How might we collaborate to (co)design?

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The following post forms part of a case study that I am writing for my M.Ed studies.

Project Summary

This is a summary of  a project proposal that I worked on collaboratively with other stakeholders during 2013. The project hoped to build relationships between the museum and secondary education sector while bringing intentional design to a learning space.  All specifics of the proposal have been removed but it serves as a good template of how collaboration might be built between secondary educators, cultural institutions and creatives such as architects.  It was also this project proposal that led me to undertake my M.Ed (Knowledge Networks & Digital Innovation) including Designing Space for Learning.

Summary

The purpose of the original proposal was to present a possible co-design project between a Victorian Museum, a Victorian University and a Melbourne based architectural practice. The suggested collaborations would allow the Museum to harness the expertise of University Architects in exploring a number of issues surrounding the design of learning spaces. Firstly, how learning spaces may be strategically designed to promote engagement in learning and secondly, how these physical spaces might inform any future teaching and learning activities that might be developed. The redesign was to support future pedagogies that might take place in a museum space undergoing redesign.

A case was also presented for advancing the teaching and learning practice that took place on site at the Museum, so as to support a Museum of The Future.

Whilst it was clear that the Museum would benefit from the suggested tertiary sector partnership, budget limitations did need to be explored. For this project the University hoped that the Architect practice would assist with limitations of budget by seeking industry backing.

The suggested collaboration

I had been approached informally by “Patrick” from a Melbourne based architect firm proposing that we work with them collaboratively on a design project with the aim of exploring:

  • Learning in architecturally designed living learning environments.

This initial discussion led to informal but exploratory discussions with “Susan” (an Architect) from a University’s Department of Architecture and Built Environment.  Susan is a lecturer with strong interests in education and community engagement who has led co-design projects with primary school students in Melbourne and surrounding areas. The proposed project with the Museum would involve a partnership with Susan and her colleagues from the University with some support and guidance from the Architects, if appropriate. Susan enthusiastically prepared a brief that has been omitted from this blog post but it used ideas of working with secondary or primary school students. This style of co-design is appearing more frequently in literature on design of learning spaces.

It was recommended that the Museum collaborate with the University to establish workshops that called upon the design expertise of the Universities’ department of Architecture and Urban Design where:

  • Architecture and Urban Design students would be briefed by Museum educators on learning requirements at the Museum, exploring external and internal learning spaces.
  • University Architecture students, with professional mentorship from The Architect, respond to our brief by possibly fabricating a modified learning space.
  • F-6 students will be called on to engage with and respond to this temporary learning space.
  • F-6 students will offer feedback to architect students and The Museum educators on the modified learning space.
  • Architect students may teach/discuss concepts of design with young F-6 students.

Relevance to the museum strategic plan

This project had real connections to  Museum strategic plan. In particular:

  • Establishment of collaborative partnerships that would help develop and grow the Museum educational expertise and knowledge, thereby assisting in remaining a leading contributor to education and tourism.
  • Strengthened partnerships with adult education and tertiary institutions, in particular from regional areas.
  • Encouraging establishment of cross-departmental projects within the Museum such as education, facilities and exhibition design.
  • Strengthening of the Museum’s ability to deliver 21st century learning experiences and relevant content through greater awareness of intentional design of learning spaces.

Such a collaborative project with the University would invite Museum personnel into a learning journey leading to changes in the ways Museum personnel interact with and utilise current learning spaces. The project may also inform how learning spaces in the Museum may look in the future.

Relevance to education

To generalise, professional educators are aware of the idea that student engagement is strongly affected by the physical teaching and learning environment. Thus a tour of modern schools will see attempts at developing spaces that allow for student centred, collaborative and project based learning. Students in modern classrooms are now viewed as prosumers (i.e. producers and consumers of knowledge) rather than simply consumers of knowledge.  Architect designed spaces are commonly designed to allow students to collect, curate and produce content.  Victorian Government policies (DEECD)  describe this as  anywhere, anytime access to knowledge.

