Tag Archives: collaboration

Learning frame works




Here are the frameworks we came up with in class.


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Update: Lounge@JLS Middle School

What is special about this place, and the learning that happens in it?

The teacher’s lounge at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School serves multiple functions, few of which have anything to do with being  a “lounge”:

  1. 5 times a year, it serves as a thoroughfare between the indoor corridor (where ping-pong tables are stationed) and the “Cafetorium”, in which the school dance is held.
  2. Every day there are teachers using the copy machines it houses to prepare materials for teaching. They might come and use the fridge and microwave as well.
  3. Sometimes it serves as the venue for PTA meetings, during which coffee and bread are offered for participants to take away.
  4. There are big storage lockers for computer carts, which are accessed many times a day.
  5. If the staff working in the “Cafetorium” want to use the bathroom, they have to go through this space.

Apart from these functional activities, the only time the space is used for “learning” purposes is when teachers want to collaborate together but cannot find a meeting room elsewhere on the school campus.  Many of the teaching staff recently took part in a workshop at the d.school at Stanford in early January, and they seem to be keen on using design thinking in their teaching — it would be good if this space could be made to support their newly-acquired collaborative ethos.

What “aha”s or insights help to constrain your design?

  1. Since the room has high traffic (people coming in and out for copying, and computer carts coming in and out for usage and storage), furniture in the room should be easy to move. 
  2. Principal Ofek expressed her visions for the room in terms of adjectives: relaxing, comfortable, professional and collaborative.  These seem to suggest a space that is  relatively cozy, but also professionally productive.
  3. Principal Ofek also mentioned that many teachers, especially those who are younger and those who have their own  classrooms, rarely come to the lounge for downtime. Motivating teachers to come and collaborate is part of the challenge too.

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Field Notes: Science and Engineering Quad

Author: Hsiaolin Hsieh

Event: Site visit to SEQ, Stanford University

Time and Date of event: 13:15-15:50, Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Date of Record: Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Tour guide: Luke Thivierge, Associate Director, Building Operations, Facilities Planning & Management

Related articles:

Huang Engineering Building- self guided tour

New science and engineering building quad planned for campus core

A brief intro to Y2E2


1. The physical layout of the space(s)

Connection” is the design principle of the Science and Engineering Quad. It is represented in the layout, the location, the interior design and the decoration of the buildings, as well as in the overall appearance of the Quad.

  • Layout:  the Quad is surrounded by 4 buildings, the Huang EngineeringCenter, the Hewlett and Packard Buildings, the Y2E2 Building, and the James and Anna Marie Spilker building, which are linked underground “by an 18-foot-deep basement of shared laboratory space that is sure to be in high demand because of its state-of-the-art equipment and controlled environment free of outside light, noise and vibrations” (Stanford News). The link between buildings presents a vision of interdisciplinary collaboration in science and engineering.
  • Location:  the Quad is built along an east-west axis which coincides with that of the Main Quad, and which bridges the central campus and the west side of the campus (School of Medicine). This orientation follows the original campus plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and the overall appearance of the arcades and the quad, and the limestone tile façades and red tile roof, present a historical connection with the school as a whole.
  • Interior design and decoration:  inside the buildings of the Quad, there are exhibitions of the stories of individual people (prominent faculty and donors) and inventions that are associated with the schools connected with the Quad. These exhibitions highlight the intellectual heritage that connects current students and faculty with those of the past and contemporaries in industry today.

2. People who typically come to the space

Students, faculty and staff are the typical users in this space. In comparison with the other buildings dedicated to specialist graduate research, the Huang Engineering Building has been designed specifically for students activities. Its main entrance is on the second floor, and functions as a dining hall for students and faculty. It’s interesting to see that both the GSB and the SEQ put their “kitchens” in the most convenient and obvious places, and use them as the incentives to recruit students to learning — a powerful example of human-centered design!

