C O LLABORAT I O N
Cutting- edge learning spaces are designed with flexibility and collaboration in mind,
right down to the modular tables and chairs.
This is the first article in a six- part series on the elements
of a collaborative classroom: furniture, social media, video/
web conferencing tools, collaborative software, interactive
devices, and mobile devices.
WITH MOST UNIVERSITIES facing tight
budgets, convincing administrators to invest in expensive
new classrooms is a challenge. When Monika Dressler
makes the case for the University of Michigan to update
its classroom furniture to foster more active learning, she
realizes “ it is a lot less sexy than technology like iPads.
When you say furniture, eyes glaze over.”
But Dressler, senior manager of instructional support services
for Literature, Science, and Arts, insists change is
necessary. UM has classrooms that are 45 years old. “ What
does it say to our prospective students when they come to
campus and see 1970s classrooms?” asks Dressler.
Like many higher education officials involved in space planning,
Dressler is increasingly focused on how classroom
setups can enhance collaboration. “ We are taking a holistic
approach to get the right equipment and support for the right
teacher in the right room,” she says. “ We want
to shift the way we think so that these are no
longer just facilities- or IT- driven decisions.”
University staff members and faculty are
particularly interested in modular furniture that
can be reconfigured quickly for different group
sizes and activities. Many UM faculty members
have been trying to lead active- learning
classes for years, but are constrained by
classrooms in which the chairs have tablet
arms and are nailed to the floor, all facing
front. “ They do it in spite of the classroom, but
it tends to stifle innovation,” says Dressler.
“ They don’t get the feeling they can try new
things and take it to the next level in terms of
Classroom- Design Research
Could new, more interactive pedagogy encourage universities
to replace outdated furniture? Or could the introduction
of technology- rich classroom designs and modular furniture
have an impact on how instructors engage their students?
Instructional technology and space- planning experts have
been pondering these questions for years, but research suggests
that the classroom setup does indeed have an effect
on instructors’ habits — as well as on student participation
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | November 2012 27
Courtesy of Steelcase
Classroom Furniture: The Mod Squad
VIDEO: Produced by the University of Michigan and Steelcase, this case
study features several of the school’s new learning spaces, including flexible
seating arrangements and high- tech collaborative worktables.
Bookmark & Share