George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Editor's note: This post is co-authored by Fran Siracusa, co-founder of and educational technologist for Calliope Global.

As citizens of the world, students in today's classrooms seek global contexts for learning. Opportunities for networked and international collaborations are bringing both the world to classrooms and classrooms to the world. With a focus on international standards of instruction, globally-minded programs inspire students to be curious through investigation and reflective in analysis of thought. These pathways lead to the development of cultural literacy by allowing students to examine issues of global significance through interconnected sharing of experience and exchange of ideas. Collaborative learning spaces empower students to work with each other and with students in classrooms of the world to assume multiple perspectives, explore alternative solutions, and thoughtfully solve problems.

By examining the landscape of the classroom, educators can design collaborative learning spaces that will support the teaching and learning of skills needed for the interconnected world of today and tomorrow. By seamlessly connecting pedagogy, technology, and space, teachers can create spaces that promote social learning and maximum engagement. These collaborative classrooms are alive with action -- teaching, learning, innovating, creating, making, and exploring. Innovative learning spaces can encourage both individual and collective voices, and, through use of emerging technologies, they inspire students to become skillful curators of their digital worlds. Though there cannot be a single universal blueprint for designing a collaborative learning space, teachers can use the goal of global collaboration to inspire classroom design that allows for connected sharing and learning.

While there are many design ideas that could help drive this transformation, we suggest the following three as a starting point.

1. Involve Students in the Process From the Beginning

The design of a collaborative learning space begins with a dialogue between all stakeholders. Everyone, including teachers and students, are part of the conversation and the design experience from the start. With a focus on purpose, together they can create plans for a classroom that will invite active participation and inquiry. This establishes a framework that evolves the role of the classroom teacher from distant lecturer to engaged facilitator of learning. As partners in the design process, the teacher and the students can together take a holistic approach to define the goals of a collaborative learning space by answering the question: "How will learning look in our classroom?" Curricular content can be integrated into the design process, and digital tools can allow for creativity and critical thinking. The Bubbli app allows users to create 360-degree spherical photos called bubbles. Students can capture entire scenes of classrooms, including floors, ceilings, walls, and everything in between, and then they can add audio. Social tools allow for bubbles to be directly shared with the world and organized into albums. Albums can turn groups of bubbles into interactive stories and can serve as digital artifacts to add to digital portfolios of student learning.

2. Make Every Space a Space for Learning

In the process of designing a collaborative learning space, all available areas should be considered spaces for learning. Hallways can become meeting spaces for small groups, glass and windows can be transformed into writing spaces, and classroom walls can allow groups to visually map out thinking. By removing the conventional teacher desk, teachers and students will better understand their evolving roles as co-constructors of knowledge. Without a front of the room, every seat is the best seat in the class, and students are always at the center of learning. Flexible seating allows for spaces to transform depending on the purpose of the lesson. Varied seating options, too, such as stools, rocking chairs, beanbag chairs, and floor seating, give students choice and variability throughout the day.

3. Connect Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces

The design of a learning space can act as a catalyst to promote collaboration and innovation. Seamless integration of technology into classroom furniture and lessons can empower students to create personalized paths to learning. You can design a collaboration station by moving a flat-edged table to a wall. Chairs surrounding the table will invite student groups to work and collaborate here. An Apple TV added to a mounted flat-screen television lets you mirror devices during project sessions. Physical spaces can then be connected to virtual spaces through creativity and productivity apps. Classrooms can create international learning teams with students of the world, and then use apps -- such as Nearpod, Padlet, Kahoot!, Google Drive, and Periscope -- in global collaborations and projects. Videoconferencing platforms like Google Hangouts and Skype in the Classroom allow students to connect to the world through conversations and sharing their stories.

Collaborative learning spaces have the power to transform learning and teaching. The landscape of a connected classroom unites pedagogy, space, and standards of instruction. By connecting to global classrooms in meaningful and authentic ways, there can be endless opportunities for collaboration and engagement, and, in effect, the world becomes the learning space of the classroom.

