A Space for Innovation: Creating the Library Instructional Area for Collaborative Innovation

Educational organizations find it increasingly critical to develop creativity in their students. Innovation has been designated as one of the core skills students need in the 21st century. However, higher education is not as effective at developing these skills in students as it could be. 

There is a critical need to teach and foster basic creative thinking among today’s students, but of particular importance is the need to develop abilities to engage in interdisciplinary collaborative innovation. This is because the problems graduates will face are typically too large to be solved as individuals. For this reason, collaboration among different disciplines is becoming the norm in many industries.

In addition, the ability to be innovative provides perhaps the greatest opportunity to serve one’s family, community, and world by creating products, services, and ideas that can answer the world’s most challenging problems.

However, research shows traditional higher education practices do a poor job of preparing graduates to participate in collaborative innovation.

In 2012, a group of faculty at Brigham Young University created the Creativity, Innovation, and Design (CID) group through sponsorship from the Faculty Advisement Center. This group meets once a month to share ideas, discuss research partnerships, and explore opportunities for promoting creativity, innovation, and design on campus. From this faculty group has come collaborative research, opening of courses to students from other majors, better communication of lectures and opportunities related to CID, and a website (this one! http://innovation.byu.edu) that will serve as a hub for communicating to students and community partners about the impressive creativity, innovation, and design related activities and resources at BYU.

At the same time the CID group launched, there were other groups on campus seeking to grow opportunities for interdisciplinary creative collaboration at BYU. These include the Laycock and Ballard Centers, among others. In 2013, the directors of these two centers, along with the co-leaders of the CID faculty group, began discussing ideas for developing courses and projects that would truly be interdisciplinary. They sought to bring together students and faculty from all over campus to develop creative projects that fulfill BYU’s mission to “go forth and serve” the world. Because it serves to support learning in all disciplines, is central to campus, and neutral, on campus, the Harold B. Lee Library was also engaged at this time as a valued partner in designing spaces for interdisciplinary innovation.. In addition, an overall steering committee as formed with a key stakeholders to provide guidance on the larger initiative to create innovation spaces to benefit the various colleges, faculty, and students. In November 2013, members of the steering committee visited Stanford’s Design School and industry partner, IDEO, to see an example of a similar initiative at a peer institution. The steering committee then participated in many discussions and writing activities to help articulate the goals and vision for this initiative.

In Winter 2014, the Harold B. Lee Library offered repurposed space on the southwest fourth floor as a place for prototyping these ideas as actual courses. Two courses already existing that were interdisciplinary, collaborative, and design-oriented moved into the space, with additional courses beginning in Spring term. At this point, the initiative is considered a prototype and an example of the kind of learning that could happen if courses focused on interdisciplinary, creative collaboration.

In May 2014, a faculty retreat was taught in the library’s instructional space to help prepare faculty to design courses to be taught there. The creativity of faculty in answering this call for more interdisciplinary, design-focused courses has been excellent, as six courses are being taught in the space during Fall 2014 semester. Because of this success, the prototype has been extended through Winter 2015, and proposals are now being accepted for faculty interested in teaching a course in this location. These courses must emphasize the goals of being interdisciplinary, collaborative, and creativity/design-focused while utilizing the resources and personnel of the library. 

As for students, the new courses provide excellent opportunities to practice the life skills of interdisciplinary collaboration that many expect to see in the workplace. One student said, “It’s really helpful to have this experience now, because that’s what the real world is going to be like.”