Ill-conceived learning spaces are the bain of many an educator. Student engagement, focussed learning and even respect for the learning environment can all suffer with a space that has not met the needs of the student. Within my school a building was recently constructed for Vocational Trade Training and Information Technology. Now completed, the building is frequently utilised by classes, small working groups and individual senior students. Within the building an area that initially presents as a large foyer area, is being used as a workspace for small groups requiring somewhere for group discussion, or for quiet individual computer access. The zone, identified as HUB 1, is essentially undefined and tends to shift purposes with each group moving through the building. This attitude tends to see teachers not utilising HUB 1 for task oriented purposes but more of an area of ‘overflow’, with greater teacher interaction happening in another room of the building. Obviously the area becomes more of a social centre, an escape from the rigours of the supervised classroom and a perfect zone of work avoidance.
The Design Thinking Toolkit identifies that the physical environment of the classroom sends a signal about how students should behave. The HUB 1 area is obviously not sending the right messages for students or teachers to engage in the space effectively. But possibly at the core of the issue is the unidentified purpose of the space and a sense of ownership by the people that use the space.
Photograph 1: The HUB 1 space before
It is Tim Brown (2009) who imagines a simplified three key phases in the process of design thinking. He initially sets to link innovation and creative design through design thinking and then identifies the phases of ‘inspiration’, ‘ideation’ and ‘implementation’ as the steps towards product development that suits the need of the consumer. Each phase is linked, with intermediary phases interwoven though the whole process to finally execute the vision. (Brown 2008) In assessing the ‘product’ of the initial building design, it is obvious that the space no longer meets the needs of the intended purpose, that is an effective learning space for students. Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby (2012) identify that a pitfall of some people is to hold on too tightly to the original insight and that an open mind needs to be maintained about the possibilities for an idea. The original idea for the HUB1 space needs to be redesigned.
To instigate initial small changes in the HUB1 space, it was essential to first talk to the students that use the area. It was clear from the conversations that they needed a space that allowed group discussions without disrupting the students working in the main computer area. Initially a small table was obtained from a nearby room, but further searching found more suitable tables. In true prototyping style the students ‘tested the product’.
Photograph 2: The HUB 1 trial desks in place
Photograph 3: The HUB1 final look.
Although the changes to the space are small, and possibly an obvious addition to the building, this design change still needs to undergo some more consideration. How the group collaboration area affects the availability of the quiet study space needs to be considered. It is agreed the space is very under utilised and there is more that can be investigated for creating a valuable learning space.
Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard business review, 86(6), 84. http://www.ideo.com/by-ideo/design-thinking-in-harvard-business-review
Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. HarperBusiness. p.37.
Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson.
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