#INF536 Critical Reflection

I have found this subject very challenging. Whilst comfortable working as an educator in both digital and physical environments my knowledge and understanding of how those spaces are constructed and the impact of design (good or bad) upon them was minimal. Sure, I could recognise when something didn’t work, possibly due to bad design, but I would have been hard-pressed to articulate why or even come up with an alternative. I hadn’t really considered how the design of space actually impacted on learning.

Through the activities, readings and tasks I have developed new capacities in observation, ideation, constructing and deconstructing knowledge, and new confidence in my own opinions. The task to make a small change to a learning space has inspired me to keep seeking and acting upon opportunities for other small changes. I had been content to wait till we move to our new spaces over the next 1-2 years but these are learning spaces now! If they can be improved now then they should be. The idea of library as Fab Lab (Belbin & Newcombe, 2013) or Makerspace is something I will be exploring further.

One of the most challenging readings was Hatchuel, Le Masson and Weil (2004). It literally made me cry as I started doubting my capacity to make sense of the written word. Strangely it was the anti-depressive toothbrush  that helped me turn the corner on this one and I was quite pleased I was able to reference C-K theory in my case report.

Being taken through a design thinking process observing, empathising and developing a design brief for my local station was a revelation to me and excellent preparation for the Google Teacher Academy I was fortunate enough to attend recently (facilitated by Ewan’s NoTosh colleagues Tom Barrett and Hamish Curry). From this experience I now add “It’s not right that…” as an excellent prompt when struggling with framing “How might we…?” questions.How might we?

I learned that a design brief is not a list of demands and now wish I could persuade the powers that be at my school that developing a document like Dear Architect (Engine Service Design & Walker Technology College, n.d.) for our major consolidation and rebuilding project could have enormous benefits for the school in the long term. Unfortunately it is too late for that. The architects have visited for “consultation” bringing with them their already drawn-up plans. At least I now have some solid research behind me when I start ranting to whoever will listen about what a disaster having the year 8 lockers in the middle of the library will be.

I have discovered the value of a war room and sticky notes. Last semester I prided myself on not printing anything; this semester not only have I printed, I’ve cut up, re-arranged, stuck back together and (cue drum roll) hand written.

Sticky notes

Scissors and sticky-tape

Attending Simon and Graham’s creative coffee morning revealed the value of semi-structured conversation between people of different backgrounds but common interests.

Participants at the TeachMeet Bec and I hijacked as a pseudo creative coffee morning appreciated the opportunity for focused discussion as an alternative to the usual presentations.

Once again the support of this network (the class) has been phenomenal – I can’t imagine what it’d be like without the forums, tweets and hangouts. Thanks everyone, it’s been one helluva ride!



Belbin, N., & Newcombe, P. (2013). Fab Labs at the Library. Education Digest78(7), 65-68.

Engine Service Design & Walker Technology College. (n.d.). Dear Architect: A Vision Of Our Future School: Walker Technology College.

Hatchuel, A., Le Masson, P., & Weil, B. (2004). CK theory in practice: lessons from industrial applications. In DS 32: Proceedings of DESIGN 2004, the 8th International Design Conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia. http://www.designsociety.org/download-publication/19760/c-k_theory_in_practice_lessons_from_industrial_applications



Blog task 4

My experience for this task is fully described in this Storify.


I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend Simon and Graham‘s Creative Coffee morning in North Melbourne last Sunday. Their event was much more in the true spirit of the creative coffee morning movement than what Bec and I could manage in 14 minutes at a teachmeet. I do hope Simon and Graham have started a new creative chapter in Melbourne and I look forward to participating again.

I have commented on Michele’s post; Simon’s post and Liz’s post.

A vertical library

On Monday I attended a meeting with the architects who are designing the refurbishment of our existing years 9-12 campus into a P-5 campus. As I understand it this was the first time the architects had met with actual teachers (previous meetings were with administration) but the plans they shared had been drawn up for more than two years.

The architect started with a qualifier – they don’t normally leave it so late to consult with teachers but in this case the constraints were so restrictive they needed to draw up plans before consultation (or words to that effect). The constraints include: the tight dimensions of the site as a whole, the heritage-listed mansion which is the main building, and limited budget (compared to that for the new building on our other campus).

As head of library I am naturally most interested in what they have planned for the library so I was very disappointed to discover … nothing! There is an existing library for the year 9-12 students and that is exactly what they have in place for the P-5 students. It seems they are happy to stick with a known known and just make it fit the new circumstances.

