From the business viewpoint

Interview with the Business Manager / IT Director.

The Business Manager (BM) was involved from the beginning of the project, emphasising that the visits to the universities particularly, developed her thinking on the importance of the design of the learning spaces. The Hub at the Uni of Adelaide was particularly influential, as it provided the flexible spaces they were looking for, but also a huge variety of types of spaces, made from mostly industrial and cheaper materials. She was concerned that the open space concept, such as what they saw at Microsoft, could be a fad and not translatable into the school setting, but it did get her thinking. Standing desks, environmentally sustainable finishes, wireless access, hot desks, plus discussion about what our closed off personal space is doing to the ability to collaborate i.e people with headphones or ear buds, constantly connected to their device but not necessarily each other. Open space or closed, the emotional and social dynamic is the challenge. As suggested by Sellers and Souter (2012) changing the space invites users to see the world differently. The BM also recognised the need to drop bans on certain aspects of technology such as Facebook, but she suggested we must be ready for the fallout from teachers and parents. The BM’s investigation into the design features and technological aspects of the build resulted in a steep learning curve for her. She was particularly interested in the student response to the innovations and after a year, doesn’t see the use yet of the innovative technology built in, so the ICT infrastructure supports the learning and is seamless.

The Facilities Manager (FM)

Discussions on what was necessary from an infrastructure viewpoint included whether or not to install SmartBoards. They were in the original planning (they nearly slipped through, said the FM) but when interactive screens became more prominent in 2011, these were used instead. They are at the front of each classroom with write-on boards on the back wall. Wireless capacity allows for each student to connect to three devices and sound loops were included all over the building, as they had had advice that many people would have hearing problems in the future (!) Students were heavily involved with the selections of the furnishings, the staff not so much. Originally teachers desks were front and centre in each classroom, but then were moved to the side of the room. The tables in the classrooms are large, seating about 8-10 people.

All glass walls at the front of the building were a challenge and had to be double-glazed, the lights and air-conditioning are all automatic. The toilets are outside the building next to the student lockers. There is a 220 seat lecture theatre with 9 screens. The FM also commented on the fact that despite the capacity to connect any computer remotely to this screen, this is not happening. But the capacity is there, she adds.


  • Sellers, W., & Souter, K. (2012). Changing approaches to educational environments: Valuing the margins, interstices and liminalities of learning spaces. In M. Keppell, K. Souter, & M. Riddle (Eds.) Physical and learning spaces in higher education: Concepts for the modern learning environment (pp. 21-32). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-114-0.ch002

The Learning Commons

What I’ve found fascinating in the study of this course is the intersection between the physical spaces and learning. Does the space determine the culture or the culture the spaces? When students in the Learning Commons of the Senior School are accessing digital spaces such as online databases provided by the Library, are they using the Library? What does “using the Library” mean? If so, what input does the Library then have? If the conventional orthodoxy is that students come to the Library to access information, what does it mean when they access information from another space? Does it make information specialists redundant or just reimagined? Since the construction of the Senior School Learning Commons (SSLC) we have almost the same number of students coming to the Library as before. They tell me it’s because when they come, they know they are there to work. The open-plan design of the SSLC actually mitigates against the motivation to study. Students say it’s because the architects forgot to factor in the distracting smells of grilled cheese wafting from the kitchen downstairs through the void. Or the open-space distraction that occurs naturally when one student walks past another and begins a perfectly reasonable conversation about something entirely unrelated to study. This appears to require a high level of engagement with the work in order to remain focused.

Creative coffee morning…and evening.

I really wanted to resist the urge to have a creative coffee morning amongst colleagues. I tried. Given, however, the exhortation to get people together who don’t usually collaborate on anything creative, I thought that was enough reason to push on.

There were representatives from several different faculties at the school (Art, Design, History, the Director of Studies, English, Science, Music, Media Studies, RE) most of whom would rarely spend time together, let alone in a discussion based around creating learning spaces. Secondary schools are notorious for retaining a silo mentality but without an underlying thread tying us together, apart from the overarching assessment culture, I would say there is often more that divides than unites us.

What was surprising was the enthusiasm in the discussion about learning spaces. Everyone wanted to talk about the Library, as we had just sent out a survey about Library usage to canvas views of what will happen with the introduction of the BYOD program next year. Steering ideas into other spaces around the school eventually came back to the Library! Our school is spread out, mostly single level with little outside covered space. In a climate like Canberra’s, any space that is warm in winter and cool in summer is bound to be well-used. Some felt the communal space of the Library had so much potential. Others were very happy with the current layout. (!) Several people commented though, how there had never been any invitation to talk about the actual space before. It was a revelation. The new architecturally designed senior school building (up for public architecture awards this year) has beautiful new spaces, but some teachers are less than positive about its potential to enhance learning. They expressed the view that they had not been asked to have any input. Decisions were made that didn’t include all stakeholders, although I do know many teachers were not prepared to get on board with some of the more interesting design ideas that have been introduced. Ultimately the process is the product – it’s not so much the outcome but the opportunity to actually get together and talk about what we have in common. Perhaps there may have been more uptake in the new spaces if teachers felt included.

CCMLibrary classroom layout

Note the prescriptive layout of the Library classroom as per attachment to door. The creative coffee morning created a pretext for people to get together though, and was worth it, even if we did move the furniture.

The evening event was a small gathering – a sculptor,  an artist, several teachers. This time we were in the beautiful new foyer and restaurant space of Hotel Hotel, edgy and modern.

