Design Features for Project-Based Learning
Section 7 | return to introduction and contents

        Speaking of how humanity really works, one participant in Team A, in 
particular, stressed the importance of being able to have easy access to food and beverage in a collaborative, project-based learning environment.

Social aspects, we talked about bringing food back in. Food is a 
central social function to creating…a collaborative environment.
When you are working with groups, I think it is important to be 
able to bring that [food] in. It probably goes back to our Neolithic 
time of sitting around the fire and waiting for the next mastodon. 
For collaborative, project-based learning it is important to be able 
to bring the food to the project or be able to take the project to 
food. The thought behind bringing the food to the work is to bring 
[encourage] discussion and to be able to continue the work around 
food. We are social animals. Food is a catalyst. 

       Summarizing the description of the "Learning Village," Team A made the
following statements:

The definition of learning space is that there are no hard and fast 
rules. It is somewhat of a random process that may occur in many 
different ways. In this design we tore down some walls to 
eliminate the hierarchy of teacher to student. Teachers are more 
roving mentors. There will be no front of the room podiums or 
pulpits. The teachers facilitate learning and they are also learning 
in this process and in this space. It is a collective environment. 

Our major goals were to design with multiple scales and multiple 
destinations for learning. We designed for individual spaces up to 
the assembly areas. The individual spaces are available for quiet 
work. The model may look like there are not enough traditional 
classrooms, but the studio/gallery areas are large classroom spaces 
with team teaching. The production/application labs are also used 
for teaching. 

Design # 2 
       Five participants were members of Team B, which developed Design #2. To 
approach the task, Team B began by creating a picture of the community and identifying 
people the design would serve. Their team process included: (a) developing a list of 
characteristics of the population to be served; (b) determining the content, skills, and 
services needed by the population to be served; (c) identifying all the places that the 
learning could occur such as, community centers, local high schools, business and 
industry, and on campus; and (d) identifying the features of the physical learning 
environment that would support the learning activities and the needs of the learners. 
       The next planning step the Team engaged in was for each member to choose a 
specific collaborative, project-based learning activity. "Our team took a collaborative 
approach to the design process. We started with the communities and tested our ideas for 
appropriateness for project-based learning. We each chose a [collaborative learning] 
project [and] then looked for common environmental characteristics of the five projects." 
The members of Team B chose the following projects: (a) developing a service learning 
product from which support staff of a college receive training, (b) writing a book, (c) 
creating a multi-media/science curriculum module to study foothills, (d) designing a 
musical, kinetic water sculpture in a park, and (e) analyzing a transportation system for a 
city. Each project was described in more detail and included spatial and environmental 
needs for completing it. 
       The service learning project given to students at a community college provided 
the opportunity to design training programs for college staff. The activities the learners 
used to develop and deliver the training programs included "assessing staff needs, 
assessing training modules, developing training modules, and implementing the training" 
according to a participant who then described the spatial and environmental needs for the 

I needed a cost-effective spatial system that is flexible and has 
access to technology, space for communication storage, 
presentations, and with flexible furnishings. I need a home base, 
space for small groups, caves [individual spaces used to work, 
study, reflection, or rest], and a production space
. A design where 
you can move in, occupy, and leave and not impact the next group 
using the space or needing two hours to change [the space]. 

       Another participant described the next project as a Developmental English course 
taught by the participant in which learners were asked to write a book. The learners were 
instructed to begin the process of writing by keeping journals and using that information 
as the base for the book. As explained by the participant, "The students need quiet space 
to work on the journal, access to books to be used as models, a place to write the book, 
availability of the instructor and peers for editing and comment, and at the same time a 
place to receive instruction." For the project, the participant described the spatial and 
environmental needs.

I want a home base, and a classroom where you begin the learning 
process. I want accessibility to computer labs, to the commons, to 
caves, and access to the outside. I want storage for equipment and I 
want windows. They have to be realistic spaces. 

       The third team member's project was for learners to prepare a multi-media 
presentation on how the foothills of a mountain range were formed as an example of an 
integrated curricular approach that included science, art, music, and graphic design. The 
participant described the spatial and environmental needs to deliver the learning project.

I need lots of windows that open because rooms with lots of 
computers generate heat and it is nice to bring fresh air into the 
room while keeping the room cool. I need computer spaces with 
good chairs because the students will be sitting in those chairs for a 
long time. I need science and art areas right next door. It could be a 
messy room right next to the digital technical area. The art area 
needs to have moveable furniture, especially portable tables. It is 
the notion of specialized spaces or studios for "dirty" (fabrication) 
projects and specialized spaces for technical projects. I would also 
like to see access to the outdoors where there would be a walking 
trail, a rock garden with stones…places for students to get away to 
think and relax.

       Another participant described her/his learning project as a musical, kinetic water 
sculpture for Central Park as, "An opportunity to involve the community to create 
something for itself. The project brings art, music, math, engineering, and dance 
together." The participant described the spatial and environmental needs to deliver the 

A series of spaces for integrated, collaborative learning that solves 
math and movement problems. I need collaboration space for the 
"birth of concepts." This birth space needs natural light, moveable 
surfaces, space for small groups ranging in size from three to six 
up to a space for 12 to 15 people, white boards and tack walls to 
display concepts, access to technology, and access to nourishment. 

