Prototyping, Learning Spaces, and Assessment.

Below are some of my thoughts to the process of prototyping in terms of learning spaces and assessment.

  • How might space and time be adapted to allow more scope for self- and peer-assessment, and for action to be taken on the back of that?

Time must be given to students to be able to self and peer assess as outlined by Ron Berger (2012) in the video about ‘Austin’s butterfly’. It is important for teachers to build in the time when developing lesson and project timelines. This sort of activity is time consuming so schools must also be efficient with their time. Because of this it is important to design a school wide strategy that ensures no double ups of content. An excellent strategy was that presented by ‘The Learning Wall’ at St George’s School for Girls in Edinburgh. This is a visual ‘pin board’ where staff place content on to see the big picture to ensure content is not covered repetitively in different subject areas and ensuring consistency of approach to minimise confusion of students.

Space can also be modified to allow for self and peer assessment as well. Considering the physical arrangement of a space has an inherent learning theory underlying it then the physical space is important for determining an instructivist (rows of desks) versus a social constructivist (group desk hubs) approach. Peer assessment is a social group based activity so having a physical environment where students are facing each other in groups will support this pedagogy. Space design does effect student and teacher behaviour and having group hubs results in the teacher more likely to be more mobile therefore interacting with more students rather than staying at the front of the class room when desks are set in rows (Walker, Brooks, & Baepler, 2011).

walker(Walker, Brooks, & Baepler, 2011).

In terms of action taken when a space is changed, in a study by Walker, Brooks, and Baepler (2011), it was found that trying to do a lecture style class in a group hub type learning space was difficult making it harder to engage with the material but making group work easier. I have personally found this with my own learning space that was changed from rows to group hubs a few weeks ago. There is a case here for flexible learning spaces where desks can easily and quickly by reconfigured. This is recognised as an ongoing challenge in the design of new educational infrastructure the publication of “Infrastructure NSW, 2014 State infrastructure Strategy Update” where is states: “Future-focused learning spaces – designing classrooms to allow a variety of teaching and learning practices, with a focus on innovative uses of technology and space” (page 100).

Self and peer assessment is very much a formative method of learning where students need to be taught how to do this through scaffolding. This allows students to produce at a level above what they otherwise could have alone reaching their ‘zone of proximal development (Loftus & Higgs, 2005).


Furthermore, having students working in mixed ability groups allows some of them to become the ‘more capable other’ extending the knowledge of their peers. This concept is wonderfully demonstrated in the ‘Austin’s Butterfly’ video where a very young student via 6 iterations developed an accurate scientific diagram of a butterfly.

austins butterfly

Also, such group activities will make, at times, for a noisy classroom. Because of this the acoustics of a learning space are very important and must be considered. Poor acoustics might be acceptable for an instructivist model where students are the passive receivers of knowledge with the teacher being the ‘sage on the stage’. Where there is only one voice most of the time. However when there are multiple voices much of the time a learning space with poor acoustics can make such student centred learning difficult if not impossible. It is common for classrooms to have a reverberation time of 1.2 seconds which makes hearing conversations very difficult while a reverberation time of 0.4 seconds is much better (Treasure, 2012). When designing spaces for learning from scratch it is important that costly mistakes, such as the Bexley Business Academy in the UK where 600 000 pounds had to spend on a building already costing 31 million pounds because the open plan design meant the classrooms were too noisy (Heathcoat-Amory, 2010).


(Heathcoat-Amory, 2010)

Obviously that this debacle could have done more with was a prototyping iterative approach such as that suggested by Paul Monaghan, former chair of Cabe’s education design review panel (Klettner, 2013). Noise levels in classroom is not only important for student learning but also for welfare of students and teachers. In a study done by Tiesler and Oberdorster (2008), refurbishing a classroom to change its reverberation time from 0.7s to 0.4s changed the working pulse of a teacher below 90bpm from 60% of the time to 82.5% of the time. This showed that the stress levels of the teacher was reduced in a classroom whose noise level was reduced 5 to 10dB.

  •  How might a prototyping culture affect the way we conceive of the school day, of time and physical space, and the role of learning?

