35. FLEXspace

Learning spaces greatly influence the teaching methods and learning activities we can employ. In this episode, Lisa Stephens and Rebecca Frazee join us to discuss the Flexible Learning Environments eXchange, an international platform for archiving, exploring and planning informal and formal learning spaces.

Lisa serves as the Assistant Dean for Digital Education in the UB School of Engineering and is a Senior Strategist for Academic Innovation in the Office of the SUNY Provost. Her work at SUNY includes serving as the Interim Director of FLEXspace. Rebecca Frazee is a member of the San Diego State University faculty in the Learning Design and Technology Program. She serves as the FLEXspace Manager.

Show Notes


Rebecca M: Learning spaces greatly influence the teaching methods and learning activities we can employ. In this episode, we discuss the Flexible Learning Environments eXchange, an international platform for archiving, exploring and planning informal and formal learning spaces.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca M: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca M: Together we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.


John: Our guests today are Lisa Stephens and Rebecca Frazee. Lisa serves as the Assistant Dean for Digital Education in the UB School of Engineering and is a Senior Strategist for Academic Innovation in the Office of the SUNY Provost. Her work at SUNY includes serving as the Interim Director of FLEXspace. Rebecca Frazee is a member of the San Diego State University faculty in the Learning Design and Technology Program. She serves as the FLEXspace Manager.

Rebecca M: Welcome.
Our teas for today are:

John: Are either of you drinking tea?

Lisa: No, but I really am jonesing for my gunpowder green at home. It’s highly caffeinated.

Rebecca F: Yes, my tea was a cinnamon vanilla yogi tea.

Rebecca M: That sounds tasty. How about you, John?

John: I have a blackberry green tea.

Rebecca M: …and I’m trying the berry blush black tea which I’m finding smells good not warm, but warm… I’m not sure about. It’s kind of weird.


John: We’ve invited you here to talk a bit about the FLEXspace project. Could you tell us a little bit about what FLEXspace does and how it’s used?

Lisa: FLEXspace is an open repository, free for use to all of higher education, and now K-12. The idea is to make exemplars of learning environments available for people to ideate from, to share best examples with each other, and to benchmark against peer institutions, and also to just use it as a general reference on how are we doing? How can we think about improving our learning spaces in general? Money isn’t falling off trees for higher education right now and we’re certainly all under a great deal of scrutiny in terms of how those precious resources are spent…. and if you go back 20 years or so it was not uncommon to go visit a peer institution by driving to the next state or perhaps flying a small team of people to another institution to really understand how they developed one of their spaces. One of the goals was to create, essentially, a virtual field trip to enable people to visit each other’s campuses and look at those spaces, not just by the visual cues, but also to dive into the details of those rooms in terms of: the type of equipment that’s used, the fit and finish of a particular space, how something may have been planned for. We don’t include detailed budgets but we include aggregate budgets if people are willing to share that information. So, for example you wouldn’t drill down to the level of the cost of a particular piece of equipment, but sometimes people share the aggregate cost of all of the A/V and information technology resources in a room… or the cost of the furniture… or the cost of the entire rehab… things of that nature. FLEXspace is actually an acronym, it stands for the Flexible Learning Environments eXchange, and we have found that people think of FLEXspace as flexible furniture… and interestingly enough we always thought of the emphasis being on the exchange, small e, large X,because it’s all about sharing spaces and best practices within an online community of practice. It was created by educators for educators.

Rebecca F: … and when I think of FLEXspace, I have come to realize, talking to different users over the the years now, that it really centers on the community. So, when I think of FLEXspace, I think of it as, from the users’ perspective, why does somebody come to FLEXspace? …and mainly it’s to get ideas… advice… to get assistance… to help make decisions about a learning space project. FLEXspace provides that community and provides that support through detailed examples of learning spaces, other resources, best practices, and so forth… and also that community network that help connect people who have questions with those who have experience and advice and answers.

