As this subject comes to an end, I feel that I am just beginning to explore the enormous field of designing spaces for learning. Whilst enthusiastic about this new area of study, I quickly felt out of my depth as the early course readings seemed to be heavily situated in the business world and focused on design theory and design thinking which were very new to me. How could the design of a product relate to the design of learning spaces? The importance of the three spaces of innovation as articulated by Brown and Katz (2011) would soon become evident as highly relevant to educational professionals whose core business is working in a people-centred environment where space, both physical and virtual, can have an enormous impact on learning.
Teachers are, I realised, designing all the time – programs, activities, classroom spaces and class websites, to name a few. An awareness and understanding of the design process can contribute to a teacher’s effectiveness in meeting the diverse learning needs of students.
The first task which required me to make a quick change to a learning environment was the catalyst for a developing understanding of the impact that space can have on learning. My quick and cost-free transformation of an unused space in a classroom, as described on my blog post, “Impact of Space” demonstrated this and also highlighted elements of design thinking as stated by Kuratko (2012:110) – is the transformation desirable, feasible and viable?
The observation of my local railway station and subsequent design brief was another task that, at first, seemed unrelated to my role as an educator. However, within a couple of weeks, I found myself in a Kindergarten classroom observing the space and the student and teacher interactions within it and subsequently developing a report for the principal to highlight consideration prior to the re-design of the classroom space. Once again, the suggestion of Brown and Katz (2011) to go out into world and observe – seek them out where they live, work, play – resonated strongly as did the recommendations of the Design Council (2013, p. 18), supported by Razzouk and Shute (2012, p. 336), to include the users of the space when designing for their needs whilst exploring multiple solutions and the prototyping of design ideas in order to avoid costly errors as well as open up possibilities for the unknown. C-K Theory (Hatchuel, Masson & Weil, 2004), whilst complex and challenging to explore, highlighted the fact that conceptual space is crucial for fresh design and is the space within which something unknown can emerge from what is known. Being open to as yet unknown possibilities is an exciting aspect of the design process.
The relationship between space and pedagogy has been an interesting one to explore. Some would suggest that pedagogic aims must be considered to ensure they can be achieved within the space (JISC, 2006, p. 6), space must be planned for complex learning ecologies (Thomas, 2010) and different spaces are required for different strategies (Arndt, 2012). Others claim that space can impact learning outcomes (Sutherland, Sutherland, Fellner, Siccolo & Clark, 2014) and drive change (Harris, 2010). Whilst I believe that an ideal scenario would see strong, contemporary pedagogy driving change in learning spaces, I also believe that it is possible for space to influence pedagogy, particularly in the ever-expanding area of virtual space. However, I agree with Harris (2010, p.7) and Sutherland, Sutherland, Fellner, Siccolo & Clark (2014, p. 32) with regard to ensuring that teachers are fully supported when working, or preparing to work, in new or unfamiliar learning spaces.
The discussion that took place during Designer Drinks highlighted the growing interest in learning spaces and has encouraged me to continue to consolidate my understandings from this subject and to further explore this aspect of contemporary learning.
What is obvious to me now is that I have learned so much because of the complexity of this subject. To have had an understanding of the content in the beginning would not have led to such learning. The importance of research to support thinking and decision making is critical. I can’t imagine being in a learning space now, physical or virtual, without wondering about how the design came to be or how it could be changed to better meet the needs of the current users.