“Hybrid Environments for Universities” – Reflections on a collaborative Book Sprint project

In the beginning of March 2020,  just a couple of days before the COVID19 pandemic hit Europe, 9 international experts from 4 countries – Germany, Sweden, Finland and Netherlands – met to discuss a research question and to write a book within 5 days. The result of this joint adventure at Technical University (TU) Berlin is the handbook and manifesto “Hybrid environments for universities. A shared commitment to campus innovation and sustainability”. It can be downloaded for free or ordered as a printed copy from Waxmann

The book was written in a collaborative process, a Book Sprint, that captures the knowledge and expertise of several writers who share authorship and a collective voice. The Sprint process relied on high commitment from all the participants, strong facilitation, a dedicated working space and a fast publishing process. In this blog post, we reflect on this unique way of writing and producing a book together, sharing the perspectives of the different stakeholders involved: the authors, the facilitators, the learning space provider, and the publisher. We will also host the book launch event with an open panel and a virtual book signing on Tuesday, September 1, 2.00-2.45pm CET. Registration is now open.

A trending field: Hybrid environments for learning & working 

The leading question of this expert summit was: Which organizational structures and processes at universities support a strategic as well as innovative campus development? Rapid innovation cycles in the knowledge society evoke technological and cultural transformation processes which lead to fundamental changes in shaping our physical environments. As experts with an interdisciplinary background including the social sciences, public real estate, urban planning, architecture and landscape architecture, the participants examined the question from a holistic perspective and gained new insights.

In the resulting manifesto, the authors state necessary steps and strategies to create innovative and sustainable hybrid environments for universities – which is even more important for post-COVID19 learning and working spaces. The publication addresses all decision makers – executives, practitioners and contributors alike – as all of us facing the challenge of limited resources and needing to do more with less.

The group of authors on the final day of the Book Sprint

“We have huge challenges and we need experts to come together to create solutions. We chose the Book Sprints method because it is a way to work collaboratively. It is not just about presenting research results we already have, but bringing our expertise together and merging it to something new,” says Dr. Katja Ninnemann, Corporate Learning Architecture at TU Berlin & SRH Higher Education

From zero to book in 5 days

The Book Sprints method was first developed by Adam Hyde and has continued to evolve over more than a decade by Book Sprints Limited. For this book project, the Book Sprints team led the process with specific facilitation techniques, time boxes and a selection of tools. The cross-disciplinary group of authors came together to demarcate the trending field of innovative campus development. Thus, Book Sprints allocated ample time in the beginning for developing a shared mental model around the topic and the scope, audience, and style of the book. Throughout the week, the facilitators guided the evolving conversation and consensus on the main arguments of the book and steered the writers through a very iterative process of structuring, drafting and editing over and over again. 

The book topic focuses on the campus space and the interactions within the space,  and it required a comprehensive visual design to illustrate the authors’ ideas and concepts. While the book was written, a book production team worked remotely and around the clock to turn the authors’ sketches into illustrations, create a customized book design, and copy edit. At the end of the Book Sprint, there was a designed, illustrated and copy edited book approved by the writers. 

This short film that was produced during the Book Sprint shows the different steps of the process:

It was a pleasure facilitating this group that was working incredibly hard, even though some writers couldn’t join the process because of the first travel restrictions due to Covid19 at the beginning of March. The space and the overall great resources on site had a very positive influence on the different stages of the collaborative writing process. The authors rapidly adopted  the portable huddle boards and different writing materials to map out content and carry it with them when they switched from the breakout groups back to the plenary. Thanks to the mobile screens, we had an easy time connecting with the remote participants unable to attend in person due to travel restrictions,” says Karina Piersig, Instructional Designer and Sprint Facilitator at Book Sprints.

A pop-up space to foster collaboration

TU Berlin applied for  an education „pop-up space “ from Steelcase, a world pioneer company for office furniture and space solutions,  that could be used for the Book Sprint in March. Prior to the project, Steelcase and the Sprint organizers defined the functionalities that the space would need to support a collaborative writing process. The space was conceived as an active learning and agile workshop environment and set up in the Hybrid Lab of TU Berlin. A variety of zones for different work modes – concentration, collaboration, and networking – were set up and provided with various equipment. 

The core zone consisted of a central large table surrounded by mobile whiteboards where all participants – remote and on site – could come together to communicate and visualize ideas, challenges, timelines, tasks and other organizational aspects. Various semi-separate areas were available for working  individually or in small groups, either sitting or standing.

The portable whiteboards in different sizes and mobile screens supported the workflow with remote and on site participants. Additional breakout areas for rejuvenation, and a small kitchen area, allowed informal exchange and networking during lunch in a relaxed atmosphere. 

Various work mode zones and mobile equipment

Rapid book production and publishing

Another crucial success factor of the TU Book Sprint was the incredibly rapid publishing process. Waxmann – a German publisher dedicated to academic literature from the humanities and social sciences – agreed in advance to publish the book, even before a single word was written. 

When we first heard about this way of collaborative writing in a scientific community, we were very curious and happy to be able to take part in this project: It is a good chance for scholars to interact better with each other, share their research, and thus on the one hand improve the outcome and on the other hand spread it in an interdisciplinary manner – not least through an open access publication.” says Melanie Völker, editor at Waxmann.

The table of contents and the html view in Editoria

During the Book Sprint, the authors, illustrators, copy editors and book designers worked in Editoria, an html-based collaborative book production platform with automated typesetting that exports epub and pdf files immediately. After the week of writing, the book files were transferred to Waxmann, who then produced the final book. Waxmann ensured the quality of the finally published document, provided feedback on the whole look and feel of the book, and supported the experts with legal matters, and of course also with marketing and networking for the book. 

Book launch, video release and virtual book signing event with the authors

The Book Sprint project has been an extraordinary experience for all the experts, stakeholders and parties involved and we would like to share more of our insights and of course celebrate the outcome: The manifesto “Hybrid environments for universities. A shared commitment to campus innovation and sustainability”. 

The book can be downloaded for free or ordered as a printed copy from Waxmann: www.waxmann.com/buch4179

The short film on the Book Sprints process can be accessed here: https://vimeo.com/booksprints/berlinfilm 

We are hosting a book launch event on [date] including a short panel with representatives from TU Berlin, Book Sprints, Steelcase and Waxmann, a virtual book signing with the authors and space for everyone to share comments, open questions and ideas for future projects. To register to the event, please click here: https://www.booksprints.net/hybrid-environments-for-universities-online-book-launch/ 

 

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