Lisa: Yeah, FLEXspace is a large global community. Think of it as a big portal that serves as a one-stop shop for all those best practices. It’s considered an open resource. It was always developed as an OER in mind but we also wanted to make sure it was password-protected, so everybody within the community felt safe sharing within the community… especially if you’re going to share examples of rooms that might not be ideal rooms.

Rebecca M: You mentioned it’s a global community. Can you talk a little bit about who is a member and how one becomes a member?

Rebecca F: We’re super excited that we continue to watch our user membership grow week by week. Right now, we’re proud to say we have over 3,000 registered users and those individuals are from about 1400 different unique institutions from 45 countries. So, we’re all pretty proud of that.

Lisa: You become a member just by going to the website flexspace.org and once you receive a login you can go in and browse the collection… It’s a really neat tool. It really is designed to be the one-stop shop for people that are either designing… envisioning spaces.

Rebecca M: How did FLEXspace get started? It’s such a big community now.

Lisa: This is such a neat story. We were part of a task group… the Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology… when our Provost walked in and said: “For goodness sake, we are spending millions and millions of dollars each year at campuses all across the state.” We have 64 campuses… we’re the largest most comprehensive system in the United States. So, when you think of everything in the range from community colleges all the way through research universities, we’re all under the governance of SUNY… and Provost Lavallee was looking for more efficient ways for us to share ideas with each other… and he said “if we could even share pictures with one another, that would be helpful.” So, a small team of us got together and said: “Well, how the heck are we going to share information with each other? Nobody wants ads pushed to them… nobody wants to feel like their data is being collected…” and we were talking about that long before the Facebook challenges that have recently come to light. So, we ruled out the common platforms like Facebook or Flickr or any of the open tools that were available back when this was starting up. So, that was the impetus to get everything started. The first thing we thought through is what is it we need to share. Well, we knew we needed to share photographs of rooms, but we also figured out it would only have value if there was a lot of data and interesting details about the spaces… and then that only goes so far, because you really need a point of contact to call someone that was involved in the space… to ask those more detailed questions: “Would you use this particular piece of equipment again? Would you work with this particular group again? Tell us more about why you chose a particular path forward.”

We decided to just collect the details, figure out the attributes, and it happened that we stumbled into a partnership with Artstor… and at the time they were interested in that OER element as well. They were looking to empower campuses with the ability to create and curate their own collections. So that’s how we got started.

Rebecca M: It’s a neat story. As a designer and an educator I can see so many different ways that a system like this could be used, but I have some questions. As an instructor I know that spaces can impede certain kinds of learning activities and then spaces can also enable certain kinds of activities. So, I would imagine that instructors coming to the table with the kinds of things that they’d like to be able to do would be an important way that they’d be able to search images and then ask those same questions that you’re mentioning about how effective has it been for those kinds of learning opportunities. Can that be done?

Lisa: Yeah, thanks for setting that question up so nicely Rebecca and I’m sure my FLEXspace partner Rebecca will dive into more detail on this… but when we were talking with people throughout the community, we realized that the biggest challenge people have in spaces are looking at space development through the lens of their own expertise. Now, you just laid out the faculty expertise, but a facilities planner or an architect is probably going to view how to design and build a space differently and, of course, the A/V and IT integrators are certainly going to have a different set of concerns when they’re thinking about the integration of the technology tools in a particular classroom. For example, an architect may implement a more cost-effective air handling system, but the a/v integrator will be concerned that a particular space is going to be used for video conferencing and they don’t want any air handling noise to come through the microphones. So, you need to have that communication to say: “Alright, are we going to use ceiling mounted microphones? Are we going to use desktop table microphones? Are we going to use a different type of system? Does everybody in the classroom need to be heard?” So, there’s all sorts of opportunity to think through from the perspective of your expertise if you’re a teacher or a technology integrator or an architect.

