Discovery and Collaboration Space, Stonehill College

Building a DisCo: Active learning in a library discovery and collaboration space, MacPháidín Library

  • Elizabeth Chase, MLIS, PhD
  • Cheryl McGrath, MFA, MLIS,
  • Patricia McPherson, MLS, MEd

The MacPháidín Library provides instruction for the Stonehill College community in its classroom, located on the first floor of the Library in Room 116. Named the Brian J. Flynn Discovery and Collaboration Space, and dubbed the DisCo, the room is used by librarians for teaching Information Fluency, by faculty as a collaboratory for single classes, and by students to study, collaborate on projects, and relax. The renovated classroom serves as a highly interactive space utilizing advanced technology and innovative learning space design to maximize student learning outcomes.

Stonehill College

We intend for this space to be a state-of-the-art instruction and study space for students and faculty that supports a 21st century research, teaching and learning community.

We created a Guide to the Flynn DisCo and an extensive website so that others could learn from our process and decisions, including the original grant application, details for all furniture and technology including vendors, and links to teaching templates to help faculty understand how information instruction has evolved.

Stonehill College

MacPháidín Library opened in 1998, and the teaching classroom was filled with 25 computers in state of the art cabinets that housed recessed monitors and featured a desk that could retract to reveal the keyboard.

The room was used for traditional front-centered bibliographic instruction and for individual use as a computer lab when library instruction classes were not in session.  Faculty also used the classroom at times when they needed students to each have access to a computer for a one-time class session.

What amazes us most about the renovation is that we went from seating for 25 in a continuous space to seating for 48 across three different spaces:

  • Seating for 30 in the central teaching corridor, that includes the technology and moveable furniture
  • Seating for 6, 3 at each wing of the building, which includes bar height, quick check touch screen terminals
  • Seating for 12, 6 at each alcove, where we have living room style couches, chairs, coffee tables, and laptop stands

To have gone from seating 25 in a single continuous space to seating 48 across three distinct spaces, without adding any square feet to the room, is the epitome of excellent design.  In fact, this project added walls/wings to create the comfy seating nooks and hold the TVs.

Stonehill College

In 2012, the Faculty Learning Spaces Committee (Stacy Grooters, Richard Gariepy, Sarah Gracombe, Mitch Glavin, Bob Dugan, Heather Perry, Norah Esty, and Cheryl McGrath) began a reading group  to discuss developing learning spaces on campus.  The group travelled to UMass Amherst for a workshop, and early on identified the MacPhaidin Library classroom as an excellent candidate for a sandbox renovation. Teaching librarians were invited to participate in a focus group for the faculty to learn their needs.  The final product of the Faculty Learning Space group was a requirements list for the new space, from the faculty perspective.

Once the library classroom was selected, the librarians began a process of discussing their own and their students needs in a renovated classroom/computer lab/study space.  A group of reference librarians visited Harvard University’s Lamont Library B30, a collaborative learning space and the Larsen Room, with mediascape modules.  Library staff also worked with students and faculty, conducting individual interviews to gather information about how the spaces was currently perceived, preferred changes and uses, and any other feedback on space.   Using methods articulated in Studying Students, librarians had students draw ideal spaces, list activities taking place in the space, and provide any feedback they thought relevant.  One unusual result of this process was the number of students who volunteered that they wished the room to be blue in color.  Research shows that blue enhances creativity, so our Stonehill students were on the right track!

Stonehill College

Once we had feedback from librarians, faculty, and students, we turned to the architecture firm of Spagnolo, Gisness & Associates where Jacob Higginbottom created a rendering that perfectly articulated what we were looking for in the new space.

PDF rendering of design is available here.

Since the grant award from Alden fell short of our original budget, we chose to move forward with Stonehill’s manager of Space Planning and Design, Susan Viera. Susan translated the original renderings into a plan that kept all of the elements of Jacob’s design that enhanced the space:

“The floor plan lays out very well with the removal of the closets and introduction of this concept of “wings” to serve transient uses such as stand up stations and “cozy” informal soft seating work areas.   The idea is to allow for the most flexible concepts of progressive interactive teaching methods and student work environments.”  Higginbottom, Jacob.  email, 16 May 2013.

