Coming from an education technology background, I brought to this subject an enthusiasm for how technology has the potential to change learning spaces or even redefine what they are. The rapid evolution of digital technologies since the turn of the millennium is often described as a disruptive force in education. However, the impact that should be a metaphorical cannon ball in a swimming pool feels more like a pebble. I admit struggling to understand why schools and teachers are not jumping on this potential in their learning spaces. Through my participation in this subject I have come to understand several big ideas that have renewed my perspective on this.
The first of which is around education as a culture and the culture of change itself. Classroom technology practices find themselves competing with an ingrained culture of education that has existed for over 100 years. This culture is perpetuated through the learning spaces themselves. Making a change to this space, challenges the very culture within education. This is therefore not a change that everyone is going to find easy or even want to attempt as changing a classroom is changing your beliefs. Learning spaces themselves have the power to influence change. This then raises the issue of who decides on what the learning spaces should look like. In a lot of school design, it is not often the people that use the space.
This then links with the second big idea of the design process and design theory. I had a severe underappreciation of what deeply exploring a design thinking model can do to the outcomes of a design process. In Assessment Item 3, the critical analysis section of my case study revealed that even as an end user, you can get the design wrong by not considering design theory or applying an appropriate design model into your project. Finding the place where culture and design theory intersect is where great design can happen. I think this has to be about more than designers consulting with end users. If spaces can change pedagogy then it should be teachers that decide on what that pedagogy is. If that pedagogy then changes how learners learn, then the learners must also be at the centre of the design process. This is why processes such as Design Thinking, with a human-centred approach, have such a strong application in the design of spaces for learning.
Change takes time and so producing design that is going to influence change needs to take time also. In this digital age of education, the endpoint is unknown and so exploring many different iterations is not a bad thing. While we can apply ideas based on our best thinking at the time, we need to understand that classroom spaces right now are going on a journey. The future is fuzzy and that is pretty exciting!
The Problem Space
The Year 5 learning space has undergone some significant changes this year. Originally 3 separate classrooms, the teachers of these classes decided to remove the walls between the rooms in an attempt to enable a new pedagogic approach. The classrooms were separated by solid wall partitions on tracks that locked together to create a wall. In previous years, these partitions remained closed. The teachers wanted to develop a more flexible learning space and facilitate team teaching models and enable new types of learning.
The lesson observed began with all students gathered for approximately 10 minutes of direct instruction. They then broke off into different groupings to work with particular teachers or independently. The teachers later explained their desire to keep explicit instruction included in their approach. This style of teaching is of notable importance according to Hattie (2012). During the observation, noise level was initially noted. With so many children occupying the one open space, all sounds and voices compounded. The start of the lesson also presented volume challenges. With all students gathered and a single teacher giving the instructions, it was unclear if all students could see or hear the teacher. During the main part of the lesson, all three teachers instructing their groups could be heard at different times.
The lack of space in general appeared to cause issue and was a second point of note. A number of students worked on the floor or other soft furnishing while the students in groups with teachers made use of the larger desks in front of the boards, the location of which ultimately dictated this layout. The 3 classes occupying the space presented almost 90 students in total. The space felt very full. Ensuring every student had a place to be productive seemed like a challenge as several of the seating arrangements didn’t seem suitable for extended periods of time.
Some of the furniture in the middle classroom could be removed so that all students can fit and see during times when all 3 classes are together for direct instruction. A teacher microphone that plugs into the classroom AV system might also help students hear instruction during this time.
It appeared that all 3 classrooms were trying to suit every purpose – from whole class teaching, to group work and individual work. Perhaps separating the roles of the 3 spaces might help them achieve what the teachers are hoping, using 1 whole classroom for the group instruction and using the other 2 spaces for groups and individual work. As stated by Razzouk (2012) design is an iterative process, solutions may be modified or new solutions may be developed until an optimal solution is found. This could be a second iteration of a possible solution.
There was an impression that there were a lot of unknowns about what the desired result really looks like. As Eris' (2004) definition of "the brief" explains, “we don’t know what we don’t know” and would like the design process to unearth that. It is possible that as the teachers continue to work in this space, they will learn more about what they are looking for. This "fuzzy" problem (Melles, 2010) has the opportunity for unexpected solutions.
Eris, O. (2004). Effective inquiry for innovative engineering design. Springer Publications
Hattie, J. & Yates G. C. R. (2013). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. Routledge.
Melles, G. (2010). Curriculum design thinking: a new name for old ways of thinking and practice? Sydney: Proceedings of the DTRS8 Conference 299-308.
Razzouk, R., Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348
Most importantly, design thinkers keep the people they are designing for at the centre of the process. This human-centred approach helps you arrive at an optimal solution that meets needs. Implementing and managing change with a well-designed product will be easier in the long run.
Doorley & Witthoft (2012 p.30) impress upon us that space is something that can create an impact on the way we learn, work and play immediately. With so many schools making the move toward contemporising learning spaces, questions arise about the considerations that have been given toward these changes. There are great risks, but also potentially great gains when it comes to changing learning spaces.
When spaces are redesigned with the needs of teaching and learning in mind, different pedagogical approaches can be explored. The addition of technological tools may allow teachers to step away from direct teaching models and explore opportunities for collaboration, conferencing and self-paced learning. When the approaches and therefore needs of a classroom change, the way spaces are designed can then respond to accommodate this.
Hello, my name is Laura. I am currently studying my Masters of Education, specialising in Information Technologies. I work as the Head of Digital Learning and Innovation at an independent school in Queensland. I invite you to connect with me on social media via the links below.