Idea Spaces: An Introduction for Faculty – presented to the HCC Faculty Conference  on 2/22/14 and the New Media Consortium Summer Conference on June 18, 2014.


Notes Slides Additional Reading
This presentation will likely leave you with at least as many questions as it provides in answers. Frankly, we’re still exploring the possibilities of Idea Spaces. Part of this approach is to self-develop the field itself, which is one of the key goals of the Teaching Innovation Lab we’re starting up at Northwest. 140605ideaspaces.001
Whether we like it or not, the technological world is shifting faster and faster. Moore’s Law, which predicts a doubling of computing power and a halving of its cost every 18 months. The practical effect of this exponential growth of technological capabilities. According to Brynolfsson and McAfee this will have tectonic effects on our economy in the coming decade as we are moving to the second half of the chessboard.

As technology professionals we often fail to see how the rest of the world is struggling to cope with technological change. Our local cultures often fail to adjust as quickly as we may like. The reality is that the vast majority of teaching is content-based lecture even after the technological shifts of the past two decades. Brynolfsson and McAfee point out that the economy will not be kind to those whose primary claim to economic value is based on content mastery alone. Creative problem-solvers will be in demand. That requires a different kind of educational focus than many institutions are currently able to deliver. This requires root-and-branch rethinking of what we are doing. Unfortunately, there has been too much tendency to focus on the means of technological change instead of deconstructing what we are doing. As technologists we also have a natural tendency to focus on toys rather than what they actually accomplish in the learning environments we support. This presentation seeks to present a holistic approach to rethinking what we’re doing on our campuses by looking at our spaces, the time allotted for reflection, and the mental, institutional and cultural structures we put into place to support teaching and learning. Any one of these three elements in isolation is bound to be stunted in its effect. It’s only with all three working in concert that we can hope to meaningfully evaluate change going forward.

140605ideaspaces.002 Brynjolfsson, Erik, & McAfee, Andrew; Race Against the Machine (Digital Frontier Press, 2011)

Moore’s Law on Wikipedia

The Rice and Chessboard Story on Wikipedia


Understanding how humans interact with technology is key to surviving in this new environment. Chess provides an interesting window into the possibilities we have for augmenting our capabilities instead of being replaced by computers. However, it requires that we have an understanding of where humans can do things computers can’t.  130217ideasspaces.003 Gary Kasparov on the Chess Masters of Today

Engelbart, Douglas, “Augmenting Human Intellect”

Licklider, J.C.R.; “Man-Computer Symbiosis”

Chess provides an interesting starting point for understanding how work will be structured in the future. Shouldn’t we be structuring our learning environments (and our own internal processes) with this reality in mind? Most experts agree that creativity and critical problem solving will be keys to human success going forward. Computers do rote work awfully well. What this basically means is that we need to nurture innovation within our learning spaces. The question then becomes how we do that.  130217ideasspaces.004
The first element to consider when we start on our redesign effort is physical space. It is amazing how little we consider our physical environments when it comes to the critical question of stimulating creativity and innovation among our students.  130217ideasspaces.005
The industrial model fundamentally colors our approach to education. However, this kind of work is increasingly irrelevant as automation takes over more and more tasks.  130217ideasspaces.006 Pink, Daniel; A Whole New Mind (New York: Riverhead, 2006)

Pink, Daniel, “The Flip Manifesto: 16 Counterintuitive Ideas About Motivation, Innovation, and Leadership” – free download

This quote from Seymour Papert (1993, p. 1) encapsulates the problem here nicely:

Imagine a party of time travelers from an earlier century, among them one group of surgeons and another of schoolteachers, each group eager to see how things have changed in their profession a hundred years or more into the future. Imagine the bewilderment of of the surgeons finding themselves in the operating room of a modern hospital. Although they would know that an operation of some sort was being performed, and might even be able to guess at the target organ, they would in almost all cases be unable to figure out what the surgeon was trying to accomplish or what was the purpose of the many strange devices he and the surgical staff were employing. The rituals of antisepsis and anesthesia, the beeping electronics, and even the bright lights, all so familiar to television audiences, would be utterly unfamiliar to them.