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Jennifer Williams's picture
Jennifer Williams
Educational Program Developer/Literacy Specialist

Hi Robin! We cannot thank you enough for your lovely comments. As you mention, these global skills are critical for students and teachers to develop as we move into a world that is so internationally connected. Thanks again! You inspire!

Jennifer Williams's picture
Jennifer Williams
Educational Program Developer/Literacy Specialist

Precisely! Love this point! We organized learning spaces in our last building with purposeful rooms and shared spaces. Each one had a different look and design and could be used according to needs of the learning desired. It was extraordinary. Thank you for your great comments! Completely honored!

Jennifer Williams's picture
Jennifer Williams
Educational Program Developer/Literacy Specialist

Joy, your words mean so much! The power of learning space design is immeasurable and truly allows for transformational growth in the classroom for both educators and students! Love sharing and learning with you and following your journey in education. Many, many thanks!

Wade Muncil's picture

You've made my day!
Eight years ago my Emirati college students in the western region of UAE started connecting with Japanese college students from Osaka.
Over the years we have used email and video to exchange ideas. Try to imagine 14 Bedouin students in their abayas conversing with 12 Japanese students. Imagine the questions, the fascination and the engagement! For the past three years I have been teaching inter-cultural intelligence and we have formed teams of Japanese and Emiratis, the teams have researched a culture together, held Skype meetings to plan their research, collectively written a report and finished the semester with an online intercultural presentation. In March I will be presenting at TESOL on the value of international collaboration, the fact that it can be used in all courses and at all ages. Our next venture is to do an online interview with a grandmother from UAE and a Japanese grandmother. Please keep in touch. Your insights into the process and product are invaluable.

Jennifer Williams's picture
Jennifer Williams
Educational Program Developer/Literacy Specialist

This is incredible, Wade! You are an incredible inspiration and your story of bringing collaborative engagement through use of technology and instructional/learning space design is remarkable. I would love to hear more! Are you on Twitter by chance? Our handles are @JenWilliamsEdu and @la_Profe_S. Many thanks for your kind words and support!

Wade Muncil's picture

Hi Jennifer,

Yes, it has been quite a journey and we hope to spread the word to allow teachers and students to share in the joy and discovery.
I'm not on Twitter but please email me at and thank YOU for letting me know that International Collaborative Learning is alive, well and growing. We are Building Bridges.

All the best,

Wade Muncil's picture

Hi Jen,

We are looking forward to connecting with classrooms from around the world. I Believe International Collaboration works for all ages and all subjects. I also think that it will play a major role in education in the near future. Next semester, beginning in late January, the door of my classroom is open and you are all invited. Education may and should begin in the classroom but it should never end there. Lets see what we can create!

Ed Gragert's picture

Thanks, Jennifer, for a great article on the importance of bringing the world into the classroom. Over the 27 years of work with iEARN, I have seen that students are more curious and motivated to learn, taking responsibility for part of their own education. Further, the process of learning with and teaching a peer elsewhere on the planet, recognizing that someone values what I have to offer, raises self-esteem and hope.

Thanks again.

Interim Executive Director

rmbtowner_tech's picture
Elementary School Technology Coach - Suburban Chicago

Can't wait for you to see the classroom I am working in. We did a lot of work over break. We ran into some financial difficulties as I mentioned. It slowed us down a little. We are writing a Donor's Choose, looking for donations, check Craig's list, Goodwill and the like. Andi McNair is also redesigning her classroom space. We have been in contact. Stay tuned. I will tag you guys on Twitter with before & after pics and the blog post. Looking forward to great things in 2016. I feel blessed to have spent the weekend getting to know you!

Wade Muncil's picture

Looking forward to spring semester and connecting my Bedouin students in western UAE with classrooms around the world using social media.

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