When Harvard University has a room that’s not up to date with students’ technological demands, it finds a way to turn into a customized cave of wonders.
Two years ago, Harvard had its Larsen Room in the Lamont Library renovated into an interactive, technological learning space.
The Larsen Room was transformed into a collaborative room from the building and planning magic of Red Thread, the project’s integrator.
Paul Piepiora, the audio visual consultant for Red Thread, says that the structure of the Larsen Room was a tough skeleton to work with.
“It was a difficult space,” he says. “It had low ceilings. There were posts coming down. There were no clear site lines to do a traditional class space.”
However, Piepiora and his team found a way to revamp the room, making it more classroom collaborative via mediascapes.
After Red Thread did its research and plotted the scope of their work, Piepiora and his team installed four, standalone Steelcase mediascape units. At these units, students are able to connect to the system with their individual devices. Once students are connected, Piepiora says they can easily select the content they want to show to the group.
The room also features multiple Sony screens so that students can decide which content to look at and when, and to accommodate professors’ preferred teaching style.
“We did this for small group collaboration,” he says.
If the room is needed for a larger crowd, such as a classroom, Piepiora says the four units can be integrated together to create one large center. While the students sit at the four units, Piepiora says that the professor can teach using two strategies.
The first strategy, he says, enables professors to use the Crestron control system to display the content on all the mediascape displays. With the second option, professors can connect with the system in the middle of the room with a device, such as a laptop, pull up their content, and use the wall plate to share that content.
“Professors can even share the content from one of the units that the students are working at and show it to everyone,” Piepiora says. “This is our one to all solution.”
He also says that the mediascapes feature built-in switchers that users have the right to control.
“There are two displays on each mediascape,” Piepiora says. “That means two people can show content side by side.”
Plus, professors are given key access to the room and manipulate the room’s setup with a wireless controller (students do not have access to this control). That way, professors can easily switch in an out of collaboration mode at the touch of a button.
“This is a custom solution for them [Harvard],” Piepiora says. “It creates flexibility for the space.”
Martin Schreiner, the head of Maps, Media, Data and Government Information in the Lamont Library said that the sky is the limit when it comes to how the space is used.
“We worked to make it flexible and more adaptable for whatever the students need it to be,” he says. “They can do a group study, [anything]. We accommodate collaboration.”
Schreiner also says that the Larsen room is accessible for 24 hours, and is busiest during the evenings.
“Here we can provide technologies that the students wouldn’t have themselves,” he says. “They can access museum sources, library sources, and interact with them.”
One of the challenges with this room is making sure staff members, like the university’s librarians, are up to speed with how to use the technologies in the room.
“It’s a different way of thinking when our librarians teach,” Schreiner says. “We’re looking at the science of teaching, what skills are needed to teach, and when professional development is needed. Expectations are changing in that librarians have “blended” skills; they need to be comfortable using technology and still know how to access the archives.”
In the long run, Schreiner says that the technological updates in the Larsen Room have brought the staff members together, even though their focus is stretched over the university’s 72 libraries.
“Everyone is working together,” he says. “IT, teachers, librarians are working together. The separate buildings are no longer barriers.”
Things to Think About Before You Build:
1) Figure out what you want
When trying to decide how to upgrade an old, established space with new technology, figure out what design you’re looking for, and what room would be the best option.
Paul Piepiora says that Harvard was looking for a multifunctional space that supported collaboration.
“The physical part is not a problem, we can adapt to that,” he says. In Harvard’s case “We [had] a library. That was a perfect place to build because people came here to read, and to use this space as an actual classroom.”
2) Figure out who you’re building for
In most colleges’ cases, they will be building for professors, students and staff members.
Keeping Harvard’s students in mind, Piepiora said that his team ensured that the room had easy, 24/7 access.
“With the four mediascapes, students can work on their own project at their own time,” he says. “They wanted the ability to access the room twenty-four-seven.”
3) Use your space correctly
With similar trends shooting throughout other universities, Piepiora suggests taking advantage of the opportunities a new room provides, such as design customization and the full on collaborative experience with professors and students.
“Understand the power of what the space can do,” he says. “It provides a new driven way of teaching. New spaces are following the trends of the market. Instead of going with the old, plastic cubes that box people in, we created a more collaborative space.”
Related Case Study: Creating the Library of Tomorrow