Innovative Learning Spaces: A Design Challenge WebQuest


This WebQuest gives students in a class about Designing Learning Spaces the chance to synthesize design principles, stakeholder requirements, and project constraints into a proposal document and presentation for the design of a formal or informal physical learning space. The proposal will include a draft design and rationale that draws upon the assigned readings, additional resources, class discussions, experience critiquing various learning spaces, and data that will be gathered as part of this assignment.


Recently, the Partnership for Active Learning (PAL) has made grant money available for projects that promote the creation of state-of-the-art informal and formal spaces designed to enhance learning. Specifically, the PAL grants will fund initiatives designed to promote active, collaborative, student-centered teaching and learning activities that support peer instruction and interdependence. Funds may be used for the modernization, renovation, and repairs of facilities in order to create supportive learning environments that further these initiatives.

Of course, your team wants to get a piece of the PAL pie! You and some of your colleagues have decided to team up to submit a proposal to get funding to improve or install a new physical learning space at your organization. In order to have a good chance of getting your project funded, your proposal must be based on well-established learning and design principles, and an initial needs assessment that considers and engages critical stakeholders.


In teams of at least 4 members, you will tackle a specific space (which we will assign to your team). Drawing upon a variety of resources and class activities, your team’s task is to write a design proposal for the improvement or creation of a learning space at your organization. In addition, your team will deliver a pithy 5-7 minute presentation to “pitch” your design ideas to the PAL funding agency (the instructors and your classmates). Your design proposal should be based on a brief and "lean" needs assessment phase, during which you will carefully consider the perspectives of diverse stakeholders, review extant data, collect new data, and review the literature in order to make sound design recommendations.


In this assignment:

You will:
  • Work in teams to propose a design for a real space;
  • Share and discuss with individuals from other teams taking on the same "expert ad hoc persona" as you;
  • Gain experience creating/considering scenarios and personae to help guide space design;
  • Collaborate, reflect, analyze, explore, and create as individuals and as a community;

The instructors:
  • Will support, facilitate, connect, explain, give feedback, coach, model, guide, push.
  • Will not tell you what to do, show you the one right way to do something, have all of the answers or resources.


1) Scope your project and assign roles

Consider and scope your challenge

  • Your team has been assigned one of the following design challenges. Then, based on group consensus, you will decide how to tackle the challenge -- perhaps by making up a fictitious space/scenario, or by taking inspiration from an actual space that you have at your own organization or with which you are familiar.
    • A: Active learning space for 50 learners
    • B: Seminar/conference space for 12-15 participants
    • C: Transitional space for informal learning (e.g., hallway, lobby, etc.)
    • D: Outdoor public space for informal learning (e.g., atrium, courtyard, etc.)

  • You might narrow the scope of your project by choosing a target user group for the space. You may decide to include mixed levels, but given the time for this assignment, it may be easier to focus on one group of users, such as:
    • Adolescents/High school (age 14-18)
    • Young adults/typical undergraduate (age 19-22)
    • Working adults/typical graduate students (age 25-50)

Assume individual ad hoc persona / specialty area

We will use a “jigsaw” approach in this challenge. By team consensus, each team member will assume a specific ad hoc persona or specialty area from the list below. This way, your team is able to use its time well, addressing multiple perspectives and dividing up the readings and analysis activities. A key to the jigsaw approach is that each role “expert” can collaborate and share resources with individuals from the other teams who are assuming the same “expert role.” (E.g., an “expert” group for all the Furniture specialists, another group for the Technology specialists, etc.). Split up or duplicate the roles as necessary for the number on your team:

  • Furnishings specialist (e.g., furniture, colors and materials for paint, fabric, flooring, etc.)
  • Computing technologies specialist (e.g., computer hardware and software including user control interface, support for mobile computing devices, wireless networking, etc.)
  • Lighting/audio/visual specialist (e.g., lighting controls, windows and natural light, acoustics, video projection and display technologies)
  • Ergonomics and room layout specialist (e.g., room layout/orientation, sight lines)

On our course website in Blackboard, there is a Bb discussion forum for each of these expert roles where you can share role-specific resources, challenges, ideas, etc., with others who have the same expert role within their own design team. (Posting to your 'expert role' forum on Bb will be part of your individual participation grade in this class.)

