Interactive, Collaborative Learning at Hampton University’s Harvey Library

The newly renovated library facility at Hampton University (HU) awaits students for the 2016-2017 academic year. In collaboration with a Maryland-based office equipment supplier, HU transformed its common study space-the William R. and Norma B. Harvey Library-into a vibrant learning center for students, faculty, and staff.

Before the upgrades, Harvey Library had traditional furniture unfriendly to computers and multimedia devices that define 21st century learning. Now, newly designed open spaces and collaboration tables promote a cooperative environment.

Merging Social Perspectives with Powerful Academic Resources

HU has long taken pride in fostering future leaders by merging critical social perspectives with powerful academic resources. Dedicated to the promotion of learning, building of character, and preparation of promising students for positions of leadership and service, HU has produced distinguished graduates for generations, including Booker T. Washington. In 1957, two years after being arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, Rosa Parks moved to the Hampton area where she worked and supported advocacy on campus.

Today, HU remains at the cutting edge of academia. Curriculum changes and advanced technology learning centers have sparked an uptick in collaborative engagement in the classroom more broadly. As part of this trend, HU recognized the need to change the physical architecture of its classrooms and library from low-tech, individual workstations (the isolating “me” bubble) to ergonomic, flexible groups of computer tables (the inclusive “we” community). This meant the elimination of solo workstations and the installation of furniture that encourages group interaction and project-based learning.

A Comprehensive Redesign

A technology, furniture, and ergonomics integration company–SMARTdesks–proved the ideal partner to bring HU’s academic spaces into the digital age. Over a year before the project began, HU Project Managers Ben Moorman and Ira Walker approached the company with a grant-based budget to revamp the library common space and two classrooms. To employ technology and digital resources to their fullest advantage, the design teams at HU and the furniture company immediately agreed that the outdated library, as well as two math classrooms, needed structural changes to convert rows of archaic desks to fully integrated, multi-use computer spaces.

The 3,228 square foot “Emporium” of Hampton University’s Harvey Library needed an extensive upgrade to its work surfaces, power and data infrastructure, and ADA compliance. In collaborative dialogue with the furniture company, HU decided to develop a computer lab with iLid multi-use desktops and Exchange reconfigurable computer lab tables. In addition to the updated workstations, the HU design team selected a comprehensive power management solution that incorporated furniture and floor integration, which provides a raised access floor system that covered the existing floor, with strategically located outlets to power each workstation in the room. In addition, because the outlets are easily moveable, they can be rearranged throughout the room if necessary.

The team delivered a detailed tile-by-tile floor plan, complete with wiring scheme and placement of outlets for the furniture in the space. The design team also relocated doors and AV equipment for optimal spatial use. ADA compliant ramps and powder coated steel railings were designed and fabricated custom for the installation. When the project was completed and ready for installation, the compact flooring system and the furniture arrived on the same truck, and one installation team set up the complete system within days. According to Moorman, each of the math classrooms was installed in a single evening, and he was amazed at the speed with which the Harvey Library was transformed.

Putting It Together: Flexible Collaboration Furniture at HU

Flexibility is at the heart of HU’s redesign project. The highly adaptable work surface HU chose permits the use of computers when required, but offers the option to securely stow monitors out of the way when students wish to use traditional pen-and-paper materials. As Moorman noted, “We wanted to add computers to a standard classroom, but did not want to lose the functionality of the room for teaching classes that did not use computers. Also, since the computers can be hidden we avoided issues with students being unable to see the board when teachers are writing.” They needed something that offers ease of use, reliable construction, and a generous work surface, so text materials and computer screens can be used together. With the end result, users can “flip” the computer monitor open as they wish, and easily close it to lie flush with the workspace surface.

They also chose modular furniture designed for multi-use collaborative environments. Within the new system, individual triangular elements fit together to form an array of different shapes and create a “geometry of interaction,” which promotes collaborative flow. The tables remove barriers to consensus by encouraging positive, social body language. The arrangement options are virtually limitless, and locking casters on each table allow for reconfiguration of the space as needed for small group work or conference sessions.

While the elements come together in a variety of shapes, such as pinwheel, hexagon, triangle, and linear formations, the HU team favors the pinwheel because of its versatility; students can work alone, yet easily lean over and interact with their neighbor as they work on group projects. The desktop space to the left works as a place for text materials or as a shared conference space with the neighboring collaborator. Impromptu round circle meetings can easily take place with open sight lines within the group.

In the words of HU Project Manager Walker, “Students will undoubtedly learn more efficiently when they work not in silos but by interacting with their peers, which will prepare them for future career endeavors.” In keeping with HU’s commitment to training future leaders, the newly renovated learning spaces at Harvey library will give students the tools they need to prepare for leadership in today’s increasingly connected professional world.

About the Author
Mira Korber is a second year undergraduate student at Yale University. She is an associate editor and the layout manager of the Yale Economic Review, and her interests vary from sustainable development to language study and international travel.