Rebecca F: Yeah, and I’ll add to that. We’ve been hearing different user case scenarios when we go out and talk to folks. We show them FLEXspace and how we intended it, and then they tell us: “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we could use it like this?” …and so we’ve been really excited to get these examples. For example, there are some campuses that are saying they want to provide a resource for faculty. Let’s say you’re a faculty member and you are going to be teaching in an active learning classroom. You’ve never been in the room and from the comfort of your own laptop you can actually log into FLEXspace and look at detailed photographs, even a 360-degree view of the room… details about exactly what equipment is in the room… moveable tables and chairs… and whiteboards, and so forth… and so you can see what’s in the room. It kind of sets expectations, and then the campus can also upload instructor support materials. So maybe there’s tips for teaching in an active learning classroom, or a job aid, or instructional how-to quick sheet on how to use the interactive display or set up some of the equipment in the room. So, some campuses want to use FLEXspace in that way. One person suggested that they would want to use FLEXspace to help their own classroom support technicians. Let’s say you’ve got your technician and they need to go out into the field, because there’s some sort of piece of equipment that’s broken. They can log into FLEXspace… they can pull up all the specs that are in that room… they know exactly what model of projector is in there before they even walk across campus. They know what to take… what’s in the room… and so forth. So, we’re providing the resource and then we’re excited to see how people will use it. S

John: Some campuses are using it then for their own internal purposes as well as for sharing ideas… in terms of providing information about what’s available in each room.

Rebecca F: Exactly.

Lisa: We’ve learned a lot since 2011. When the task group launched in 2011, we were able to pilot in 2012 and then we actually had something into beta by 2013. and by that time we had received some attention from Herman Miller. We had talked with them at a couple of conferences and asked if they’d be interested in helping us to develop this tool. So, they gave us good ideas and as we went to the Consortium of College and University Media Centers, the CCUMC conference, they actually invested in the platform and helped us get it off the ground because they realized the benefit this would have for their members. Then ELI got involved from EDUCAUSE. …and SCUP, the Society for College and University Planning… and each one of those groups has their own tribe, if you will. So, SCUP tends to have a lot of high-level campus planners, people that are working on the financial resources side… and the architects. Of course, EDUCAUSE tends to have more teaching and enterprise level IT support people. All these different voices coming together really helped refine the taxonomies and we had over a hundred volunteers across the country pop in and help us to create and populate these room attributes that describe these rooms in great detail through the lens of each of those expertise areas… be it the faculty and the pedagogical perspective… or the architects and facility planning perspective… or again from the IT and A/V and academic technology perspective.

Rebecca M: I’m really familiar with the Artstor platform given my my background as an artist. I’m envisioning images and a database and all these different ways that you can search metadata…and you just mentioned taxonomy. Can you talk a little bit about some of the different ways you can search and find things? What are some of the attributes that are available to search?

Lisa: Historically, it was all focused on peer benchmarking. If you wanted to look up a classroom you would go naturally to one of your peers and see if they have any information uploaded and then you’d start to look at the type of teaching that was taking place in the room or the type of curriculum. Rebecca why don’t you take that one because you can speak more directly to the new portal under development.

