Design Lab 1 is a home for collaboration and project development among students and faculty in design and performance disciplines at the University of Michigan. Staffed with advanced student consultants from diverse fields as well as experts from MLibrary‘s Digital Media Commons, DL1 provides programmatic support for exploration and practical interaction across disciplines. It is a favored location for class meetings and a gathering place for student organizations. DL1 is also home base for the DMC’s grant-giving program, GROCS (Grants, Research Opportunities, and Collaborative Spaces).
DL1 was furnished in 1999 in accordance with contemporary human-centered design principals (flexible lighting, comfortable seating) and it was equipped with digital and physical tools to support constructivist learning activities and “social learning” (white boards, configurable furniture, tools for digital productivity). Since 2005, the Digital Media Commons has enhanced the learning space with engaged staff members and a strategic program that responds to participants’ suggestions and initiatives.
Identify Resonant Areas of Interest
In DL1, interest groups form around technologies featured in the space by request (Arduino microcontrollers), or around academic topics brought by groups that meet there (animation aesthetics), or around projects in progress (GROCS and Electronic Lunch provide many of these). These programmatically-supported interest groups often attract more members, growing in number and gradually developing tangential groups. Newcomers arrive in DL1 to learn from the group activity and to contribute to it. Soon new technologies are requested, and new themes become dominant.
Embed Peers to Facilitate Networking
Our support staff are students or recent graduates who are already deeply engaged in material of interest to the community. Often they are peer leaders within the classes or organizations that meet in DL1. We employ them to help keep the doors open, clean the desks, and trouble shoot the technology, but also to work on projects of their own design. They share their learning with others, and help facilitate sharing and networking among their contacts. For teachers and learners, these dedicated peers are an attraction, and inspiration and a highly valued resource.
Uniquely in DL1, artifacts of a day’s activity are not routinely cleared away each night. Participants leave behind digital and physical work in progress, failed experiments, solved problems, or finished projects, ready for critique. For learners, the locally-generated material invites participation in the local, interdisciplinary academic culture. For teachers, the content-rich environment provides a locally relevant context for new content, seasoned with perspectives from other disciplines.
Strategies for the framing the content have been a particular focus in DL1 lately, as participants are beginning to combine traditional design studio practices with popular social networking practices. If this new paradigm can be translated to other environments, it may, in fact, become a significant contribution to the field of learning space design!