Stonehill College

The Flynn DisCo was designed to support today’s technology. The room includes 30 HP ElitePad 1000 tablets, 4 42-inch HDTVs, wireless access, 2 projectors and 6 desktop computers.

We are committed to making the DisCo an accessible space. As part of the room’s renovation, we have added ADA and accessibility features, including:

  • An adjustible height, mobile instructor’s podium.
  • A “pod” of tables with adjustable height legs for group study.
  • A motorized adjustable height table in the stationary desktop area
  • A Crestron Control Panel placed at a lower height for greater accessibility
  • Mobile furniture that allows for a flexible floor plan
  • Connectivity for personal devices, enabling those with devices that have assistive technology to connect to the projectors and HD TVs in the DisCo, using the Crestron Air Media app.

Stonehill College

Hewlett Packard ElitePad 1000 Tablets

  • HP ElitePad Productivity Jacket 40
  • Operating system – Windows 8.1 64-bit
  • Processor – Intel® AtomTM Z3795 Quad-Core Processor (1.6 GHz up to 2.39GHz, 2 MB L2 Cache, 64-bit) Integrated camera – 2.1 MP (1080p) Front; 8 MP Rear with LED flash
  • Display – 10.1-inch diagonal Outdoor Viewable FHD (1920 x 1200) with Capacitive Multi Touch Video/graphics – Intel® HD Graphics
  • Memory – 4 GB 1067 MHz LPDDR3 Memory
  • Internal Storage – 64 GB embedded Multi-Media Card (eMMC) SSD
  • Optical drive – Optical drive not included
  • Keyboard – Capacitive multi-touch panel with digitizer Wireless LAN – Broadcom 43241 802.11 a/b/g/n (2×2)
  • HP Mobile Broadband – Built in HP Mobile Broadband not included
  • Bluetooth – Bluetooth® 4.0 LE SDIO
  • Security – Firmware TPM (default), hardware TPM (v1.2) Battery – HP 2-cell, 30 WHr polymer

Four 42-inch tvs/touchscreens located in the new space

Stonehill College

  • HP LD4220tm 42-inch LCD Interactive Digital Signage Display
  • Monitors – HP LD4220tm 42-inch LCD Interactive Digital Signage Display
  • Input Signal – VGA (RGB), HDMI/DVI (can connect to DVI with optional adapter sold separately), DisplayPort (DP)
  • Contrast ratio – 1000:1 Contrast Ratio
  • Brightness (typical) – 700 nits
  • Tilt – Tilt: none
  • Height adjustability range – None
  • Pivot rotation – None
  • Horizontal/Vertical viewing angle (typical) – 178/178 degrees
  • Max Power Rating – 250 Watts
  • Native resolution – 1920 x 1080
  • Response rate (typical, rise and fall) – 9 ms response time (GTG)
  • Asset Control – None
  • Integrated speakers – No integrated stereo speakers, Digital Signage Speakers sold separate p/n NK352AA Anti-Glare and Anti-Static – Anti-Glare and Anti-Static

Wiring and APs

  1. Installation of (2) Cat 6 cables for wireless access points.
  2. Installation of (1) Cat 6 cable to projector location.
  3. North Wall: Installation of (4) Cat 6 cables. (1) Location with 1V/1D, (2) locations with (1) data at each.
  4. Demo existing V/D jacks and cables.
  5. South Wall: Installation of (3) Cat 6 cables. (3) Locations with (1) each.
  6. Demo existing data jacks and cable.
  7. Installation of (1) RG-6 Quad shield cable to ADTECH equipment.
  8. Installation of (1) Cat 6 data to ADTECH equipment.