Rebecca F: Before I even came on board the project there were a lot of smart people on this that came up with this taxonomy to figure out what were the different dimensions… aspects of the space so we have these main buckets if you will of descriptors that are looking at the layout of the space: the furniture, technology equipment, other kinds of furnishings in the space (like whiteboards)… different kinds of equipment in the space, even the facilities aspect. so for instance the ceiling… floor… wall… color… maybe it’s a certain kind of LED lighting in the space. We have all of those aspects and then, in addition to that, the types of learning activities that are supported in the space. That might be… if this space is used for active learning, a small group collaboration performance space, and so forth. As we evolved the design into this what we’re calling FLEXspace 2.0, after doing even more user experience research, we discovered that there were a handful of data descriptors that we could require and that way we provide some consistency for the data that’s in there… and then users can open text search the entire collection. They can also use filters and that’s for that required data came in so they can filter on the type of space. So, for instance, it might be an active learning classroom… general purpose classroom… media or computer labs… science lab… makerspace… even informal spaces like a Learning Commons… transitional area… performance space… that sort of thing… and then we can also search on seating capacity, because we found that was very important for users. If they wanted to search on examples, but they’re looking for a space that would accommodate a hundred students… or they might be looking for a space for 30 students… so we have filtering capabilities in that way. You can also filter on “what’s the project scope?” Is this a completely new construction project? Is it a renovation? Is it a room refresh? You can search on that and also, as we’re expanding beyond higher ed examples, we’re now building the community in k-12… you can filter on the institution type… and so we learned that this was important. Is it a private university? public university? is it a community college? a k-12 environment? and so forth. So, there are a lot of different ways you can filter and search the collection.

John: It might be helpful if you talk about perhaps some case studies of how some specific campuses have used this to help move forward… moving away from the old traditional classroom structures.

Lisa: Yeah, that really is the easiest way to explain the value of FLEXspace, John. Thank you. One of our early core team members was working at Iowa State at the time. They had a very large project underway, and in addition to FLEXspace being a very useful tool, another tool was under development at the time out of a constituent group out of EDUCAUSE – called the learning space rating system. So, their concept was to imagine the LEED environmental credit system and if you could apply that in a quantitative manner to the learning potential of different types of spaces you could actually measure the potential effectiveness of a space… and it’s nice because it’s quantitative… because then you can rank the condition of the space across a number of different measures. So, that’s exactly what they did at Iowa State, they went through a large audit of a number of classrooms with the LSRS and then gathered a very diverse group of people around the table representing faculty, and the facilities planners, A/V IT integrators, I think they even had a couple of students, and of course the financial people were represented. They said “Alright, how are we going to work together to have a conversation about the type of space that we need to build. We have an opportunity here.” So, they parsed out groups within the main group and said “everybody get a FLEXspace account” …and you know what’s going to happen is the faculty member knows of a very cool space at another campus, so they’re gonna go in and immediately search through FLEXspace to find a really cool classroom… and meanwhile the biology professor is going to do the same thing… and you might have a GIS teacher going after a similar type of search… They found, when they came back together, that a number of the rooms they were looking at may be different, but the room attributes were very similar. Now, you can start to have a real discussion. Why did you like that particular space? or better yet “Wow, we each picked the same space, why? …and they started to narrow the selection of the spaces they were looking at in order to put in front of their executive leadership. These are the types of exemplars. These are the types of spaces that we’d like to build here on our campus… and this is why we think they’re valuable.
Another good case study would be from SUNY Geneseo. SUNY Geneseo went through a very similar process where they were looking at recommendations from faculty. They started by saying “Gee, these 17 rooms on campus are in need of refresh…” and the more they thought about it they said “Well, let’s do something similar to what Iowa State had done. They took the same approach as Iowa State where they did an audit with the learning space rating system and then went through, ranked their classes, considered other metrics like enrollment, and decided to invest in three or four different classrooms to bring them up to beautiful new classrooms… active learning spaces… things of that nature… but they found a very similar process… where a group of people around the table using FLEXspace to serve as the glue of the discussion about why they like certain classrooms and what the attributes were that they felt were important to have on their campus.

Rebecca F: …and I can add a couple of short examples. When I started working on the FLEXspace project, I was focused also in my role… I teach at San Diego State… and so I was working with some of the Directors of Academic Technology at some of the different California State University’s campuses. I had one instance where the new Chief Learning Officer there was responsible for designing and building and planning some new active learning classrooms, and he found himself in a position of not being so familiar with what was the latest and greatest going on in this arena. So he reached to FLEXspace to get prepared… sort of get up to speed on what are other campuses doing in this area before he met with the architects, so that he didn’t go into that meeting with a blank slate. He could go into FLEXspace, look for some examples, and then bring those examples to the meeting, and say “Okay, we’d like to do something like this. How much would that cost?” or “Can we do that here? Is it feasible?” So he was able to get some examples and feel a little more informed going into those discussions with the architects and the facilities planners.