Apart from the necessary human conveniences, there are also lots of conference rooms and informal social areas (the resting areas outside the labs, around the atria, and big, wide staircases).  Almost all of the conference rooms (as well as the classrooms) are built with glass rather than concrete walls, and the informal social areas are open, public, and equipped with write-on glass walls, whiteboards, and comfortable furniture.  They not only foreground the idea of  “together alone“, but also instantiate “transparency“, a liberation from enclosed property (of knowledge), and suggest an ideology of sharing.

3. Activities that happen in the space

In addition to formal classroom teaching and learning, a number of extra-curricular activities regularly take place in and around the Quad. Eating, experiments, and out-of-class discussion were all in evidence in these spaces, though we didn’t really get to see the classrooms where formal learning actually takes place.

According to my impression of the tour, and the emphasis placed on it by Luke, our guide, learning and research in the SEQ is centered around the sophisticated laboratory devices and equipment.  A great deal of informal learning (discussion and collaboration between peers and teachers), by contrast, is supported by an open, comfy space where there is furniture with an appropriate degree of comfort, and lots of write-on whiteboards/glass, and projectors. Much of the formal learning here seems to be technical in nature, and concentrated on lab technique, while informal learning is focused on communicating and engaging with ideas. It seems to me that this contrast is fostered and reinforced, perhaps quite consciously, by the conspicuously low-tech facilities in the informal spaces (no fancy interactive whiteboards here!) which foreground human and intellectual interaction.  A more prosaic explanation might be fear of theft, which, apparently has accounted for a lot of their relatively comfortable furniture!

Communication is an important motif in the SEQ. I found the background noise from group discussion and also from classrooms/conference rooms actually warmed up a space which might otherwise be a little harsh and impersonal. Human sounds soften and invigorate coldness of steel and uncarpeted concrete floors, and bring a natural cadence to a science and engineering environment.

My last reflection on our visit concerns Luke’s comment on sleeping. He mentioned more than once the importance of having appropriate furniture that increases productivity and discourages sleeping. However, sleeping is an important factor in effective learning. I am not sure if excluding it from learning space is necessarily the best solution for productivity. I certainly think this should be up for discussion, anyway.

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Learning to live Cooperatively

“In a large community of course, a single roshi cannot monitor the daily behavior of all his monks. the community of monks thus monitors itself. This self-disciplining action is called sessa takuma, another Confucian phrase, which means, literally, ‘cutting, chipping, filing, polishing’ but which I translate here as ‘mutual polishing.’ The image is of a pile of rough stones all placed into a stone mortar and constantly stirred. The rough edges of the stones cut and chip each other away, rubbing against each other in constant friction until they become round, smoothly polished gems. No one stone is superior to any other but through mutual friction all become gems together revealing the unique individual nature of each. Through the constant abrasive action of their critcism upon each other, all monks learn though no single teacher teachers. Through mutual polishing each attains an individual uniqueness.”

Teaching and Leraning in the Rinzai Zen Monastery

-G Victor Sogen Hori

– from Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp 5-35

The learning environment I chose was the job system within my cooperative house. In many ways a cooperative house on Stanford Campus is much like a monastery. Most residents have rejected the living situation of a typical student and are seeking some sort of ideological fulfillment with their choice of living in a coop. What you could say each wants to learn, or rather needs to learn, is the ability to live with other people in a large scale community. Each person within the house is expected to do a weekly house job to help with day to day operation, a quarterly deep kitchen clean, a quarterly deep house clean, three bathroom cleans, and helping with our weekly Wednesday gatherings. Each residents receives three types of formal instruction upon entering the house. Residents attend a house meeting where philosophical rationale behind the job system and practical concerns are explained and discussed. Residents perform a bathroom clean with a member of staff along with the people that share that bathroom. Finally, residents receive a kitchen tour by staff who point out special considerations in the kitchen. Following this tour residents are expected to sign up for their “first week jobs” and begin filling out preferences for their quarterly jobs. In addition to the instruction, we also try to have informative signs around the places where you would need them, thinking that people will look to these if they need to.

Great signs!

Great signs!

Great sign.

Great sign.

