What would you put in an innovation lab?


I’m coming near the end of my first week at TRU. As expected, it’s been overwhelming on a number of levels – lots of new names and faces to remember (not one of my strengths), an environment to learn and adapt to, and heaps of basic tasks to work through in the standard employment disorientation procedures. People have been extraordinarily kind, accommodating, welcoming and fun. There are lots of exciting possibilities that I will enjoy inflicting on blameless readers over the coming months. But first, I would appreciate some ideas from you. At this point, I am not so desperate to escalate this to a full-throated Abject Cry for Help™, but any input is welcome.

One of the responsibilities outlined in my job description is oversight of TRU’s Open Learning Innovations Lab, described as “practical, applied research oriented towards improved user experiences and improved use of technology in online courses”. A space set up to support user testing, course reviews, delivering online sessions and to research and test new technologies. I think some work has been done in this respect. But if there is software or tools that you would recommend we install in the existing lab (which has a fair bit of decent hardware in a lab-type setting) please pass them on.

In addition, I would like to propose some acquisitions that might make the Lab a more inviting, interesting and perhaps useful place to be. One idea I intend to propose addresses “delivering online sessions”, which is setting up a mini-studio for doing virtual presentations… nothing too fancy, but maybe a machine preloaded and configured with a few different presentation software packages, a camera better than one found on most laptops, a decent microphone… Maybe take it a bit further, and have a green screen and some kind of simple screen switcher interface so presenters can move back and forth from slide, video and presenter views… or have them all on the screen like when Scott Lo took ds106TV for a test drive (or was that Gerry Todd?). I think a stripped-down version of the set-up UMW DTLT uses for its wonderful livestreams could be useful for communication and collaboration.


To take the idea a little further out, I thought the Vancouver Hack Space was an inspiring place to visit, and makes me wonder if there are similar things we might adopt to attract visitors and help create an atmosphere of playful, maker-like activities and attitudes. I don’t know whether a 3-D Printer can be placed within the scope and budget of the lab, but I would sure like to have one around. (And of course this is just one more way that UMW DTLT is already there.)

The lab has a cool bunch of people at TRU that function as an advisory group, and I am looking forward to meeting with them tomorrow. It would be great to have some good ideas to throw around.

What would you put in an open learning innovation lab?

15 thoughts on “What would you put in an innovation lab?

  1. Having spent a chunk of time there, I cam leaning towards a lot of the characteristics you describe from DTLT- and similar to the VHS, that center common table where people work, and can converse, socialize, etc.

    You should know that the gateway to talking about 3D printing was the “bowl of stuff” that Tim Owens set out there. They were the conversation starters for opening up a discussion. I’d think of what other artifacts (not glossy magazines) might raise that curious attitude.

    Also, I recall at SXSW they had a corner lounge in the lobby with a giant pile of legos, free an dopen for people to make and take apart.

    You should check with Andy and Tim on their setup for the mobile video broadcast; it really sat in a backpack, a key being that korg switcher for moving between video sources (and Wirecast software, good wireless lav mics). A portable green screen goes a long way too.

  2. Great perspective and tips Alan, thanks. If any of the ideas fly, I will certainly be in touch with Andy and Tim on a few different fronts.

  3. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately – where we’ve been and where we are going. We would love to have the conversation and Tim (@timmmmyboy) has been instrumental in bringing in the “live streaming on pennies a day” idea. Super excited for you in your new role and more than happy to help in your virtual barn raising!

  4. Riffing on the maker and hackspace idea… I’m fond of the work that William Turkel is doing at Western. He’s built a small lab where digital history students are designing interactive exhibits. He used to have a wiki with details of his Lab for Humanistic Fabrication, but it’s no longer there. The archive is missing pictures, but lists some of the gear.

    I was always impressed by the enthusiasm that William’s students had for their projects. It would be pretty cool to have a hackspace at TRU… the trick is how to make it work within the mission of the lab (and the budget).