…and another example… There was a meeting of Library Directors that all met here in San Diego State on campus, and they were going to be discussing how to convert some of their library spaces into group study spaces… maybe maker spaces… and so forth. …and so the Director of Academic Technology there at San Diego State, he went to FLEXspace and started searching through examples of how different libraries across the country had converted their spaces. You can go in there and you can tag your favorites, group them into a collection, and then he took that collection of maybe a dozen examples and brought that to the meeting so that he could show those to this library directors’ conference and say “Okay, here are some examples…” and then used as a conversation starter to say “What are some things that you like that you see here? How does that spark other ideas for your campus? and so forth.

Lisa: We’ve been really lucky, because we’ve had experts all over the country volunteer time to help us refine this system. I think we’ve got a bit of a tiger by the tail because it’s clearly meeting a need. The combination of the learning space rating system with FLEXspace is invaluable in terms of having two free tools to assist people at a number of levels on campus to have an effective learning environment.

John: …and it’s won some awards, hasn’t it?

Lisa: Oh, thank you, yes. We did receive the Innovators Award in 2016 from Campus Technology, which was really cool, because it was a nice way to acknowledge all of the efforts, not just of the people who participated in developing the system, but at the end of the day if you want to keep a tool like this free to all of higher education or K through 12 or whoever wants to create an account to use it, you have to find a way to support it…. and we have some very generous sponsors that have been helping right from the get-go. Certainly Herman Miller played a huge role in getting us off the ground and there’s been a number of other sponsors that have stepped up and made it possible to keep this free… and we’re challenged to continue to keep it as a free service moving forward because this new portal development is pretty pricey… but we think we’re going to have features that are really really going to surprise people. Do you want to talk more about the sponsor relations, Rebecca?

Rebecca F: Yes, so we’re really grateful for all of our sponsors and we’re excited to be able to even recently announce that Herman Miller, in addition to being our founding sponsor, they are going to continue as our Platinum premium sponsor moving forward with the new FLEXspace portal. So, we’re really excited about that. What’s been great is that our community of academic users welcomes our industry partners. They see them as trusted partners. They want them to be involved in the community, so they don’t see it as some sort of direct advertising… and it’s not that at all. It’s really that this is community of experts from industry and from academia who are coming together dedicated to improving learning spaces and sharing resources that way. We feel like we couldn’t do it without our partners like Herman Miller. We also have our Gold Partner Computer Comforts who is another furniture manufacturer who’s come in this year and they’ve really taken a leap of faith because, as we build the new portal, they are supporting us and they see the value of FLEXspace. They see the value for the education community and they want to be a part of that. So, other sponsors we have including Shaw Contract, some AV companies (AVI-SPL, Crestron, Wolfvision, MediaSite, FSR, Sony) and another furniture manufacturer AvinEd, they’ve all stepped up and given their support to FLEXspace to make sure that we are continuing to thrive and grow and provide that free resource for the academic community.

John: You started on Artstor. Are you still using the Artstor platform or has it moved to a new site. You mentioned the transition.