The jobs break down as such: 5 four-person cook crews (Sun-Thurs), 5 four-person groups of after dinner cleaners (Sun-Thurs), 6 single pre-dinner cleaners (/after lunch) (Mon-Fri), 1 set of two pre-dinner/post lunch cleaners (Sat), and a smattering of single cooks like bread bake and granola bake to make weekly staples. Most of these jobs happen in the kitchen and most of the skills that are learned in the house are used primarily in the kitchens.
The kitchen is a commercially certified kitchen (subject to quarterly health inspections). California state standards and community standards (which are discussed at house meetings) are the expectation for cleanliness in the kitchen. It should be noted that all users of this environment, then, have been told to have standards of cleanliness, but this does not mean they automatically have them. The kitchen is also the site of cook crew, an assigned crew of four people who on the same day each week cook a meal together. There are no standards about how this should be done but in the past “head cook” systems have dictated someone to plan the meal ahead of time. As it is now, “anarchy cook” is the chosen system, the cooks enter the kitchen and decide what to cook from they can find.
Meals are expected to be cooked for 54 people of varying dietary concerns (e.g. veganism, allergies, preference for meat) and should at least include one vegetable dish and a protein (two if one is meat). Feedback on performance is only informal (ie discussions during the meal or house meetings, though no one is directly addressed in this situation). Also cooks are always clapped for following the completion of the meal, a ritual that makes many scratch their heads the first time they attend a coop dinner. It should be noted, none of the other jobs have this type of expectation.

At the beginning of the year, the kitchen was stocked with checklists for each type of cleaning job. I asked that residents check off each task as they do it, likening it to the procedure done by pilots before take off. At this point, the checklists have disappeared and cleans have become a sort of “anarchy clean”.

For my observation of the kitchen as a learning environment I observed two of our weekly jobs: pre-dinner clean and one cook crew. Pre-dinner clean also known as (PDC) is done by one person to prepare . I spoke to H, who was responsible for PDC, J, a veteran member of cook crew, and D, a new resident to the house who happened to be making bacon when I was in the kitchen.

H finishes up her PDC

J plans her meal

J plans her meal

Here is a breakdown of their experiences with their jobs:
H -> has performed at least 22 kitchen cleans, but this was her second without a group
J -> has cooked for herself before, lived in another coop last year and cooked, over 20 cook crews in our house with “anarchy cook”
D -> Lived last quarter in his own apartment and had to cook for himself but no experience with a coop kitchen system

How do they learn?

H reported that she used the checklist for her first four cleans and afterwards got an idea of the “status” in the kitchen that should be maintained. She told me that when approaching her PDC, she began by looking around the kitchen and that this act “reminds you of what you are doing”.

I also asked H if she could recall any times where someone had taught her anything in the kitchen. She mentioned our kitchen clean at the beginning of the quarter, an interaction with a staff member (who taught her to clean the grill filter), but most often responded using the verb “do” or “did”. She summarized her new experience on PDC as “trying to do what the 4 people on ADC do” and characterized all-house deep cleans as the time we “did things we didn’t usually do”. One variation of this language was a report about the general attitude towards ADC, saying most people are just trying to “get through it”, which for the sake of analysis I might render as people are just trying to do it.

H also discussed her experience with cleaning the griDle, an infamous task in the house. She said the first time she was asked to do she was told it was a “shit appliance” and people basically “try to get someone else to do it”. Now, however, H would describe herself as having the grill under control. She reports that much of this came simply from doing it over and over, reporting that while she read the checklist for the griDle, she couldn’t have predicted “the vinegar flying into her face” and the effect of rinsing it with water.

H also introduced me to two categories of people during all-house cleans. She reports that she is a person who is “non-squeemish” and is OK with doing a lot of the dirty work. Often, then, she said she was doing many of the non-typical tasks during cleans. She says that those who are squeemish do more typical jobs, like cleaning counters.

