GroupSpot, John Peace Library, University of Texas at San Antonio

Tara Schmidt, Scholarly Resource Librarian,

1. Describe the finished teaching or classroom space, including any specifics about furniture or technology that was included in the design.

GroupSpot is an interactive space that facilitates team engagement through small group tables equipped with laptops and shared displays. The room can hold 100 students with its 20 tables, each complete with five laptops and a 46” monitor. GroupSpot contains two retractable projection screens, two wall monitors and two podiums each with a laptop. It also has twenty additional chairs and can be divided in half for smaller audiences.The collaborative technology in GroupSpot is powered by TeamSpot, a forward thinking software that provides interactive tools to boost group performance. Using TeamSpot software, students can share and modify information directly from their laptops to the 46” monitor. This serves as a backdrop to enhance group contributions, with each member able to view and edit information on the shared display.

2. What were the goals of the re-design or creation of the space?

There were two major goals in the creation of the GroupSpot learning space. First, to provide a flexible space to explore interactive library instruction. We wanted to offer more engaged learning for our larger classes. The second goal was making sure that our students were able to work collaboratively in an instructional setting and also outside of the classroom.

3. What strategies did you use to advocate for student learning and active learning pedagogy in the space?

The planning stage included time spent looking at flexible physical space in other libraries, as well as researching innovative teaching strategies for academic classrooms. We brought in our instructional design team to provide suggestions on the best technologies and arrangements to support student learning. We also looked at curriculum initiatives across our campus: what specifically needed to be addressed with our STEM classes and our freshman programs? Tying the library to campus strategic planning helped provide focus and support both inside and outside the library.

4. What lessons did you learn from this experience that you’d most like to share with someone undertaking a similar project?

One of the earliest learned lessons was how we prioritized the functionality of the space. We spent a lot of time thinking about software and technology for the space. After a few busy semesters of teaching, the list of what our instructors love about the space starts with things like “room to move around the room”, “whiteboard walls”, and “arrangement of learning space”. The technology allows us to provide assignments and visual class components in a new way. The actual arrangement of the space, however, has become an equally important function of the room. The use of sound and acoustics in the room became very important as we looked at teaching in a large space that supports active group learning.

We also learned a lot about making use of a shared space. The room was designed to be a 100 seat classroom. We prioritized the space for classroom instruction and made it available to students when it was not in use. We quickly discovered that introducing our students to an attractive group space with collaborative technology meant that they fell in love with the space, too. Once our students discovered the usability of the room, they overwhelmed the times and the space that the room was able to support. We ended up with a shared room compromise: half of the space is continually open to students and the other half is prioritized for library instruction as needed.
5. How have changes you made to the classroom changed your teaching? How have changes you made to the classroom changed your instruction programs?

The new space has created completely new opportunities for group work with our library classes. Our psychology librarian turned small, detail-focused class sessions into a module-driven, flipped instruction program. This allows her to reach a larger number of students in a sustainable and scalable way. Our art librarian is able to use the larger screens to concentrate on visual literacy activities with her students. Our freshmen classes are able to take advantage of movement throughout the room provide opportunities for peer-to-peer instruction and sharing. Groups create both individual and group documents to submit to their instructors. Multiple topics can be addressed and shared with the class. We are able to include both group and individual assessment throughout our classes, making use of their laptops and also their shared group screens.

Teaching in this space does create the need for lecture-style course redesign. We quickly learned that the room arrangement can make even assignment direction difficult. As one instructor said, “you can’t direct their attention to the center of the room, because there is no center of the room!” Classroom management can be very different as students look for new cues about who and what require their attention. There were lots of learning moments (and they continue) as we work on providing our students with the most effective and engaging instruction.

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