Rebecca F: We started with Artstor and we were so grateful for their support. They had this wonderful platform that really focused on images and the descriptive data. We were able to start with Artstor and use it for FLEXspace and then over time we realized that it wasn’t necessarily built specifically for the needs of our users… and so we migrated away from Artstor because we did this user experience research. We found out that our users, first and foremost, needed the platform to be mobile. They needed some other collaborative features in there as well, and so now we’re in web development with a different platform. We’re really building it from the ground up at this point. We’ve got some new features in there that support collaborations. So, for instance, let’s say I’m at San Diego State and I want to upload an example active learning classroom at our campus. I might not have time or I might not have all the details to describe the space. so one of the new features in the platform is that you can add collaborators or co-editors when you’re uploading a space. I can start it. I could be out in the field with my mobile phone or tablet. I could snap some photos, upload it, and create a FLEXspace entry, and then I can tell somebody from my team “Hey, will you go in there and add the details because you’re really familiar with all the A/V that’s in the room…” and then I can add somebody else from my team as a co-editor and say “Hey, can you describe the furniture that’s in the space?” I can even ask a faculty member who’s teaching in the space and add them as a co-editor and and say “Hey, will you go into this record for the active learning classroom, room 101, and tell a little story about how you’re using the space? What’s working? What would you do differently? How are the students responding to the activities?” and so forth. So, you can really have more collaboration and, like Lisa was saying earlier, have many more perspectives to describe the space. it makes it even more useful when you’re reading the examples.

Rebecca M: I have to say as a web designer I got really excited because you’re using all the best practices for designing a platform like this so kudos for her user centered design it makes it better for everybody.

Rebecca F: Yeah, absolutely. We thought that was really important because it took on a life of its own and it really started gaining momentum and growing but it really hadn’t been designed with those user needs in mind. We started the deep dive into the user experience research with the higher ed community and, really, it was more focused on users in the United States. We also have an International Committee as part of our core team, and that’s one of our next steps. We want to do a little more research into what are the international users needs as well. Obviously, there’s a lot of overlap, but there are some differences in what their needs are… and then we also want to take a deeper dive into what are the needs for the K-12 community. Again, there’s overlap, but there are some subtle nuances there. We’ve been really fortunate in this dedicated community, like Lisa was saying, people who are contributing their time. We have some new representatives on our core team from the K-12 community as well… and we formed a partnership with ISTE.

Lisa:Now we have a custom portal and we’re so fortunate that Xennial Digital has really gotten behind this project with their expertise and their web portal development because they have experts and they’re able to turn this into a very dynamic community of practice in a way that, frankly, I don’t think we would have been able to afford any of this without their support. So, we hope that this is serving their purposes as well and showcasing what they’re able to do with a portal like this.

Rebecca F: FLEXspace started as a place to showcase exemplar spaces, but now we’re hearing more and more that in higher ed and K-12 they want to use FLEXspace to document and catalogue all of their spaces… so not only the shiny new innovative spaces but also the more typical spaces on their campuses so that they can have this classroom directory and so they don’t have to build their own. There are some campuses that have built their own directories and they have the support to do that, but we’ve heard time and time again… there are many smaller campuses or those that just don’t have the resources and they don’t want to build their own directories, so they can they can use FLEXspace…

When we’re presenting about FLEXspace, hands go up and they say: “When is the upload feature going to be ready? Because right now I have a Google spreadsheet with all of the data on our classrooms and I want to get it up into FLEXspace.” We’re really excited about that, and that takes it in a new direction as well.

So, you can search for exemplars, but you could also use it in the in this other way… to show these documented spaces to your faculty who are teaching in them, to your tech support folks… maybe you’re looking at this as sort of an audit of your classrooms – and then in conjunction with using the LSRS you might rate your different spaces… and some of them are in dire need of improvement… but you’ve documented those… you’ve got photos… you’ve got details… you can do the LSRS rating… and then you can go in and improve the space… and then upload the example of the renovated space… so, sort of the before and after photos as well…

Lisa: One of the really nice features of the learning space rating system is that it quantifies the value of what spaces need attention… and once you have that ranking it tends to take some of the politics out of the equation. We’ve heard from a number of people that once they go through that quantitative exercise, then you can dive into FLEXspace and start playing with the feature sets.

Rebecca M: You’ve been talking about a new system, and I was wondering whether or not that was actually implemented or not. Is that what’s up and live now or is that something that’s in progress?