I need a space for design work and another space for fabrication. 
Movement of process needs to happen between all these spaces. 

      The fifth team member's learning project was to analyze City X for the 
development of a transportation system. "To do the project, the students would tour the 
city on bicycles to gather information for field notes, go to the historical museums to do 
research and to do some mapping, conduct videotaped interviews, prepare graphic 
presentations to show the historical change and to predict future needs." The spatial and 
environmental needs were described by the participant in terms of pods, studios, and a 
shared living room that could also be a home base. There were also adjacent studios for 
video production of interviews; a small group discussion space that could hold up to 40 
people; a fabrication studio to create a clay, scale model; parking for bicycles; and access 
to food. "They need to 'own' this space for at least the semester."

I have pods that serve as a home base for each team of four and 
then there is a shared living room that can also be a home base for 
all the teams. The shared home base has places to pin-up work to 
show during discussions and presentations and this space also 
serves as a lounge. Each pod contains individual workstations with 
access to the Internet, a "team" table, shared secure storage, 
indirect lighting and a light table. The five pods and shared living 
room make up the main studio. 

      Looking across all five learning projects, Team B looked for the common spaces 
and activities among the projects, which were described as: (a) bringing people back 
together, (b) dirty work space/loud area, (c) access to information, (d) home base space, 
(e) access to tools and materials, (f) caves/quiet spaces, and (g) community interaction 
[bringing the community in to the learning environment and taking the learning out to the 
       Using the information from the projects and from the previous work of 
determining the needs of the community and those to be served, the Team developed a 
final design. They labeled the spaces within the physical learning environment as such: 
(a) home base, which can also be used as a classroom, (b) computer lab, (c) caves, (d) 
staff nodes, and (e) a series of laboratory suites.
The desirable features of each of those 
spaces are listed below:

       1. Home Base. For the home base, which served the purposes of group
instruction, discussion, and "checking in," the design features included: (a) comfortable 
seating and moveable desks and chairs, (b) windows, (c) blackboard/whiteboard, (e) 
storage, (f) freedom of movement, and (g) close proximity to caves and computer lab. 

       2. Collaboration Incubator. The collaboration incubator was designed for five
teams of five learners to work collaboratively and fairly independently on their projects 
with the teacher or faculty member being more of a mentor or guide as the format for 
instruction. The team spaces had individual desks or workspaces for the learners, storage, 
and a round table. In addition to the team spaces, the incubator had a large, open space in 
which to work on the projects and to share with community partners who were involved 
in the project. The incubator was "where there can be a sense of ownership for a period of 
time. A space of my own but also a shared space." 

       3. Computer Lab. The computer lab included: (a) computers set up
in pods of four, (b) work surfaces [tables], (c) storage, (d) printer station, and (e) late 
night accessibility.

       4. Caves. The caves provided: (a) space for individuals, 
(b) proximity to the home base, and (c) [were located at] various locations and 
presentations [different designs of the spaces]. 

       5. Staff Nodes. The staff nodes, with access to technology, 
were used for planning and communication among the faculty. 

       6. Series of Laboratory Suites. The series of laboratory suites 
accommodated: (a) technology labs that required high technology systems and 
infrastructure in a clean environment, (b) fabrication labs for wet and messy projects that 
required specialized equipment and infrastructure, and (c) combined labs with easy 
access to both the technology and fabrication in the same space. 

The laboratory suites were spaces that supported the students 
[while they] generated work [the project]. They began in the 
technology lab with the instructor and then the students decided 
when to move from their pods and into the larger incubator area. 

Technology laboratories have a natural integration of projects 
around a particular purpose, are authentic, and that are chosen by 
students. The separate fabrication laboratories really get to 
fabrication with high systems and high infrastructure needs and 
then move the projects to different spaces.

      The Team designed a physical learning environment that actively encouraged and 
supported the communities it served by making them active partners in the learning 

The design (Figure 4.) focused on bringing the community in and 
out of the projects in a collaborative way through the design of a 
"main street" that provided freedom of movement and access to all 
the spaces. The spaces along the "main street" were a commons 
area, small group/large group spaces, staff nodes, technical 
laboratories, fabrication laboratories, presentation auditoria, caves, 
a flexible home base, and a collaboration incubator.

       In recognizing the need to prepare the learners to work collaboratively in
teams, a participant described the flow of learning activities
in collaborative, project-based processes. 

You can't drop a student into a 100 percent collaborative effort. 
They start in the home base and set group goals. Once their skill 
base increases in working collaboratively and they are ready for 
more complex work, then they can move into the incubator. The 
incubator has flexible walls and students define their own spaces. 

We are not talking about all of this for all of the students. It does 
provide territory for a space of time and can be easily adapted [for 
the purposes of the study I would interpret this to mean flexible]. 
There can be music, science, and art in one area [pod] or business 
partnerships in another area. It needs to be very adaptable 
[flexible] and provide for the student to community, community to 
business, and business to student linkages. The idea of a 
collaboration incubator is new territory for community colleges. 
The incubator is used with community partners. When balanced 
with a home base, it is more the norm of today. For community 
college students, it is important to create connections and linkages. 
It is easy to lose the magic of belonging.

Figure 4. Design # 2

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