Mark Bilandzic’s Thesis: The Embodied Hybrid Space – Designing Social and Digital Interventions to Facilitate Connected Learning in Coworking Spaces



Coworking spaces are shared spaces for people to pursue work and other interest-driven activities. The core challenge of coworking spaces is to facilitate their users’ need for connected learning and networking opportunities to nourish creativity, inspiration and innovation. The objective of this thesis is to deliver design solutions for social and ubiquitous computing technology that achieve this.

The thesis reports research findings from a case study at The Edge – a bookless library space at the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia that is explicitly dedicated to connected learning, coworking, peer collaboration, and creativity around digital culture and technology. Based on a participatory action design research (PADR) approach, it delivers a greater understanding of the challenges and barriers for connected learning as perceived and experienced by everyday users at The Edge; it also informed the development of two design interventions that were deployed and evaluated at The Edge:

Hack The Evening (HTE) – a social intervention – was initiated as a weekly meetup group around hacking, making and Do-It-Yourself technology. Insights from 18 months of participation, ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews with HTE group members revealed hidden factors that are crucial for the organic growth of a community-driven, self-maintained and sustainable locale for self-directed, connected learning.

Gelatine – a custom-developed ambient media system – was aimed at supporting shared encounters between coworkers by allowing them to digitally ‘check-in’ at a workspace; the system displays skills, areas of interest, and needs of currently checked-in users on a set of public screens. Gelatine combines the affordances of the physical and the digital towards an embodied hybrid space – a space that is manifested in the physical world, but embodies digital information to make invisible social aspects of a coworking space visible. The outcomes of the evaluation show how Gelatine supports connected learning through amplifying users’ awareness of fellow coworkers in ways that would not be possible in unmediated physical environments.

The research outcomes of this thesis illustrate the potential of combining affordances of social, spatial and digital space for connected learning. They propose a future research agenda on hybrid placemaking as a new way of thinking about the design of coworking and interactive learning spaces.

Research Questions and Aims

The aim of this PhD study is summarised in the following overarching research question:

How can ubiquitous computing technology be designed to facilitate connected learning among users in coworking environments?

My approach to provide answers to this research question was to explore and evaluate opportunities through user-centred design, development and evaluation of both technological and social interventions at The Edge. The Edge served as a case study and ‘living lab’ environment throughout all stages of the research. The study followed a Participatory Action Design Research process (Chapter 5) and aimed at the following four research aims towards understanding relevant aspects and finding answers to the RQ stated above:

1) Understand user attitudes and challenges of connected learning in coworking environments;

2) Inform design strategies for social and ubiquitous computing interventions that enhance connected learning among users;

3) Design, develop and deploy a relevant ubiquitous computing artefact;

4) Evaluate the target artefact and its implications in ‘the wild,’ real-world context as encountered by people during their everyday visits.