*I have also noticed the same effect that people H would call “squeemish” often resort to doing the most visible tasks and “easy” tasks on cook crews. It is interesting, however, how these vary depending on the type of cleans that are being done A common favorite task during after dinner cleans, for example, is pushing racks through the Hobart, our dish sanitizer. The task involves spreading tens of dishes down, sanitizing them, and clearing them out onto a rack. During group cleans, I watch the person doing them fly through each dish. When an individual, however, is faced with a full rack in a day to day situation I have often observed either pulling out a new rack and simply sliding the old one over or simply leaving the plate on the counter given the high cost of unloading a single rack.

Unloading zone of dish sanitizer next to utensils

Unloading zone of dish sanitizer next to utensils

Dish Storage

Dish Storage


J explained her learning to cook as similar to learning to improvise. She said what she knows now is that “sticking to a recipe isn’t too important, tasting as I go, it’s easier, you know when you’re missing something”. She reports watching other people cook and could recall a few times where she was cooking and another person “took over” taking charge of what was being made.

She reported that her cook crew in Fall included a veteran resident of the house and of cook crew. This resident, VR, began by dictating the content of meals and was very open to questions from J. She never gave explicit instructions but sometimes suggestions. J says that she simply stopped asking questions after a while. Eventually she began planning her own parts of dinner. I would like to talk more to her about what her process is for this she said that she first “looks at the vegetables and then takes everything from there.” As to her actual cooking process, she mostly stressed the importance of tasting something as you go along. While a recipe is easy to follow, it doesn’t tell you something will actually taste.

The first place J looks

The first place J looks

Spiced to taste!
Spiced to taste!

J also reported a similar experience of two different groups whom she termed “competent” and “incompetent”. Though she never explicitly told me what group she belonged to, she said that those who were incompetent on crew often “stood around until asked to make something, asked a lot of questions”. While they lost one member of their cook crew in fall, she reported that the other incompetent member eventually came around.

J also mentioned that sometimes the incompetence of a crew member would cause a “cooking disaster” (for example lacking a vegetable dish) that caused major interruptions to the day to day schedule. She was glad for the understanding of the house and knows that cooking can lead to mistakes and often even these mistakes are what help you learn.

When I spoke to her J was confidently planning today’s meal. Whether she considered herself competent in the Fall , her competency clearly showed as she discussed preparation for the meal and commented on another resident’s learned “intuition” for cooking. She said that he had learned, last quarter, what she had learned in Fall quarter, mentioning that they sometimes collaborate and taste things together. I asked her how their two intuitions might conflict sometimes and she said that often both cooks are asking if what they are about to put in is OK or not. I would like to talk more with J about her interaction with the group she calls incompetent.


In our kitchen, learners are engaged in practical tasks that are absolutely essential for day-to-day operation. From the reports I received, it seems it is rare that the abstract systems (like lists, philosophies, and the structure of the house) act as learning tools but rather other housemates and the actions they perform are remembered by the learners. Also, it seems as if “competent” and “non-squeemish” workers seem to have working models of the ideal “status” of the kitchen or a meal, while incompetent workers are struggling to build a learning model. I ran out of time for D but I will be talking to him over the course of this quarter and tracking his learning in the house. I want to come up with systematic way of evaluating this in an effort to watch the transformation from squeemish to non-squeemish.

In addition to this idea of mastery, I also noticed a concern with simply getting things done quickly, conveniently, and completely. Both J and H reported that their process involved learning how to get something to the status you want it in the most effective manner possible. Time and labor seem to have a real value to people in the house and the results , or the “at-status”-ness could be perceived as the result of paying the price of time and labor. Often, though, this is (quickly, conveniently, and completely) reduced to a simply concern for convenience, especially when working with, to bother H’s term, squeemish workers.

Finally, given the nature of my opening quote I want to point out that very little criticism was reported by any of the learners. They often would rely on the responses of people around them, recollections of the kitchen tour, and occasionally ask a staff member for help. There is no culture, however, like the one found in Zen Monasteries where peer-criticism is the driving force for learning. Perhaps J and H have acted as their own critics, the implication of this combination are not totally apparent to me. I think this will become more clear in talking to D.

Other important spaces for cooking/cleaning

It was delivery day : (

It was delivery day : (

Smaller than it looks

Smaller than it looks

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