The time-traveling teachers would respond very differently to a modern elementary school classroom. They might be puzzled by a few strange objects. They might notice that some standard techniques – and would likely disagree among themselves about whether the changes they saw were for the better or the worse – but they would fully see the point of most of what was being attempted and could quite easily take over the class.

Can we keep carrying on this way given the technological and economic changes described by Brynolfsson and McAfee? Our spaces and approaches to teaching are fundamentally industrial in character. Can we really expect to create post-industrial graduates in this matter?

 130217ideasspaces.007 Papert, Seymour; The Children’s Machine (New York: BasicBooks, 1993)

Brand, Stewart; How Buildings Learn (New York: Viking, 1994)

Over the last decade HCC-Northwest has piloted three “Learning Space” classrooms. This effort was initially spearheaded by the current chair of the English Department, Michael Ronan, but has since colored our approach to classroom design. The first Learning Space in 2004 was too cramped for the number of students it eventually accommodated. This points to a major challenge for Learning Space designers: The temptation to take advantage of their lower student-space ratio to cram in additional seats to accommodate enrollment demands. The 2004 space would have been fine if the room had been limited to 20 students but instead it usually accommodates 30, severely limiting its flexibility. The 2008 space, has probably been our most successful to date but still suffers from faculty being dropped in there uninitiated and complaining that there is no “front” to the room and that’s its difficult to get the students into rows. The 2010 space has suffered somewhat from a lack of support personnel who are trained in the way that the space should be used. These were all remodeled space. Our new campuses will have purpose-built rooms. However, the social/cultural limitations of these rooms are still cautionary tales in the design of Learning Spaces. 140605ideaspaces.006
Consider the University of Minnesota’s Active Learning Classroom. Don’t get lost in the technology, although it certainly enhances the experience. Note the difference that is created by simply putting the students around round tables and the instructor in the center, rather than the front of the room. I encourage you to watch the full video. 140605ideaspaces.007The Complete University of Minnesota Active Learning Classroom video can be found at: The University of Minnesota Active Learning Classroom Overview
The West Houston Institute, a campus with a heavy STEM focus which we will complete in 2016, takes the Learning Space concept and extends it to the entire campus. In addition to both Flexspace and ALC classrooms, the campus incorporates a number of elements designed to promote student and faculty engagement and the creative collision of ideas. 140605ideaspaces.008
The space is anchored by a Maker Space, a conference center, a facilitated collaborative brainstorming space (the Solutions Design Center) and, pulling it all together a Learning Commons. The Teaching Innovation Lab (more on this later) will infuse this campus by evaluating the effectiveness of various strategies and providing a home for teaching innovation. A key feature of this campus is that it is designed create opportunities for ideas and people to collide, creating interesting synergies. 140605ideaspaces.009
In addition to space, students must have time to reflect on what they are learning and to engage in work that is meaningful to them in some way. Faculty must allow themselves time to innovate as well. It doesn’t require a huge investment of time but rather lots of small ones. Pivoting is key to working toward success. 130217ideasspaces.009 Johnson, Steven; Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (New York: Riverhead, 2010)

Jarvis, Jeff; What Would Google Do? (New York: Harper, 2009)

