East Coast: Creating a Space that Fosters Innovation & Collaboration

By: Luis Bango

The Harvard Innovation Lab is a space that invites creative thinking, collaboration and community.

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We visited the Harvard Innovation Lab which is nested within the Harvard Business School.  It’s an open, flexible, unique collaboration and education space designed to foster entrepreneurship and innovation across many Harvard communities.  It also works to connect Harvard students to outside community assets like businesses and legal consultants.  

The iLab has been the incubator for more than 600 startups since its launch in 2011.

The resources support student ventures spanning social and cultural entrepreneurship, health and sciences, technology, and consumer fields. Furthermore, it’s student-centered and faculty-enabled, with programming supplied by schools across Harvard to help students take their ideas as far as they can go.

I was struck by the openness of the entire space, for its flexible and varied configurations and for its invitation to collaborate!  Everything in this dynamic space is in a state of flux. All the furniture seems to be on wheels: from tables, to whiteboards, to the bright yellow team lockers that students roll around to create instant workspaces.

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Visiting the Harvard Innovation Lab reminded me of an article that first appeared in Learning & Leading with Technology in June 2013, titled “Australia’s Campfires, Caves, & Watering holes”.  The authors, Ann Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt,  present the importance of designing our educational spaces to encourage and facilitate engagement, communication, collaboration and reflection.  They drew from the work of David Thornburg in transforming learning spaces that involved constructing spaces to support personalized and differentiated instruction.  There are three archetypal learning spaces: the campfire, the cave, and the watering hole and we witnessed all three at Harvard’s iLab.

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The campfire, is a space where people gather to learn from an expert (a teacher, another student, a community member). Through this shared experience we learn and can go on to share this with other people, face to face or through technology and social media.  The campfire spaces at the iLab might be a breakout room that affords more focus and privacy for a small group or just a table and comfortable chairs that have been pulled away and reconfigured.

White board space like this promotes asset-based thinking.  We all have gifts and interests and making connections with one another is important to make our ideas better, stronger and to move our ideas and ventures forward.

White board space like this promotes asset-based thinking.  We all have gifts and interests and making connections with one another is important to make our ideas better, stronger and to move our ideas and ventures forward.

One lasting impression for me was the number of resources the iLab provides that help students further inform, improve, and advance their ideas. Community partner organizations play an important role and come in to offer resources to both Harvard students and members of the public including: office hours, workshops, and counseling sessions.

Experiential Learning is an important element as well at the iLab.  For Harvard students and teams wanting to test and refine their ideas and ventures, iLab programming includes a number of resources that place students in less structured environments in order to ‘learn by doing’. Challenge competitions, hackathons, coding bootcamps and career fairs.

The Harvard iLab was a great way for us to start our Innovation in Learning journey.  It really got us excited and the ideas flowing.  Our tour inspired us all to think more creatively and to break down the barriers, both physical and contrived, to create a climate at WUHSMS for greater collaborative and innovation.  

Smaller, portable whiteboards on wheels are ideal for brainstorming, mind mapping and general sharing and communication.

Smaller, portable whiteboards on wheels are ideal for brainstorming, mind mapping and general sharing and communication.

The daVinci room is a makerspace nested within the innovation lab that allows for hands-on 3D desigining and prototyping.

The daVinci room is a makerspace nested within the innovation lab that allows for hands-on 3D desigining and prototyping.