Let's Huddle...Sort of
- By Glenn Meeks
- March 1st, 2017
Collaboration has become an
important 21st-century skill set. Being
able to work in a team or with other
individuals is a desired employee proficiency. It
has pervaded education as one of the 4C’s buried
in every curriculum across the United States.
In response, the concept of a huddle room or a
set of furniture with tables, chairs, electronics
for switching video sources and an LCD panel creating a “huddle”
for working together is popping up on many contemporary school
designs. I can’t help but wonder if how the concept is expressed in
architectural designs today has an unrecognized institutional bias.
Hang with me for a little bit.
It took about 10 years (from the early 1980s to mid 1990s), but
the investment of providing employees with
a personal computer for work, independent
of a mainframe, has generated a massive
increase in productivity. The productivity
gains were triggered by user-friendly software
and information (files) residing on that
personal computer. Whether you have been
using Microsoft Windows or Apple iOS, your
orientation is that your work is based on file
or downloaded to your computing device.
There is another design trend that
impacts this discussion called “ideation”, utilized by the technology
industry long before adopted by many other industries. It
is a design process were a basic concept is developed by a team
and then, based on input and feedback, multiple re-iterations of
the prototype are rapidly developed focusing on improving the
original concept. Sometimes the results fail, but most of the time it
works okay, and sometimes, they work out great and the company
has a new hit. Think of the Apple iPhone or any web-based application
popular today. Please note that it starts with and ends in a
collaborative effort requiring the ability to share information with
anyone in the team.
In a brilliant move, Steelcase recognized that these collaborative
groups needed an easy, simple and foolproof way to share information
with each other and created their “MediaScape” product
line. Remember, information is on each person’s computer, so they
assembled a table, chairs, an LCD panel and a custom set of electronics.
The electronics allowed each person to plug the display output
of their computer into the system and with a simple pushing of a
button everyone at the table can see the information on any person’s
computer at the table up and onto the LCD panel. Everyone has been
copying them since the product was released in 2010.
This is an observation, not a judgment; the architectural community,
and therefore, engineering community are a Windows or
Apple iOS centric community. Yes, files are stored on a common
network location with backup but each person pulls down a file to
their computing device. This is the institutional bias; collaboration
requires hardware or proprietary, custom software for sharing my
screen with others.
There is an alternative to the hardware-based solution. In
September of 2012, Google released Google Drive and created a
totally different collaboration environment. Sure, Google released
Docs, Sheets and Slides in 2007, and Drawings
in 2010, but Google Drive opened up a
whole new collaboration environment. Any
file stored on Google Drive can be shared
and edited by up to 50 people simultaneously!
Not simply shared and edited but
everyone sees all edits in virtually real time
on their computing device. I do not need an
LCD panel and electronics to see what is on
another person’s computer.
Perhaps part of the institutional bias towards
a hardware-based solution comes from the fact that Google
Drive and associated personal productivity applications are so new
that those of us who are digital immigrants (we remember a time
when there was no technology) have not experienced the power of
collaboration using Google Drive. My concept of what it means to
collaborate experienced a radical shift after collaborating with a
group of people using a Google Docs on Google Drive.
Obviously, Chromebooks running the Chrome operating system
are designed to maximize use of Google Drive, but any other
computing device, whether it uses Windows, Apple iOS or Linux
operating systems, can use Google Drive. You simply obtain a Google
email account and download the Chrome web browser. Schools and
their students can obtain everything for free, including unlimited
storage for teachers and students. Collaboration huddles should not
be limited to specific locations and furniture sets, they should be a
spontaneous clustering of students, desks, chairs and computing
devices when and where the students need to collaborate.
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.
Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.