UF Steelcase

“There are two sides to education. An objectively driven pedagogy presents the world to the learner, with a focus on acquiring information. There’s also a developmentally driven education that positions the learner within the world, with a focus on self awareness, observation and the ability to synthesize and construct knowledge. We need to balance those two approaches so students not only acquire knowledge but learn to be problem solvers, to be able to innovate and operate when they don’t have all the information,” says Jason Meneely, associate professor in the Department of Interior Design at the University of Florida (UF).

UF’s philosophy on education is transparent in its learning environments. Two active learning spaces which showcase this thinking and break down the physical and social barriers between students and teachers, information and peers, while fostering communication, collaboration and problem solving are:

  • media:scape LearnLab, which was converted from an existing classroom in the College of Design, Constuction and Planning (DCP)
  • AHA! Colab, an open classroom and collaborative suite of breakout rooms which was converted from an enclosed classroom, break room and elevator lobby in the College of Journalism and Communications


The LearnLab was the first of the two spaces to be created and it helped pave the way for the AHA! space, but it faced an initial challenge: UF’s need — as at all institutions of higher education — to hold down the amount of real estate allocated per student.

“Such quantitative assessments are important but only half the story,” says Meneely. “Beyond student headcounts you also have to measure the quality
of the learning environment: how well students connect with their instructors and peers, how engaged they are. Does the space allow instructors to teach in the way they need to for the course? Can students work collaboratively or does the room force them to sit passively in fixed rows of seating? If you only have lecture rooms, you’re not addressing a critical need for active learning.”

Four media:scape settings gather students around tables, each with connections for up to six digital devices and dual flat screen monitors for displaying content. With full- height magnetic whiteboards on the walls and four different projection surfaces, content is readily accessible to everyone in the room. Discussion flows freely around the table, between students and the instructor, even if that

instructor happens to be a student presenting material to the class.

“Students are coming on to a campus with 50,000 students, so when they can work in small groups in the LearnLab, they’re more engaged, they’re communicating right away, and you can have more impact as a professor and create the kind of learning environment everyone wants to be in,” says Margaret Portillo, Ph.D., professor and chair of Interior Design.

“The classroom exemplifies a long- term effort to provide a better learning experience in our college, one that reflects how design professionals practice,” says Christopher Silver, Ph.D., professor and dean of the College of DCP. “The architecture and design profession is a collaborative business and we want our students to learn that way.”

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