Audio Visual Equipment

  • 5 Air media units
  • 1 Cable television tuner
  • 2 Panasonic 5000 Lumen WUXGA Projectors with 1.7-1.7:1 zoom lenses
  • 2 Dalite 50″ by 80″ recessed advantage electrol screens with HC matte white surface
  • 4 Sharp 60″ displays
  • 1 Crestron 8″x8″ DigitalMedia switcher
  • 6 Crestron DigitalMedia 8G+ Receivers and room controllers with scalers
  • 2 Crestron DigitalMedia 8G+ input card with down-mixing
  • 5 Air media presentation gateways
  • 1 Cable box
  • 1 Shure dual channel mixed wireless microphone system

We worked with RV Leonard and WB Mason on the furniture:

Stonehill College


  • Dealer/Specifier/Concept Renderings:   Jim Athy; R.V. Leonard Co.
  • Comma Tables:  Vanerum Stelter
  • V.S. Wave Table With Casters, With Casters, Laminate: Wilsonart Misted Zephyr #4843-60, Metallic Silver Legs, Light Grey Edge
  • V.S. Wave Table With Casters, With Adjustable Height Legs And Casters, Laminate: Wilsonart Misted Zephyr #4843-60, Metallic Silver Legs, Light Grey Edge
  • Counter Height Computer Tables:  OFS Companies – Static Bar Height Table With Grommet And Wire Management, Laminate: Wilsonart Misted Zephyr #4843-60, Dove Grey Edge
  • Allemuir, Casper Tall Stool, White Shell, Seat Pad Maharam Mimic 011 Ultramarine, Soft Chrome Frame
  • Portable Dividers: Loft Wall Panels, 48″ X 78″, On Casters, Upper Two Thirds Writing Surface, Bottom Panel Frosted Acrylic, Metallic Silver Frame
  • KI, Sela Sofa, Fabric COM Coincide 465808
  • Encore, Coffee Table, Laminate Wilsonart 4939k-18 Vapor Strandz Premium Aeon, Chrome Frame
  • Allemuir, Laptop Table, Color White
  • KI, Sela Lounge Chair And 1/2, Seat Fabric: Maharam Sudden Squeeze 025, Body Fabric: Maharam Rove 016
  • Encore, Coffee Table, Laminate Wilsonart 4939k-18 Vapor Strandz Premium Aeon, Chrome Frame
  • Walker, Porcelain Board, 4′ X 12′
  • Lectern, Laminate from Office Concepts: Wilsonart Misted Zephyr #4843-60, Metallic Silver Post And Base, Light Grey Edge
  • Height Adjustable Tables from ConSet America, Electric, Tables To Match Static Tables

Stonehill College

Stonehill College


  1. Seek Work Fxd Arms Mesh Bk
  2. Upholstered Seat Slvr Fr Cstr
  3. Seek Seat/Back Clr Opts

It was crucial that the room be completed as close to August 1st as possible, so that the librarians could practice the new technology and become fluent with it during teaching before the academic year began.  To that end, all library staff took turns attending information instruction classes.  This gave the librarians a chance to try new techniques in their teaching, incorporate technology, all in front of a live audience.  And the staff learned about some new resources at the same time.

The room launched on  August 20, 2014, with two study skills sessions for students in our Academic Community Experience (ACE) program.  This intensive three week summer program prepares incoming, academically at-risk students for college life and study.

Session Goals:

  • 75 minute one shot instruction
  • The goal was to implement/demonstrate active learning technologies
  • Each student received a tablet
  • Each table received instructions for projecting wirelessly to the HDTVs
  • Students conducted two exercises:
    • One on generating keywords
    • One on evaluating websites
    • Sample lesson plans available under Teaching Templates

Stonehill College

The librarian was able to use AirMedia to allow each of the five groups to display a tablet on either an HDTV or a projection screen, while still controlling the instructor podium.  As each group presented its findings, the Librarian could send that group’s AirMedia server (Numbers 1-5) to ALL screens, enabling groups to easily view each other’s work.


Lessons were learned!  We discovered it was important to have a plan in place for when things go wrong, and to keep a running “punch list” of instructions for which you need documentation.

As we became comfortable with the space and experimented with the technology, we started to identify additional small-scale needs and common issues.  For instance, students can use the space as a study room when it’s not in use for classes, so often TVs were set to varying cable channels.  In response, we had to provide clear instructions for resetting the TVs from cable to connect to the AirMedia system.

