The Polytechnic Incubator's Learning Environment

In the Polytechnic Incubator, a set of core values embody everything that the faculty and students will do in regards to the learning experience.

Questions which come to many people’s minds might include "How does a room affect this?” and “Why not just use the rooms, furniture, and equipment we have?” Why spend money and effort to help with the values that seem to revolve around human interaction? The answer is that space can be a learning accelerator and enhancer. Through the use of simple techniques of lighting, ease of movement, flexibility, comfort, spaciousness, and even the color of the paint, you can measurably see the difference in the output and morale of the humans in the room.

New Beginnings

The Polytechnic Incubator has been given a huge opportunity to put the above thoughts into practice. Many universities around the country have been converting common areas and open labs to reflect these ideals. Traditional classrooms, while sometimes able to accommodate larger class sizes, have not typically been able to adapt for new ways to learn. We challenge the traditional "sage on the stage" classroom model in which students sit in rows facing an instructor. Our students are in class, but they aren’t necessarily in a lecture setting all of the time. Even in a "lecture," they will be working with each other and the faculty at a collaborative level. The "rows of desks" model breaks down at this point. We need the learning environment to be like a design studio, incorporating spaces in which people are able to surround the problems or tasks at hand. We need highly flexible work areas. Importantly, we also need a breakaway area where students can quietly reflect on their learning.

Design Lab

The inaugural main venue for Fall 2014 are two laboratory spaces in the Hall for Discovery and Learning Research (DLR) which are being repurposed into the Polytechnic Incubator's "Design Lab." In these active learning rooms, students will learn, analyze, build, and rebuild their ideas. All of the furniture has been selected with two goals in mind: flexibility and comfort.

Design Lab blueprint
Blueprint of the Design Lab furnishings

Workbenches been selected for its ability to take the strain and "roughness" from the construction of a prototype, but they can be folded and placed aside if the project needs to use the floor space or if an event in the room requires extra presentation space.

All tables have casters, and table tops can be rotated to be moved aside effortlessly. The chairs, when needed to be removed, can be stacked and stored without taking up more space than needed.

Each student group may have storage space in mobile cabinets which can be moved to the ideal spot for the task at hand.

Rolling toolboxes will also be provided and stocked with all of the basic tools which could be needed for assembling prototypes or doing mockups.

Moveable whiteboards will be placed throughout the rooms for sketching and planning by students and faculty.

There will be a breakout area with couches and a small table for students to take a break and reflect.

In addition to the furniture, the rooms will be stocked with supplies and technology to help enable faculty and students to prototype rapidly and on-the-fly:

  • Basic prototyping materials
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Paper clips
  • Gluesticks
  • Markers
  • Rolls of butcher paper
  • Pipecleaners
  • 3D Printers (three total) for use in the design lab
  • 20 Laptops, each with an additional digitizer display for sketching and design work. These machines will have the latest design software installed to allow for the most flexibility.
  • Additional rolling LCD displays for a more flexible presentation and group work dynamic when using a digital design workflow.

While the above space will be used for a majority of the Polytechnic Incubator's new learning experience, spaces in Knoy Hall of Technology (KNOY) and Michael Golden Laboratories (MGL) have also been created and/or renovated:

BoilerMAKER Lab: The BoilerMAKER lab is a student-maintained and -managed facility for rapid prototyping, student design meetings, and other activities. The room has eleven 3D printers, a plotter, eight CAD workstations, rolling whiteboards, and a meeting room equipped with a 60-inch LCD display for presentations.

Guitar Lab: Because students learn manufacturing processes by constructing electric guitars from scratch here, the space is colloquially known as the guitar lab, But the lab is used for more than guitar construction. It's a space for larger scale prototyping involving wood, metal, and acrylic materials. The room is equipped with a 4 x 8-foot CNC router, 70-watt laser cutter/engraver, table saw, drill presses, power sanders, wood working tools, and a metal press.

In conclusion

As one can see, we are attempting to bring a comfortable, safe, and open learning experience for our students. Many faculty and students might not have had an opportunity to experience active learning rooms like those we are creating, and we believe our new experience will be positive. More new spaces are in the making.