Design for collaborative learning: The shifting ground of campus building design

Presented by: Elif Tural, Marilyn Read, Seunghae Lee

The influence of spatial design on encouraging and facilitating effective collaboration has been the focus of organizational performance and workplace design literature (see e.g. Becker, 2004). With cooperative and collaborative learning approaches being norm in institutions of higher education, there is also a surge in interest in campus, university building, and classroom designs for collaborative learning and social interaction (Klein, 2005). While research provides some evidence on how spatial design can support interaction and collaboration in office spaces and academic libraries (Bailin, 2011; Hua et al, 2010); as also underscored by Lamb and Shraiky (2013), systematic research studies that provide evidence about whether the spaces designed to facilitate collaboration function as intended are lacking. This exploratory case study research aims to understand (1) whether and how the collaboration spaces are actually utilized by students, (2) if and why certain types of spaces are preferred or underutilized, and (3) how the physical design aspects, such as spatial design and furniture layout, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), technology, and room orientation and adjacencies, influence student comfort and preference regarding the use of collaboration spaces. In line with the definitions of Becker (2004) and Hua et al (2010), in this study, collaborative spaces are defined as formal and informal spaces that give students opportunities to meet, interact and complete group work. These spaces included the formal, team-work related project rooms, as well as informal collaborative areas, including open computer labs and booths, the student lounge, two atrium areas with seating arrangements that can support group work, and several seating areas throughout the building that potentially can be used for collaborative work. A sequential mixed-methods research approach was adopted: The first phase gathered information on the current usage of these spaces through place-based behavior mapping of the project rooms and the common areas, and by analyzing the usage patterns of project rooms through the room scheduler database. This provided information on which spaces are preferred, and most and least frequently used for collaborative or individual work. The second phase explored whether and how the physical environment influences these preferences. A survey questionnaire inquired about students’ space usage for individual and team projects, and their perceptions of the design and IEQ aspects of these spaces. 585 observations were taken over the course of three weeks. Logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between the dichotomous collaboration outcome and various environmental predictors. The most notable result is low incidence of collaborative behaviors in the project rooms–only 21.88% of total observations showed collaboration. While the regression analyses showed that use of in-room displays, furniture arrangement by students, and whiteboard use significantly predicted collaboration; the tabulations demonstrated that these features were actually underutilized. The qualitative and quantitate analyses of the survey results (N=113) provided insights into which design and IEQ factors interfered with collaborative learning. The lack of privacy from the hallway traffic, insufficiency of technical resources, thermal comfort, noise, and room cleanliness were identified as design aspects that most interfere with personal and group work. In line with the previous environment-behavior research in workplaces, lack of control (visual privacy with blinds and air quality with operable windows) surfaced as an important factor decreasing environmental satisfaction. In addition to providing highlights of the findings and sharing the design caveats with respect to collaborative learning in campus buildings, the presentation will also discuss how the case study findings may transfer into other contexts.


  • Bailin, K. (2011). Changes in academic library space: A case study at the University of New South Wales. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 42(4), 342-359.
  • Becker, F. (2004). Office at work: uncommon workspace strategies that add value and improve performance. New York: Wiley.
  • Hua, Y., Loftness, V., Kraut, R., & Powell, K. (2010). Workplace collaborative space layout typology and occupant perception of collaboration environment. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 37: 429-448. doi:10.1068/b35011
  • Klein, A. (2005). The space challenge: IHEs are building facilities and outdoor spaces that are designed to encourage collaborative learning, social interaction, and student wellbeing. University Business (April), 75-78.
  • Lamb, G., & Shraiky, J. (2013). Designing for competence: Spaces that enhance collaboration readiness in healthcare. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27, 14-23. doi:10.3109/13561820.2013.791671