that serve as hubs”— Such design focuses on creating points of greater visibility of people and space to provide students with a higher level of transparency with regards to what is occurring around them, where they can go to meet new people and greater spatial legibility for new users of the given building.

3. “Build in recess”— The study found that most first-year students spend a good amount of time studying, thus preventing them from fellow student interaction. In order to promote a better information retention rate, as well as positive student interaction, this design concept takes into consideration the idea of taking study breaks. This model looks at building an area where students are promoted to take breaks without having to leave the building. It is concentrated on accepting the notion of recess and providing students with spaces where they can go, without a specific reason, that offers a release from collegiate pressures.

4. “Allow for multiple proximity setting by the user” Given university spaces are all communal grounds for students, this design looks at building spaces that place control of the items and tools that come with the space. It acknowledges that “no two users occupy a space in the same way,” and thus aims at providing students with feeling of comfort, ownership and security in the space of choice.

(Next page: Recommendation 5-9)