Innovation spaces are a relatively new phenomenon on college campuses. Often called Innovation Centers, they function outside the traditional parameters of the school calendar, taking interdisciplinary groups of students through rigorous projects in which they design, fabricate, and test a prototype that solves an assigned problem. The centers are not classrooms, but highly flexible, dynamic spaces that must meet a wide variety of demands, often on a 24/7 schedule.
Students work in groups in a designated place. There are no set hours, but rather a time frame within which a project needs to be completed. The student who gravitates toward this learning experience is moving away from the traditional instruction paradigm toward a more creative, self controlled experience that emphasizes experimentation, encourages learning by doing, and fosters creativity.
Because we believe the physical environment can nurture creativity and serve as a catalyst for innovation, we recently hosted a roundtable with leaders of innovation spaces on college campuses from across the country. During the session we focused on the key characteristics of great innovation spaces, which we defined as spaces that support collaboration, alone/heads-down time, formal and informal instruction, communication, and rest.
Earlier this week during a session at ELI 2011, we shared these characteristics with a group of our fellow Educause members. They added the characteristics of openness, access, and visibility to this list.
A key conclusion from both groups: space and the elements in it really do matter.