Here is a resource for helping to build group consensus.

2) Analysis

Understanding that this is a "fictitious" task, and given our short time frame, we would like it to be meaningful to you, based on real context and data as much as possible. Make sure to use data that represents a broad range of perspectives. You are encouraged to draw upon extant institutional data, and to talk with instructors and learners who would use the space as well as staff who would be responsible for supporting the space. You may also rely upon:
  • Content and articles discussed in class, and shared by you and your classmates.
  • Lessons learned from case studies and guest speakers presented in class.
  • Articles and links provided here on our Wiki Resources Page (these are not required readings -- use as you wish).
  • New "data" you may gather from individuals who represent various stakeholder groups (understanding this may be limited or made up).
  • Benchmarking what others have done.

Here's a simple design process that Stanford's Dan Gilbert has used for thinking about designing learning spaces.

Example data sources:

Consider the following sources for data collection:
  • Extant data
    • floor plans, photos, sketches, etc. of the room as it is today
  • Observation of the space in use (or similar/inspiration spaces)
    • Visit an actual space similar to your assigned design challenge space. Find one that you have never been and reflect a little on what kind of learning happens there, what kind of learning could happen there, and what some roles of such a space could or should be?
  • Interviews, email, or phone calls with:
    • Site leadership
    • Teachers/students who currently use the space
    • Teachers/students who rarely or never use the space
    • Site support staff
    • Other stakeholders (parents, trustees, etc.)
  • Benchmarking other campuses and organizations with cutting edge learning spaces and/or resource centers.

Remember, when contacting real people as data sources, please use their time, and yours, wisely. For instance, have only one person from your team serve as the point of contact with a particular source.

General resources for learning space design:

See the Resources page.

3) Deliverables

Part A: Design Proposal: Wiki Document (50% for design proposal)

You will submit your team proposal in the form of a wiki page here on the Learning Space Design Challenge Wikicreated for this course; there, you can also find examples from the previous 2007 and 2009 version of this course.

Your team’s proposal should include at least the following information:

  • Background
  • Brief description of your needs assessment (i.e., who you talked to, extant data you reviewed, what you found, etc.)
  • Design concept and recommendations (description of how the space is organized and a vision of how it would be used; a list of equipment, seating, surfaces, fixtures, and other elements)
  • A ROUGH floor plan indicating proposed locations for hardware and seating.
    • NOTE: The idea here is on the concept. Do not spend a lot of time with meticulous floor plans and blueprints. For instance, you could scan a hand drawn sketch, or use a program such as Inspiration, PowerPoint, Visio, etc. to create your floor plan if you already are pretty adept with the tool - don't spend too much time learning a new tool.
  • Design rationale, including references to literature and design principles.
  • A rough description of how you plan to assess the effectiveness of the space.
  • A link to your accompanying electronic presentation “pitch.”

Note: Your wiki page will be mostly complete by class the time you do your team presentation during our live class on July 21st. After you present to the class that night, and get feedback, you will have until July 28th to make any final revisions to your design proposal wiki document.

Part B: In Class Client Presentation (20% for presentation)

Each team will have 30-minutes of class time on July 28th, the last night of class, for the following activities:
  • First, your team will deliver a pithy 5 to 7-minute presentation to the class. Note: the presentation may be delivered by one or more of your team members. In this presentation, you will introduce us to your design concept. You may use slides or simply talk to us. Keep to your time limit please! Remember, this will be done live in the Adobe Connect virtual classroom during our last class session.
  • Next, everyone will go to the wiki where we will spend 10 minutes reviewing your design proposal.
  • Finally, we'll all reconvene and have 10 minutes for comments, feedback, and Q&A. (Use this time wisely to gather feedback that you can use to improve your final design proposal wiki document.)