  5. Hey, been thinking about this for a couple of days now and am finally back at work, so here it goes. I am trying to keep the mission you outlined (“practical, applied research oriented towards improved user experiences and improved use of technology in online courses”) in mind in writing these:

    – a LAMP server with root access (and someone who knows how to use it) along with ruby. Seems obvious, but for an innovation lab to be truly innovative it needs to be able to try out new software outside the confines of normal operational lock down that IT usually imposes. The question of risk always arises; one step we’re starting to take in this regards is to keep the box on the network but use httpd conf statements etc to restrict access to the campus/org network. Another alternative is to get the lab an amazon (or some other cloud) ec2 account; I’d say this was an even better option, because whether it be commercial providers or local, virtualization is the way this is going and so we’d better get better at it.

    – devices. lots of them. tablets. phones. ebook readers. game stations. gps enabled cameras. make it so faculty and staff can check these out for extended periods – you simply cannot understand the benefits and limitations a learner is facing until you immerse yourself in their world.

    – a modem. no kidding – you need to see what it’s like to connect to the modern web over 56kbps

    – one of these and someone to hook it up to be web controlled. Remote controlled science is going to be increasingly important and people need to understand both what’s easy and what’s hard to do

    – a library of commercial and non-commercial educational software. Stuff like http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica/or http://act-r.psy.cmu.edu/actr6/. Too often it seems like we don’t have a good idea what the state of the art is, and being able to see things across disciplines can be helpful too.

    – this is a device too, but I’ll list it seperately – a XBox Connect system, possibly Wii controllers, and other off-the-shelf haptic/multi-touch interfaces. Stuff like this would be very cool too http://www.mindstorm.com/products. And hell, since you have unlimited funds, right, throw in a couple of http://www.emotiv.com/index.php just to mess with people’s heads.

    That’s it for now, but I’ll keep thinking on it. Cheers, Scott

  6. @ Andy, thank you, and if I was able to wrangle a bit of time talking with you and/or Tim I would be very grateful.

    @Jeff – I did not know William’s work. What a motherload! Need to process it.

    @Scott – I am tempted to delete my post and paste your comment in there. So much goodness, expect a follow-up.

    Thanks to all of you for responding, I will forward all of these ideas to the team for discussion, and try to back them up with examples, etc… What a wonderful return on the time invested in writing this blog post.

  7. a community centre – innovation happens because interesting people from different fields/backgrounds talk to each other. provide a way for that to happen easily, and often.

    our engineering faculty had a research innovation lab (had, because it lost funding…). It was stocked with Lego>, Tinkertoys, a 3D printer, workbenches, and full sets of tools (both hand tools like wrenches etc… and power tools for cutting etc…). Give people access to tools and let them play.

    1. D’Oh, D’Arcy, I can’t believe I left this out as this has been my own personal hobby horse for the last year, the idea that makerspaces (possibly in conjunction with libraries) represent a key place for the institution to experiment with permeable boundaries. Good one!

      Another one that came to mind was – eye tracking software/setup. Someone may already have one in a usability lab somewhere on campus, but I am constantly amazed that people who design software/content for online learning don’t seem to consider usability (“the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object” – wikipedia) as kind of a key underpinning.

  8. D’Arcy, Scott – Yes, good points, thanks. I have made an inquiry with a “Kamloops Innovation Centre”, I hope they may provide something valuable along these lines: http://kicstart.ca/

    And yes, still need to meet up with the Library and others who may have complementary interests.

  9. Your fans are cheering you on, Brian. Best of luck with your new position. You’ll do great, and the innovative lab will be a game changer!

  10. Good ideas above. I second the motions for Legos (definitely), video production, 3d printer, a Kinect, workbenches, plethora of devices.
    What to add…

    Games, both analog and digital. Have ’em lying around.

    Moveable furniture, which you probably already have. Different types, not all uniform.

    Several meeting tables in different spots, to allow people to niche themselves. A big screen or small projector on ’em, too.

    Audio recording space, even a closet. Plus audio speakers powerful enough to feed the whole room.

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