We found that we needed additional connection cables and adaptors to accommodate the various personal devices faculty and students bring to the space. We needed to always have extra tablets on hand to swap out if the battery hadn’t charged.  We also needed to make sure faculty understood the DRM issues that could occur with presentations being sent to all screens.

We also found that for some users, the touch-screen tablets were not user-friendly, and so we purchased a number of computer mice for those students who are more comfortable navigating via click rather than touch.

Pushing Ourselves Further

Some of the best uses of the space have been the ones we didn’t anticipate, such as a Communication class’s Skype session with a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, David Finkel.

Stonehill College

Yet while we built a technology-rich space, many faculty continued to request traditional one-shot instruction sessions.

LESSON LEARNED: It takes time to achieve buy-in, and students’ excitement about the space can be your best advertisement. We also found that reaching out to faculty with proactive ideas about active learning sessions, rather than asking “what would you like me to cover?” enabled us to implement more of the types of hand-on instruction we’d intended for the space.

Because we found ourselves still offering many traditional one-shots, we worked with our Center for Teaching and Learning to create an “Active Learning Technologies Reading Group” for faculty and librarians, designed to highlight the possibilities of the new space.


A few weeks before we launched the space, we reached out to others with similar spaces to ask how they assessed the classrooms after they launched. The biggest piece of feedback we received was not to wait until the end of the semester, but to start our assessments on day 1, and to collect data continuously.

LESSON LEARNED: Create simple, easy-to-complete assessments for students, faculty, and librarians, to recruit feedback on both the space and the available technology. This feedback was vital during our first semester, but after a year of using the space, the existing survey will be revised to accurately reflect our questions about its ongoing use.

“The DisCo has exceeded my expectations.  As a class we can interact in multiple technology enabled ways…. [The] flexibility adds value to the classroom experience.”

– Brian Glibkowski, Assistant Professor of Management & Business Administration

However, we wanted more than just anecdotal feedback, and we wanted both faculty and student perspectives. A few weeks before we launched the space, we reached out to others who had created similar spaces, to ask how they assessed the classrooms after they launched. The biggest piece of feedback we received was not to wait until the end of the semester, but to start your assessment on day 1, and do it continuously. We were about two weeks from launch, so this was a little daunting, but we then thought about what we could do from day 1, and came up with a simple student survey; we designed it in qualtrics, and then gave it a tiny URL so that it would be easy for students to get to on the tablets.

Students were first asked whether they’d had a class in the space prior to its renovation. This enables us to sort responses into two groups, based on prior experience. All remaining questions in the brief survey are the same for both groups.

Overall, how would you rate your experience in the new Library Classroom?*

Answer Response %
Very Poor 0 0%
Poor 4 1%
Fair 30 6%
Good 201 42%
Very Good 239 50%
Total 474 100%

*responses as of March 30, 2015

“The furniture and technology made the room seem livelier than regular wooden tables would have. If I had a group project to work on, I would make sure to come here.”

“The tablets allowed us to follow the lecture easier because we better remembered the steps by doing it ourselves.”

There were distractions: “A lot going on in this room.  No center place to draw attention.”

Some backhanded compliments: “It wasn’t nearly as boring.”

Advice for others:

When creating your design committee, aim for a broad cross-section of potential users. Get more faculty involved than you think you need.

Test as much tech as possible.  View existing spaces and ask for the pros/cons of their tech. Push the envelope on tech so that you have the opportunity to really rethink pedagogy.

Realize that it’s going to take time to achieve buy-in, even after the room goes live.

Students can be your best supporters and advocates.

Have a robust assessment plan in place when the space launches.

Seek grant funding.

We ended up with enough funding to create a second space: The Info Cafe.  

The InfoCafe is for small group meetings and collaboration. Librarians use this space to provide one-on-one and small group instruction and research assistance, as well as to meet with faculty. When not in use for teaching, the InfoCafe is available for student use.


Back to Aligning Learning Spaces with Pedagogy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *