When I first read the course outline for INF536 – Designing Spaces for Learning, I wondered whether I signed up to learn not only about designing learning spaces, but also about a new lingo used by educators in Australia and Scotland (the location of the authors of the course outline), but I soon realized that my views, knowledge and understanding of the work of education professionals, no matter where they were teaching, were changing. The person I would have historically called “Professor” or “Instructor” was now labeled “Subject Coordinator”. The course syllabus “Your Subject Outline” and discussed “your studies”. The Student or Learner learned together with the teacher, not just from the teacher. In short, I sensed a shift in focus from a teacher-centered directed tour of a single discipline to a learner-centered guided journey investigating a multitude of disciplines.
As class started, I wondered about the logic of studying design, as I saw design as a topic for the architects, artists, engineers, and other creative types of the world, but I soon realized the benefit of design thinking in other professional endeavors. I could relate to the iterative process from my computer science days, and the benefits of doing and prototyping. Then came our creative coffee morning, and enter Michael Manoogian, a successful designer who trained at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). He admits that RISD never “taught” him a thing, but rather the professors knew how to bring out of you whatever creativity you had inside.
Then came our section on experimental spaces – how experimental could you get with a classroom? Enter Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, creator of the Academy for Global Citizenship (“ACG”), and her holistic approach to learning, including designing green. After reading about Sarah in McIntosh (2013), and watching Sarah’s Ted Talks, I remarked to a friend that he was way ahead of his time growing up — tinkering with bicycles and rockets, traveling the country and world, and learning tangentially in school. (At the time, he was reprimanded for not following the rules.)
I’ve come to realize high quality learning is transformational — a metamorphosis occurs. You leave a different person than when you arrived. You sense the change. First comes the disorienting feeling of the unfamiliar (you wonder what’s happening to you), followed by some sense making (you put a couple pieces of the puzzle together), and eventually some real magic happens (ideas start popping in your head, you get lost in thought, lose sense of time, and if you’re lucky, enter a state of flow).
I arrived in class with some known unknowns (I knew nothing about designing classroom spaces) and hoped to impart some knowledge from an expert in the field. I soon found myself overwhelmed with unknown unknowns (the distance learning platform, design thinking, pedagogies, critical analysis, etc.), felt way over my head, and wondered how I could escape. I struggled with identifying a learning space project in which I could identify some key contradictions. I now leave believing the world is the new classroom (both virtual and physical), learning opportunities are everywhere, and if you are willing to embrace the unknown unknowns, the unfamiliar, the constraints (as frightening as that may be), then you are well positioned for some real learning.
McIntosh, E. (2010). Clicks and bricks: How school buildings influence future practice and technology adoption, Educational Facility Planner, Volume 45, Issues 1 & 2. CEFPI. Retrieved from http://media.cefpi.org/efp/EFP45-1and2McIntosh.pdf
Thomas, J. (2014). Creative Coffee Morning. Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/jdtchicago/
Thomas, J. (2014). ACG – Designing Green. Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/jdtchicago/2014/10/01/the-seven-spaces-at-lfa/