A prototyping culture might have avoided the issue with the Bexley Business Academy in the UK and is therefore a powerful skill for teachers and students to learn. A Prototyping culture creates a bias towards action soliciting a response from others to comment on the ‘crummy prototype’ before reiterating it towards a better model (Kelly, D.). It may not only be used as a learning process but also can be used to think about change any aspect of School life. Building a fast prototype of a process, experience, learning space, etc, allows people to see a tangible example to then comment on and observe what works and what does not. It can lead to unexpected observations that can result in discoveries where not even conceived previously (Dyson, J. 2009), the so called unknown unknowns. So prototyping is a collaborative exercise that involves various stakeholders as part of generating ideas to solve problems. According to Vygotsky, cognition is mediated via artefacts (Loftus & Higgs) and prototypes is a powerful way to do this. The ‘Learning Wall’ mentioned earlier is an example of such an artefact that can lead to linking between and/or integration of subject areas, increasing the efficiency of the curriculum and school day, etc. A physical space can be prototyped before actually going to the expense of building it to ensure it meets the requirements of the users as in the example of Christchurch, New Zealand’s hospital building project.

Canterbury Health District Board from nbbjdesign on Vimeo.

At my school we are looking at building a new lab from an existing space and prototyping it would be a great way to ensure it fits innovative and flexible learning styles and the users before spending money on building it.

  • How might a prototyping culture inform the way we work with those involved in a school design process? How might we prevent people jumping to the final version of their ideas on day one?

In terms of implementing prototyping as part of a design thinking process with staff or students it is important to ensure that they don’t rush the process and come to premature conclusions. It is important that when implementing such a process that those new to the concept are told the ‘steps’ and what and why they are used. A great way of impressing this upon them is to get them to do the process rather than just telling them. An excellent resource to do this is the ‘marshmallow challenge’ shown by Tom Wujec in his Ted Talk.

Below are the materials needed followed by a video outlining the process.


It would be very interesting to have groups that has been told nothing compared to those who has had outlined the concept of many iterations and see the results of the two. The results presented by Wujec are compelling as to the importance of going through many iterations to get the best results. What is important here also is that this activity shows that design involves all of our senses with action being a part of the process.

  •  How might we use forms of critique to help respect the creative direction of a space design process, while bringing the design to what is emerging as a potentially better solution? How might we use such processes to bring more voices into the design process, without prejudicing the executive creative decisions made by school and learning designers?


Prototyping, as part of the design thinking process, involves critique. Referring back to Ron Berger’s video on ‘Austin’s Butterfly’, a number of aspects were important here as to the method’s employed in critiquing. First a growth mindset is useful where prototypes are never really finished. As Berger said regarding the first iteration, ‘it doesn’t look like the real butterfly, yet’. Second, a critique is specific and focuses on one aspect of quality at a time. Third, quality work is the goal where each iteration is an incremental improvement on the previous. Over many iterations the incremental improvement results in a major one. The critiquing from others allows the person or team to work at their ‘zone of proximal development’ resulting in them creating quality work that they otherwise would not have done. It is important that critiquing is respectful but critical involving a team that knows it is safe for their opinions to be heard and that the focus is on the prototype not the person. This brings many voices into the decision making process leading towards an improved prototype with each iteration and hopefully a better solution to whatever the issue to be solved is. It is up to the designer’s decision what feedback is taken on board or not allowing final decisions to be independent of, but hopefully taking into consideration, the voices of the group providing the feedback.

IDEO’s David Kelley on the Culture of Prototyping. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015.

Austin’s Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work – Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback. (2012.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Dyson, J. (2011, August 4). No innovator’s dilemma here: in praise of failure. Retrieved from:

Heathcoat-amory, E. (2010, October 14). Scandal of Blair’s £31m flagship school: A leaking roof, broken designer toilets and a useless computer system. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Loftus, S. & Higgs, J. (2005). Reconceptualising problem-based learning in a Vygotskian framework. Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education.

Tiesler, G., & Oberdörster, M. (2008). Noise – A Stressor? Acoustic Ergonomics of Schools. Building Acoustics, 15(3), 249-261.

Treasure, J. (2012). Why architects need to use their ears, Retrieved from:

Walker, Brooks, & Baepler. (2011, December 15). Pedagogy and Space: Empirical Research on New Learning Environments. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Build a tower, build a team. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Canterbury Health District Board. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Curriculum development: St George’s School for Girls. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

IDEO’s David Kelley on the Culture of Prototyping. (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

7.0 Education. (2014). Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

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