We know what kinds of skills will be necessary in the post-industrial world. What we don’t know is how to teach for them. Companies such as Google have responded to the fluid nature of the new economies by giving their employees 20% time to pursue projects of their own design. A lot of these don’t work out but some do and they have formed the seedbeds of projects that have gone on to cement the company’s success such as Gmail. We need to give ourselves time to do this in our instructional design and we also need to give our students time to fail and reinvent themselves within in the context of the class.  130217ideasspaces.010 Ries, Eric; The Lean Startup (New York: Crown, 2011)
The TIL is designed to create time and flexibility to develop new teaching strategies, both in the classroom and online. It is based on an entrepreneurial model called the Lean Startup, which is predicated on experimentation with extensive data collection and application of the scientific method in the analysis of subsequent data. Faculty will teach a reduced course load and in the freed up time will engage in collaborative work with other faculty, workshops, and the redesigning of their own teaching strategies. The TIL will leverage the Solutions Design Center to facilitate faculty interactions and will both use and evaluate the Flexspace and ALC classrooms in the building. 140605ideaspaces.012  Ries, Eric; The Lean Startup (New York: Crown, 2011)
There is a model of Entrepreneurship and innovation advocated by Clayton Christensen and Eric Ries, among others that is called the Lean Startup Model. Ries breaks this down into methods: build, measure, learn. The key here is that those who learn most effectively from failure tend to succeed in innovative projects. The complete Clayton Christensen video Christensen, Clayton, The Innovator’s Dilemma (New York: HarperBusiness, 2011)
Our structures provide both opportunities as well as challenges to anyone trying to stimulate creative thinking and approaches to teaching and learning.  130217ideasspaces.012
Innovations are many but also fail at a great rate. First of all, we need to more effectively allow for failure as the NMC 2014 Horizon Report recommends. However, we need to make sure that our organizations, and that includes the structure of the class itself, are able to absorb those innovations that succeed or they will fail as well. Many of the “latest ideas” that come from academic conferences or journals ultimately fail because they are insufficiently integrated into college processes. 140605ideaspaces.015
Steven Johnson says that all innovation and learning is fundamentally social in nature. He outlines three different kinds of social idea networks in his book.  130217ideasspaces.013 Johnson, Steven; Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (New York: Riverhead, 2010)


The first network is called a solid network. Solid networks are characterized by rigidity. Many of the vestiges of industrialism in our educational system are characterized by their solid nature and many of them also serve as serious impediments to post-industrial learning. Examples of this are: specialized disciplines, grades, and even the semester credit-hour structure itself. Unfortunately, many of these create extrinsic motivational structures (see Daniel Pink and Dan Ariely for more on the benefits of intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation) that impede creative approaches to learning. However, they also represent in many cases things that faculty have little or no control over. Preconceived attitudes on the part of both students and faculty are another example of a solid network presenting a barrier. I have documented some effects of this in my blog.  140605ideaspaces.017 Ariely, Dan; The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic (New York: Harper, 2010)

Pink, Daniel; Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead, 2009)

Tom Haymes, Blogs on My Classroom experiment:

The complete Daniel Pink video Pink, Daniel; Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead, 2009)
The flip side of this how the human element often comes into the Idea Space, particularly at a community college. Johnson refers to this as a gaseous network. Students come and go and never fully check into the learning environment. Their lives are filled with distractions. K-12 does a poor job of structuring their knowledge frameworks (we do too). Faculty are also atomized as we scattered across hundreds of square miles in more than two dozen campuses.  130217ideasspaces.015 Johnson, Steven; Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (New York: Riverhead, 2010)


Johnson’s ideal state is that of a liquid network. It provides some structure to ideas while still allowing fluidity to the structure itself. Rivers are a great metaphor. They can cut canyons faster than any other force of nature and yet they can also change channels if their need arises. The classroom itself, assuming instruction takes advantage of this opportunity, offers the easiest fluid network we have under our control as faculty. However, technology has started opening other opportunities. We must always keep in mind, however, that the internet has very gaseous tendencies by its very nature and therefore structures online have to be carefully designed to counteract this without becoming too rigid. In the end, human interaction is the key to success in creating liquid networks. To the degree that this can be simulated online, this can be an effective tool.  130217ideasspaces.016 Johnson, Steven; Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (New York: Riverhead, 2010)


I hope this talk has encouraged you to give yourself the time to reflect on how what you are doing in the classroom impacts its success as an Idea Space. We do a lot of things right out of habit. However, every teacher, including myself, has bad habits that can seriously impede your ability to be successful in creating a 21st Century learning environment for your students.  130217ideasspaces.017
It is only through an integrated approach to learning and educational innovation that we can hope to make lasting changes in our environments. As Director of Technology, I feel that it is a central part of my task to institutionalize innovation at HCC-NW. This is a work in progress. I welcome your feedback. 140605ideaspaces.022
I often get my best ideas walking in the morning. It’s time for me to listen to my own thoughts without distraction. I have notepad application on my phone that I often use to record ideas as a walk. Once you have a great idea, the next step is recording it.  130217ideasspaces.018

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