Team Building in Class

Walk into a 21st-century classroom and see students working together on projects, hear different points of view and witness problem solving on the student-to-student level. Teachers stride among the clusters of class participants, pose questions and provide springboards for debate. This kind of collaborative learning refers to the mutual exchange of ideas between students and their classroom teachers.

Collaborative learning reflects a conceptual shift from traditional pedagogy to joint learning experiences for both the experts and the students. In the more traditional paradigm of teaching, professors disseminate information strictly through lecture, but today, student involvement drives the learning process. Collaboration tables foster stimulating interactions through their functional and aesthetic design.

Intellectual exchange occurs when learning studio tables encourage productive group and solo work. Through flexible desk and seating arrangements, participants at each learning station establish rapport largely through accommodating and naturally inviting table ergonomics. Thus, geometries of the collaboration table organically establish dynamic interaction among class participants and teachers alike. Computers, laptops and mobile devices such as iPad, Notebook, Kindle, Nook and smart phones all are relevant technologies. They integrate with the use of text materials and note pads. The interface of people as they use text and technology to generate solutions engenders current educational trends.

How Does Collaboration Happen in the Classroom?
Collaboration furniture offers functionality by encouraging positive body language between participating members of the table. Offset seating arrangements and table curves increase welcoming eye contact and diminish more aggressive, confrontational body stances. Additionally, rolling chairs make sharing monitors and text resources at separate workstations a seamless effort. Students will begin to “mirror” each other’s body language because their workstations reflect fully engaged interactions. Through such accommodating learning environments, they are likely to develop excellent group dynamics as they solve problems as teams.

Collaboration desks enable users to work independently or together in groups of two or more, and the workstations themselves offer mobility for flexible classroom layout. Teachers can arrange desks singularly or in clusters that are appropriate for group and private study. That flexibility in configuration optimizes floor space. Also, proper classroom setup can make it easy for teachers to walk around and check on their students’ screens while they are at work.

Most collaborative tables are easy to arrange in both traditional front-facing lines of desks or virtually limitless configurations including hexagon, pinwheel, wave, triangle and video-conferencing.

For example, a hexagon shape invites open body language and eye contact among participants through its round configuration. When larger groups form within the pinwheel formation, collaboration zones are comfortable and team centered. For individual focus, computer monitors are angled for privacy without the need for physical privacy screens. Offset linear wave desks encourage work in pairs side-by-side or across the table, and can accommodate as large a group as necessary. Triangles make it especially easy for group members to pass text materials around the shape.

The video-conferencing formation enables collaboration within and beyond the classroom space. In real and virtual environments, the students experience seamless communication and sense of community due to the dynamic arrangement of the collaborative tables.

The design process itself needs to be a collaborative effort including planners, architects and end-users. The goal is to create the most efficient use of floor space, tables and chairs.

Michele McHenry, director of Design at SMARTdesks, says, “The classrooms and labs that we are constructing today extend so far beyond the traditional classroom environment that it is critical that we offer a solution that offers both a traditional seating arrangement as well as a multitude of reconfiguration options.”

This type of furniture’s most important principles is the freedom it gives students to learn in their own styles within the classroom. Teachers can quickly adjust the desk dynamics as they assess the needs of their students within the working space. The designs promote a continuous flow of interaction that adapts to any project at hand.

Applied Collaboration Systems
The multipurpose “cyber café” room at the Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy in Colorado Springs utilizes these types of tables. Students work with each other and educational, design, music and language computer programs. Teachers project on whiteboards to present material, while students seated at multi-use tables can then easily engage each other to discuss course work. Collaborative learning studios designed with classroom layout in mind promote engaged environments where students can multitask with text and technological resources all while remaining immersed in their projects.

According to Derek Swanson, Personalized Learning coordinator at the Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, the tables “allow people to talk to one another and still have the technology available to them to reference if they need to in their discussions. It’s worked out really well.”

The school employs “project-based learning” methodology; students collaborate to solve real-world problems in cooperative interactions. The workspace inspires students to innovate together and develop solutions. Team-building skills cultivated in the classroom will serve students in their future employment interactions. The firm foundation collaborative learning develops from an early age is crucial to this skill.

And as Mr. Swanson asserts, “Having the ability to really have the students collaborate — that’s how students are learning.” 

Mira Korber is the project analyst at