At a state level, The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) recognises that school design can influence both innovative teaching practices and student outcomes. Published literature from DEECD specifically calls for deeper thinking about how spaces are designed and used for learning. Importantly, the DEECD publications see built environment as including both external and internal spaces.  To reflect this, external spaces in school environments are also seeing redevelopment with the intention of increasing a sense of well being and connectedness with the learning community; whilst reflecting concepts of sustainability. It would seem pertinent that the Museum engages meaningfully in similar exploration of external and internal spaces, so as to ensure that key stakeholders continue to see the Museum as a leading contributor to the education and tourism sectors.

Pedagogy @ the Museum

This suggested University/Museum project would be complemented by the Museum’s own additional explorations of alternative teaching and learning pedagogies such as Design Thinking. Currently, education experiences offered by the Museum follow a knowledge deficit model that does not recognise the learner’s prior knowledge and creative ability. Current Museum learning spaces support pedagogy that treats learners as an audience. With a Museum of The Future in mind, I perceive a strong need to challenge the current approach to our student audiences and a need to develop a vision for learning that promotes scientific curiosity and the learning of scientific skills. After all, science is more than just knowledge, it is a way of seeing, doing and thinking underpinned by curiosity and exploration. Science is a creative process.

Thus, I would like to suggest that the professional development offered by the Notosh group would be highly relevant to our needs and well worth exploring.  Notosh work globally to bring about change in educational settings, including cultural organisations, working recently with the State Library of Victoria and Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. Two programs that Notosh offer of particular relevance to Scienceworks are:

Creating space for innovation  and Design thinking 

Active exploration of immersive pedagogies, alongside a reflective exploration of available learning spaces, would undoubtedly inform the Museum on ways to build and shape the Museum precinct. By working with the University to explore what Susan might describes beautifully as Live Learning Environments (discussed below), we may increase our chances of developing a Museum that will continue to be widely known and frequently used as an educational resource.

Such a project would be underpinned by a philosophy of creative education at the Museum.

This project was underpinned by a  project proposal as envisaged and authored by the architect Susan. This section of the proposal has been omitted from this blog post. What made this project an exciting proposal was the potential of collaboration between educators and architects so as to inform each other on the design of learning spaces.  The project also had the potential of a co-design process involving students.

 Project Summary

In summary, this project would have a number of phases, for example:

  • Museum/University/Architect partnership to explore the design of engaging learning spaces. This phase would view Museum educators as learners.
  • Museum/University/Architect partnership to explore the design of external learning environments with a focus on how these spaces may be planned to facilitate learning.
  • Museum/University/Architect partnership to explore creative learning environments.

The richness of this learning journey may be enhanced by professional training as offered by Notosh, also looking at creative learning environments and professional learning in design thinking.  Such exploration may result in reinvigorated internal/external learning spaces at the Museum and transformed learning through innovation, increased engagement and widened community participation.

Suggested readings:

Future Schools Conference 2014 Conference.

Exploring Learning Spaces and Digital Classrooms.

Digital Learning Spaces, DEECD document

Notosh workshops:

Castles in Scotland

Historic Scotland (Flickr images)

Reformatted and re-written for this blog post by Simon (04/10/2014)

Please gift me with your feedback.

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One Comment
  1. Nice post Simon!

    As you know, I’m very interested in user-centred, participatory design practices that connect those who bring the concept to life to those who actually have to make that new reality a workable one.

    Several of the readings I’ve been doing relate to the difference in skills, understandings and – perhaps most importantly – the language surrounding design, education, pedagogy etc. Some architects, such as those who got in contact with you, pride themselves on knowing quite a lot about education and the reality of teaching and learning today, though I fear many don’t know enough despite being tasked with designing new spaces, buildings and even whole campuses.

    Similarly, many educators simply aren’t trained or exposed to design methods or principles in order to maximise the spaces where they have some power to reshape what they have. On this point, I’d argue most teachers don’t actually have much control, especially when moving into shared spaces in most secondary contexts.

    There’s certainly a need to educate all stakeholders (and perhaps several times over a career) in how to approach learning space design so that it ends up being a harmonious conversation rather than a deafening cacophony of well-intentioned parochialism.

    Your case study above seems like a fantastic example of the ideal process!

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