Rebecca F: We have a phased rollout of the development of the new portal. Right now, it is indeed live and you can request an account. Go to FLEXSpace.org, request an account, you can log in and you can see you can filter and see all of the examples of learning spaces that we migrated over from the old system… and then, even as we speak, we are in development of the next feature set… which is the case study template feature that allows you to upload examples. Right now, you can look at examples and in June of this year you will be able to upload your own examples. and we’re also launching the membership directory and community forum. Prioritizing all the different features that we have on our roadmap, we felt like the community aspect and then obviously being able to upload spaces were the biggest priorities and so that’s what is coming soon.

Lisa: A lot of people are familiar with the website Houzz – H-O-U-Z-Z….

Rebecca F: Houzz or Pinterest… those kinds of tools.

John: I’m one of those people who is not familiar with Houzz. Pinterest, I’ve seen.

Rebecca M: Yeah.

Lisa: Well, we think that this portal that’s under development, FLEXspace 2.0, is going to rival the features that people are already used to seeing in applications like Pinterest…. and Rebecca can speak to the idea boards and the tool kits. It’s going to be a really nice way to keep track of your own ideas… pull together a collection… and then perhaps invite others to come in and ideate in that space with you.

Rebecca F: Yeah, so you were asking what are some of the things that you might find in FLEXspace. Originally, the collection consisted of examples of spaces and so that meant a lot of photographs, a lot of detailed tags and descriptions, and then also users can upload, let’s say, a floor plan, a detail spec sheet, maybe details about the wiring layout of the room, or the wall colors, and so forth… so, lots of details and lots of images. But, now we are expanding those kinds of resources. We are including more kinds of spaces, not just formal learning spaces but also informal learning spaces and different types of settings… so, more k-12 examples, museums, libraries, more kinds of details. You can upload video, 360 images, more details about the case study of the space (including evidence of impact and efficacy). We’re also encouraging the upload of more kinds of support resources… research papers, white papers, things that don’t necessarily have to be tied to one particular space but more broadly useful resources.

We’re also building in more ways to connect. You can add collaborators or co-editors to your space. We’re offering the member profile and membership directory, so you can go in there and see who else at another campus is working on learning spaces. You can connect with them. We are starting the community discussion forum. If you have questions about a particular challenge that you’re having you can participate in that discussion forum. We’re also starting to use this new tool called an idea board. It’s sort of like that Pinterest board. You can tag your favorites, but you can also create folders or collections. Let’s say you’re thinking about creating a new makerspace or a STEM lab. You can start gathering inspiration and create this idea board called “ideas for makerspaces” and you can keep your idea board private… you can add your team members to it so that we could all be adding to the same idea board. Let’s say we’re working at San Diego State and we want faculty to be giving input… we want the technology folks… the facilities folks… maybe it’s housed in the library… we want somebody from the library staff. We can all be added as collaborators and all be adding ideas to this idea board. so that when we talk about planning our makerspace we can see what everybody else is finding is inspiration.

Lisa: One of the guide posts with our sponsors and they both brought this up and agreed to it is we know that if anyone were to use the portal to pull data or use this in some fashion to solicit to the members that we’d all be dead in the water. This is a safe community forum place where you can interact with people who understand the details of new products or new innovations that they’re offering, but you aren’t going to be hounded inside the portal in any way. We know it’s a big concern these days about the amount of email everyone’s getting. Our sponsors get that people don’t want to be hounded. We’re trying to find that fine line between “Look folks, if you want it to be free we have to provide something of value back to the sponsors…” and I think everybody understands the trade-off in that environment. So, the sponsors are going to have access to the tracking and the analytics and the things that are valuable to them, but we want to keep everything upbeat and positive around that community.

John: So, both groups benefit… the sponsors as well as the participants because the people who are looking at these spaces are going to be designing things and getting access to information about the sponsors and information from other users, I think, could be quite useful.

