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This article tracks the changes made in the physical and material environment of a computer lab on the Utah State University campus over a span of 15 years. It argues that three major factors increase the success of student collaboration: formality, presence, and confidentiality. In order for the space to be effectively utilized, students need to have control over the level of formality employed in their interactions (i.e. the conventions of behavior that guide personal interaction and personal space — so, they need to be able to not have to touch each other or crowd around a screen to get work done). They also need a sense of presence: like in any group work, students want to know that people are contributing more or less equally to the project, so they need to be able to easily see and converse with one another both on and offline. Finally, groups want confidentiality, or the ability to control when to share or keep one’s work private. Using these concepts, the authors developed a laptop-based computer lab on campus that attempted to maximize student control over their formality and confidentiality while increasing the sense of presence. They successfully increased student collaboration and autonomy in the space.
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This article reminds me of the work that David Sheridan does on learning ecologies where he thinks about the connections between “official” and “unofficial” classroom spaces and what kinds of physical configurations result in the best kinds of collaboration. This article diverges a bit from that one in its focus on customizability: students should be able to work alone, to collaborate with a group, and to have both of those options available at the same time. This article doesn’t explicitly mention accessibility, but I think it would be interesting to read these conclusions about formality, presence, and confidentiality through a disability studies lens, too. I think it’s also interesting — and very important — to note that students had to be trained to know that they were allowed to move the furniture (I’d imagine that we’d want to think about this for faculty, too, who might not be actively thinking about possible configurations and the effects that they potentially produce). This makes me want to investigate more about queer landscaping, Universal Design, and whether there’s research about the kinds of furniture configurations that are possible for different kinds of effects.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 I think it’s ALSO really important to note — especially in light of the justified outrage over tuition hikes that the article mentions — that students in this study actually protested the redesign of this lab because they didn’t know that the money came from an external grant and not from a tuition increase. I don’t know how, or whether, to signal this information to students whose spaces we redesign, but I do think it’s actually a really important part of the conversation of space redesign and something that makes people feel less anxious about using new spaces.
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“Instructors of writing have long realized that student interaction is affected by the physical
space of a room just as much as it is influenced by the presence of a teacher or the technology.
The unfortunate consequence of this realization is that the physical space is an aspect of the
classroom that teachers often have little control over” (140).
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“Our open-access computer lab was designed in a way that reinforced many students’
perceptions that writing is an isolated, solitary event. The lab used individual desktop
writing stations and discouraged talking through signage and lab consultants’ policing. Most
students would work hunched over their computers in uncomfortable chairs, speak to no one,
and make as little noise as possible. Even lab consultants—student workers paid to interact with
and help users of the lab—were themselves role models of isolation: They separated
themselves through the use of headphones, mobile phones, and an isolated computer station”
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“Our major findings tend to support our theory that giving students the ability to create and adapt
their technological spaces will help them work in collaborative ways in a typical classroom
writing scenario” (152).
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“Although the Suite Lab is designed with mobility in mind, participants did not use the mobile
aspects of most furniture. Based on comments from posttest surveys, users were unaware they
were allowed to reconfigure furniture in the room to aid their group collaboration” (160).
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Howard, Rebecca M. (2001). Collaborative pedagogy. In Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper, & Kurt Schick (Eds.), A guide to composition pedagogies (pp. 54–70). New York: Oxford University Press.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Mirtz, Ruth. (2004). The inertia of classroom furniture: Unsituating the classroom. In Ed Nagelhout & Carol Rutz (Eds.), Classroom spaces and writing instruction (pp. 13–28). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Nagelhout, Ed, & Blalock, Glenn. (2004). Spaces for the activity of writing instruction. In Ed Nagelhout & Carol Rutz (Eds.), Classroom spaces and writing instruction (pp. 133–151). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Thomas, Gordon. (1993). Students, teachers, computers, and architects: Designing an open computer writing laboratory. In Linda Myers (Ed.), Approaches to computer writing classrooms: Learning from practical experience (pp. 181–198). New York: SUNY Press.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Zoetewey, Meredith. (2004). Disrupting the computer lab(oratory): Names, metaphors, and the wireless writing classroom. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 9 (1). Retrieved January 25, 2009, from ‹http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/9.1/binder2.html?coverweb/zoetewey/index.html›