Part C: Teamwork Feedback Form (part of your individual participation grade)

Each individual is responsible for completing the Teamwork Feedback Form (found on Blackboard), regarding your own teammates' participation on the WebQuest project.

Evaluation Rubric Used to Assess your Team's Design Proposal and Presentation







Introduction does not make explicit reference to the challenge that is to be examined.
Introduction adequately presents the challenge, who is involved, and on what the effort will focus.
Introduction clearly and explicitly explains the challenge, who is involved (audience(s), and the focus of the effort). Introduction grabs attention of the reader; puts us in the middle of it.
Needs Assessment
Description of NA efforts is unclear or lacks necessary detail. Pertinent sources have been overlooked. Description of optimals, drivers, or priorities is insufficient or inappropriate.
Description is clear, concise and includes the necessary who, how, and what, but pertinent sources have been overlooked or description of optimals, drivers, or priorities is insufficient or inappropriate.
Description is clear, concise and includes who you talked to, how you proceeded, and what you found. Efforts included a variety of relevant, data, and literature, taking into account those sources best able to illuminate the problem. Optimals, drivers, and priorities are clearly identified and defined.
Design Concept and Recommendations
The design is not based on sound principles and concepts covered in class. Lacks of complexity or originality.
Design demonstrates general success in the endeavor.
A compelling design and recommendations clearly demonstrate an understanding of the concepts covered in class. Considers the needs and requirements of a variety of stakeholders. Considers a balance of cost, aesthetics, utility, pedagogy, implementation, support, and maintenance and upkeep. Includes a description and vision of how the space would be used; a list of equipment, furniture/seating, fixtures, and other elements. Design demonstrates success in conducting analysis of an intricate, complex problem.
Design Rationale
Little justification is given and/or is inappropriate. The design lacks any clear evidence of design principles.
Justification is given but is not strongly supported by data or design principles.
Rationale is clearly articulated, linked to data and design principles covered in class, and appropriate for the design concept.
Clarity of Writing; Information Organization and Display
It is hard to know what the writer is trying to say. Writing is convoluted. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar, and improper punctuation are evident and distracting. Information presentation lacks organization.
Writing is adequate, but unnecessary words are used. Meaning is sometimes unclear. Word(s) are either misused or misspelled. A few grammar and punctuation errors have been found. Passive voice prevails. Information displays could be improved, are improper, or are confusing. The document could profit from better organization.
Writing is crisp, clear, and succinct. The reader is guided from a general view of the situation to actionable specifics and recommendations. The writer incorporates the active voice when appropriate. No misspelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes are evident. Paper is organized logically and effectively (headers, sections, etc.) based on content and recommendations. The writer takes advantage of information displays such as tables, flow charts, etc. when appropriate.

Presentation Resources and Organization
Presentation/Activity seems disorganized. No handout is given; no reference is made to the wiki. Time management is poor (presentation goes well under or over time limit of 5-7 minutes for presentation, and 10 min for Q&A)
Presentation/ activity is somewhat organized; participant handout is present but could be more helpful; wiki was mentioned. Time management is sufficient (presentation goes slightly under or over time limit of 5-7 minutes for presentation, and 10 min for Q&A)
The presentation/ activity is organized well; participant handout is useful and easy to read/follow; wiki was mentioned. Time management is highly effective (presentation finishes within time limit of 5-7 minutes for presentation, and 10 min for Q&A)
Presentation Teamwork
Presentation demonstrated low degree of cooperation among team members.
Presentation demonstrated a considerable degree of cooperation among team members.
Presentation demonstrated a high degree of cooperation among team members.
Presentation Skills
Presenters difficult to follow; opportunities for participation and questions are few, if any.
Presenters delivery is unclear at times; some opportunities given for participation and questions.
Presenters delivery is clear and compelling; participation and questioning is facilitated skillfully.