The existing library

I’ve spent the last few days floating around a few different ideas. All but two of the classrooms will be housed in a newer adjacent building. I’ve come up with the concept of a vertical library that would operate in the break-out spaces provided for classrooms on two levels, have teacher resources and library workroom on a third level and retain one section of the existing library for a more traditional reading area. The classrooms not located in the newer building are for the youngest students in prep – the reading area would contain everything they would need on a visit. We would move resources about so that they matched the current inquiry topics and library staff, through involvement in planning, would be working in the appropriate area when the resources are being accessed. It’s very early days in the thinking for how this would play out in practical terms but the intent makes complete sense to me – locating resources (physical, online and human) where the children are instead of segregated in a separate space seems logical. You can see the basic idea in these pictures:

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

I’ve drawn and written about my ideas in bright pink texta on a photocopy of the plans and submitted it as part of the feedback process. Let’s hope that even if my idea isn’t what eventuates the idea is enough to spur the architects on to some more creative thinking about how a library is used as a learning space in the context of the primary years.


Blog task 3 – Design brief – Macleod station

Macleod station, facing south. Image retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macleod_railway_station


Macleod is a leafy middle suburb, approximately 15 kilometres from Melbourne CBD. The station is located on the opposite side of a park from the small village-like shopping strip. Macleod College (P-12), kindergarten, YMCA and Banyule Nets Stadium are all adjacent. During the weekday morning peak platform 1 (to the city) sees approximately 8 trains per hour (24 departures between 5.51am and 9.01am). At least 1200 people (50 – 80 for each train) pass through the waiting area each morning. Smaller, but not insignificant, numbers of people alight at Macleod also passing through the waiting area.The waiting area at the station has been described in Designed for a purpose.

The problem

As it stands the waiting area almost certainly fulfils the needs of its owner (PTV) in that it provides the means for travellers to pay for their travel; space to display relevant information and warnings for customers; a basic level of amenity with seating, heating and cooling, and could be hosed out if necessary. But as Brown and Katz (2011) remind us we should start with the experience and needs of the user who in this case is certainly not a faceless bureaucracy (p. 382); a sentiment echoed in Design for public good (The Design Council, 2013) – promoting both design for basic need, and the understanding of citizen need.

Problems with this space can be viewed from two different user perspectives.

  1. The commuter for whom it does not provide a pleasant waiting experience
  2. The kiosk operator whose business must be bordering on unviable based on the observed lack of sales of coffee, snacks and reading material.

Specific problems observed:

  1. Congestion at the door to the platform
  2. Cold air entering the waiting area from the platform door frequently opening and closing (would equally be a problem in warm weather when the waiting area is air-conditioned)
  3. Kiosk not selling much coffee or anything else
  4. Not a pleasant environment for waiting, hard surfaces, cold lighting and colours, rarely changing information displays.

It is possible that responses to this brief which focus on the needs of only one of the users will, through abductive logic (Kolko, 2012), benefit the other as well. If the commuters find the waiting area an enjoyable, comfortable place to be they will be more motivated to spend time and money there, benefitting the kiosk operator. If the kiosk operator makes changes to his service the commuters may find the waiting experience more pleasant.


  • Improve the waiting area experience for commuters
  • Increase the viability of the kiosk


The “How might we” questions (D.School, Stanford) document was used to prompt some alternative thinking:

How might we…

…make the waiting area more like a cafe?

…make the wait time more productive?

…make the environment more inviting?

…make the wait time something to be enjoyed rather than endured?

…give “ownership” of the space to the users? Could it contribute to community engagement?


  • Any changes to the physical environment would have to be approved by a bureaucracy.
  • Changes to the Myki machinery could be costly and require the input of expert technicians.
  • Unknown support for change from the facility owner.


Suggestions arising from the brainstorm:

  • Commuters may choose not to order coffee because they are worried that the train would arrive before it is ready – explore how commuters could be better provided with real-time information regarding when the next train will arrive (currently have to exit to platform to view display) and how many coffees the kiosk operator could make in this time.

  • Consider the location of the Myki readers – currently outside the waiting area on the platform, many commuters go outside to scan on then come back in creating congestion and adding to the frequency of the doors opening and closing. Alternatively, they don’t come back in at all, meaning that they do not consider purchasing from the kiosk.

  • Physical environment – could softer furnishings and warmer colours and lighting improve the environment?

  • Entertainment – could visual entertainment be provided? Televisions showing news channel or live sporting events (sound off, with captions)? Would local musicians be able to busk in the waiting area or on the platform? Could the kiosk operator provide music?

  • Displays – could local schools, sporting and community groups provide regularly changing displays of artwork, photographs of events and community information?

  • Could the kiosk provide some cafe-style furniture – stand-up table, stools which double as small tables etc. – to enhance the cafe experience?