Lisa: The sponsors actually, depending on the level of sponsorship that they participate in have a space within the portal to talk about their new products and to be able to respond and interact with people on the platform within the portal. We think it’s a useful communication tool and the vendors are welcome to be a part of that community of practice. That’s what’s made CCUMC so successful over the years, is having that relationship with the vendors in a safe place where people can exchange ideas freely without feeling pressured.

John:okay so this started off as an initiative from a small committee and it’s grown into this huge collaboration space. How have you been able to maintain momentum of keeping this going?

Lisa: Adrenalin?
The momentum has been carried on by the community. I think the most exciting thing that both Rebecca and I experienced when we were at EDUCAUSE this past year was walking into a room and hearing other people talk about FLEXspace and talk about the value of FLEXspace and how they want to be a part of it without us initiating the conversation. That was a groundbreaking time for us. It was very energizing.

Rebecca F: Yeah, I agree. We’ve been on the road for the last couple of years. You mentioned we did get the Campus Technology Innovators Award… I believe that was in 2016. We’ve had a lot of support from affiliate organizations like UBTech this year. We’re a program sponsor at that conference and we were a program sponsor last year. We’ve gotten a lot of support and encouragement from Infocomm, Campus Technology, the folks at EDUCAUSE. We’ve been doing a lot of outreach by giving conference presentations, workshops, webinars, and really it also comes from I’d say a very dedicated network of our colleagues who are all committed to improving learning spaces.

We regularly meet with architects, A/V integrators, faculty members, researchers, leaders in academic technology and information technology. We have our core team meetings. They are out there in the field being FLEXspace champions. They spread the word, they encourage others to take advantage of FLEXspace and so forth… and to echo what Lisa said even this year just recently we were excited that somebody from the ISTE organization (that’s the International Society for Technology and Education, they’re a big professional organization for the K-12 community) they reached out to FLEXspace and said “Hey, we want to partner with FLEXspace. We see this as a valuable resource. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel for the K-12 community. Can we partner?” …and so we’re planning to do some sort of train-the-trainer activities with some of the ISTE Learning Spaces Professional Learning Network Committee. They will learn more about FLEXspace and how the K-12 community could benefit from it… and then they are going to go out at their annual conference, and through their local chapter meetings, and really be proponents of FLEXspace. So, it really has garnered the support from the community and that’s why we want to keep listening to the community’s needs to make sure that we’re providing a very valuable resource that they want to keep going back to again and again.

Lisa: …and a shout out to the vision of the people at the systems as well because SUNY has been very generous with allowing this to grow… enabling us to put time into it… which is of course the most valuable resource and to the Cal State University system which has provided generous support to enable this partnership between SUNY and Cal State and Rebecca and myself.

Rebecca M: Well, this has been really great. I find it really informative and I look forward to jumping in and trying to use this FLEXspace platform for some of our upcoming renovations on our campus.

John: I know a number of people here do have accounts and have been using it.

One thing we always ask is: “What are you going to do next? In this case, where is FLEXspace going next?

Lisa: We think that the continuous quality improvement cycle is going to be at play in a big way here, because once people get in to the new feature sets and see all that they can do, we’ll probably spend about a year spreading the word about the new features… and then I have no doubt that people are going to have fresh ideas about how to improve it. So, as long as our sponsor community continues to support us, we will continue to improve it in any way that the imagination seeks.

Rebecca F: Yes, and I will leave you with this one statement here. Our vision is that we want FLEXspace to become this one-stop-shop for best practices, detailed examples, and a community dedicated to improving learning spaces around the world. So, that is where FLEXspace is going in my mind.

Rebecca M: Well, thank you both for joining us and taking some time out to talk to us about this great endeavor and all the time you spend working on it.

John: Yes, thank you.

Rebecca F: Thank you

John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca M: You can find show notes, transcripts, and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer. Audio editing assistance provided by Nicky Radford.