Monsters Monsters2

The concept of creativity was the focus. You can be creative with what you have, said the sculptor – you don’t have to knock everything over and start again. Creativity and innovation appear to be obvious allies but adaptation rather than innovation also gives scope for creativity. The creativity lies as much in what you do with what you have, as it does in knocking everything down and starting again. This way of thinking resonates with me as I have begun to see space differently. Unfortunately the noise level of the hotel precluded recording what people had to say! Shades of Julian Treasure and the ability of architects to listen.


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Watch this space…Blog post #3

During the observation of the staff common room during the Monday morning meeting, the discomfort with the space was evident, and others expressed their dissatisfaction with the conduct of the meeting.  Many staff were quite neutral in their reactions and demeanour. You go, you listen, you eat, you leave. Although the initial problem was to consider the practicalities of getting a coffee and finding a seat without bumping into people, the process has me thinking about the use of the space and its potential to help nurture better relationships amongst staff.

scr scr2 scr3 scr4

So a second problem emerges, for the time staff are not obliged to use the room. The space should be a welcoming place for over 100 staff, where they can have food and drinks, be comfortable, and interact, within the dynamic of the meeting, in a way that doesn’t crowd each other. My awareness that the space is used so little emerged after a further observation later in the day, where the only occupants were a couple of IT staff and a lone, separated grounds person, seated at the other end of the room. The room is neutered, so the redesign needs to incorporate the possibility of making it more attractive when there aren’t meetings. It must be adapted to both imperatives – when staff have to be there, and when they might choose to be there. Contentment in the staffroom is an untapped market.

The design brief, according to Brown (2009, p21) is not a set of instructions, but an attempt at allowing for serendipity, unpredictability and possible breakthrough ideas. He also suggest we need to regard the design as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a series of orderly steps (op.cit, p22)


  • The need to have a common staff space.
  • The distance from the other faculty offices which make the walk (up to 200 metres for some) in the cold, less than inviting.
  • The costs associated with physical redesign and new furniture.
  • The time factor; in considering the concept, gathering ideas and implementing changes.


 …achieve the following?

  • make the staff common room more warm and inviting so as to improve connections between staff?
  • get the community to see the inherent value in this communal space?
  • get the staff talking, draw them in, rethink the space and gather their ideas?
  • encourage school leaders to see the value in making changes?
  • consider different ways to disseminate information apart from meetings, considering the demand on staff time?
  • consider the repurposing of the space to nourish staff relationships?
  • create a “demand out of a need”? (Peter Drucker , quoted in Brown, 2009)

In short, how might we reconfigure this space, so it does well and warmly what it does badly now, and be an appealing forum for staff to gather, and so defeat the 95% redundancy factor?

So let’s start by..

  • investigating costs associated with new benches, seating, coffee machines, new furniture, new layout, whatever it takes
  • creating the opportunity for staff to add ideas for their own desire lines -setting the desire paths, where they choose to go
  • creating an online space to disseminate information to free up staff time together for more productive and engaging activities




Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. HarperBusiness


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That problem space…

The magazine reading area, just inside the glassed entry to our Library, has already passed through several iterations in the two years I’ve been on staff. Initially it was a storage area for journals; with up to 5 years of back issues. It was messy and they were rarely used. New front-facing shelving, comfortable seating (now moved out of the area) and a severe cull of past issues revamped the space. It’s far less messy but the journals are still rarely used. Students like to ensconce themselves in the space but there is little interaction with the actual journals, apart from past issues of the school magazine. I perceive an inherent philosophical question as to the virtue of maintaining this space as the “Magazine area” when the users don’t want them, and they become wallpaper and a physical impediment to optimal use of the space.


We need a design process so we look more creatively at space. We need to observe how people actually use the space, as suggested by Tim Brown, and if we are to “create choice” then the process has to establish how inspiration and ideation facilitate a breadth of ideas, rather than a fixed one.  While form may follow function, function will not be determined by form when users reject an imposed function upon space.

I’ve come to the view that our desire to encourage journal use has created a very boxed space as well as boxed-in thinking, from which we will not be moved. One of the greatest challenges in space design is the ability of non-designers to think like one. All design thinking is ultimately social, suggests Meinel and Leifer, and indeed, as of his writing in 1992,  design thinking has moved to what Buchanan calls a “new liberal art of technological culture” from its original pragmatic role. Design is centred on people, and their desires and practices are at the centre of the design thinking process. Using divergent and convergent thinking, Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby suggest we can be creative in everything we do. Good design speaks for itself. David Kelley asserts we can all learn to choose better ideas and to make better decisions. His example of the MRI machine and the thinking that went into its transformation into a pirate ship, illustrates the ultimate empathy with the user, in this case, children with health issues.


Relocating the shelving and newspaper stand leaves one bare brick wall and half a wall which follows the stairs. Horizontal banners which climb the stair wall would suggest places to go in their digital world. The brick wall would be a flexible space for displays relating specifically to students. The only journal they really like is the school magazine, so why wait for an annual production? This week’s micro-magazine on a new media wall. An LCD TV, scrolling news bites with images of students and their activities, alternating with Clickview or other promotional ideas. Comfortable seating would return, along with coffee table work spaces, replacing traditional height tables and chairs. The corners would adapt themselves well to pop-up makerspaces. This week we have a challenge to make 1000 paper cranes – no fanfare, just origami squares and a running tally. We have 180 after 3 days and the students don’t need any prompting. One of the important aspects is the surprise, fun factor. The user is directing the way the space is used.

Makerspace.With boys



Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21

Kelley, D. (2012). How to build your creative confidence.

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson. 

Leifer, Larry; Plattner, Hasso; Meinel, Christoph (2013). Design Thinking Research : Building Innovation Eco-Systems. Retrieved from

Liedtka, J. (2011). Learning to use design thinking tools for successful innovation. Strategy & Leadership, 39(5), 13-19. doi:

Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348


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