Building from the inside out epitomises the application of the current view of user-centred design thinking in corporations. Yet the reality has failed when undertaking this methodology in schools.
After being involved in the refurbishment of 4 school libraries in the state and private sectors, as well as undertaking extensive professional development and visiting library spaces across the country, it is evident that there is a chasm between what the design theory and instructional theory research says we should be doing and what we actually do. More importantly, there is a discord between the creation of innovative learning spaces and the learning modalities that were expected to occur there.
Even during the BER, the professional development that was provided (Staines & O’Neill, 2009) made reference to having a learning vision and a learning pedagogy, before beginning the design process, yet the majority of the PD focused on furniture and layout, within the selection of templates that we had to choose from. And despite having to take a member of the leadership team to the PD (principal or deputy), no reference was made again to considering the learning vision or instructional theory when planning the library design. In fact, those TLs who were involved in the process were in the minority.
This appears to be driven by the fact that:
- Few innovative spaces are created in consultation with those who will be using the space.
- Often, the design ideas, technology requirements and teaching and learning requirements are not all taken into account, resulting in one discipline taking priority over the others.
- There is a misconception that once a space has been ‘designed’ it requires no further funding or change for up to 10 years (or more). This is despite the fact that an entire series of unknowns may occur during such a length of time.
- Few spaces are designed with a learning pedagogy in mind.
- Those spaces which are designed with a learning pedagogy in mind, fail if there is not a specific and concerted effort to provide training and up-skilling in the use of these innovative spaces and the practices that are consequently available.
An example at my current school, is that the library was built 7 years ago, and a little funding has been made available every few years to tweak furniture, when requested. However, since the library was designed, with two lab spaces and some desk seating to accommodate around 90 students, there have been some major technological changes. These include going one-to-0ne and requiring that all tablets are used inside. This means that potentially we could have 300 plus boys needing a space in the library outside of class times.
This change in technology usage will require a considerable change to the spaces, in that we will no longer require fixed benches for computers, yet still will need space for access to use their own devices. We will require substantially more seating, and after reviewing our non-fiction collection, we have found a large percentage of the collection is excessively old and underused, enabling us to weed, remove some shelving and make room for more seating.
In keeping with the research on learning and instructional theory, we will still need to consider providing spaces to cater to all learning modalities (perhaps even adopting Thornburg’s ‘Campfires to Holodecks’ model).
Should we make these changes, without consulting a considerable cross-section of our current users, or considering the possibility of other unknown users and how they will be skilled in the potential of these spaces, or even how technology may change again in the next few years; we too would be failing to work with the evidence provided by such design research as Le Bont (2013); Elliot Burns (2011), Radcliffe et.al (2013) and the DT Toolkit (2014).
We need to understand that any changes that we implement are transitory, intended to remain only as long as we reflect and review them on a regular basis, and can be influenced, at a moments notice, by our users, technology and pedagogical changes in the near future.
To succeed with implementing design theory and design thinking into our learning spaces, we must first ask a lot of questions, identify what we are trying to achieve in terms of changing behaviour, teaching and learning and outcomes and then constantly review and evaluate (at least on an annual basis).
To quote Fischer (2013) “We are educating students for jobs that do not exist yet, using technology that has not been invented yet, to solve problems that we do not know are problems yet.” Our physical and digital spaces must change regularly, to keep pace with these changes…these unknown unknowns.
SHIFT HAPPENS, and we need to constantly be shifting with it.