The brief

Macleod station is an essential but almost invisible part of the daily routine for many people. How might we make the physical and experiential space valuable and valued by all?


Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2011). Change by Design. Journal Of Product Innovation Management, 28(3), 381-383.

D.school, Stanford University, How might we?… Method Card: http://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/HMW-METHODCARD.pdf Accessed 3 August, 2014

The Design Council (2013). Design for public good. Retrieved from:http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/knowledge-resources/report/design-public-good Accessed 3 August, 2014

Kolko, J. (2012). Abductive thinking and sensemaking: The drivers of design synthesis.http://www.jonkolko.com/writingAbductiveThinking.php Accessed 14 August, 2014

Comments on other posts

I have commented on:

Liz Crowder

Heather Jesudian

Katie Polis

Blog task 2

On Monday 4 August I observed the activity at Macleod station waiting area while the 6.50am, 7.02am and 7.12am citybound trains came and went.

Approximately 50 commuters arrived, waited and caught each train. The only other person using this space at this time is running the small kiosk.

The physical space has been described more thoroughly in Designed for a purpose. As a reference I’ve included my sketch from that post.

Macleod Station

I also used a very brief window of opportunity, when the area was empty as a train arrived, to capture this panorama.

This picture shows the kiosk which isn’t visible in the panorama.Macleod station kiosk

This is what I observed:

  • People enter and walk through to the platform to check when the next train will arrive and swipe their Myki card. They then either continue down the platform or return to the waiting area. People coming back in sometimes create congestion at the doorway.
  • The waiting area is warmer than outside (an unusually cold -2C on this day)
  • Every time the doors open (entrance or exit to platform) cold air rushes in.
  • There is very little attention paid to the information posters that are on most walls and display boards although two people look at a poster advertising trains being replaced by buses next weekend.
  • As more people arrive the seats start to fill but there are lots of gaps, no one sits immediately adjacent to anyone else unless they arrived together (presumably have a pre-existing relationship).
  • Very few people speak unless they arrived together (see above); are apologising to people queuing behind for taking a long time to top-up their Myki; or are making a purchase at the kiosk. Occasional comments about how cold it is are heard.
  • No one is speaking on a phone but many people are using their phones for other purposes.
  • I hear heels clicking, Myki machine beeps, the vending machine fridge motor, doors opening and closing, wheels of rolling cases, espresso machine, station announcements.
  • I feel warmer being inside but the hard plastic seats are cold. The whole environment is an emotionally cold place.
  • The kiosk is not very busy but does provide a pleasant smell of coffee. The people who do purchase coffee or other items seem to be regulars as they greet, are greeted by and chat with the man serving . One is even asked about his weekend. He only makes 3 coffees while I am observing.
  • The waiting area empties as station announcements (usually pre-recorded but once from a real person broadcasting from within the customer service area) indicate the approach of the next train. Each time one or two people who have gotten off the train exit through the waiting area. The next wave of people start arriving.

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Blog task 1

Our library viewing area (as it is described for booking purposes) is a large, fairly open space where students mostly sit on the floor to use the set of iPads or for viewing the TV. It’s popular with teachers for the iPads because we have an Apple TV making for easy sharing of student work. I wrote about one corner of this space in Impact of space but I knew I wanted to look more at this area. As you can see, the corner wasn’t the only messy part of this space. (click on the image to rotate the panorama).

On the face of it the area is serving its purpose but I feel it could be better utilised. One thing I’ve noticed is that, even though we are always busy at lunchtime, this area does not get much use at that time (although the new 3D printer has generated lots of interest). Being a “dumping ground” was not limited to the one (now cleared) corner and even something as simple as cleaning out the superfluous stuff should have a positive impact. The central area which is not visible in the panorama is basically an empty carpeted space. There is a contrasting carpet square that is used to define the seating area for viewing the TV.

I’d like to make the area more attractive and inviting for students so they are tempted to spend time there of their own volition. It would be lovely to redecorate the area with some of the fabulous multipurpose furniture pieces I’ve seen. New carpet would make a huge difference too, as would a new colour scheme, writeable walls and more options for display.

Image from http://www.furnware.com.sg/akiako-scape


Image from http://www.furnware.com.sg/cookie-pad

However, my school is embarking on a major consolidation and building process. According to the plan we will be moving out sometime next year so that the building can be gutted and refitted. At that time we will move into a completely new space (that’s a whole other story). Thinking about what Brown (2009) describes as the work of a design thinker – the harmonious balance of desirability, feasibility and viability – it’s pretty clear that such ideas, while desirable and feasible are not viable.

Fundamental to the use of design in learning spaces is the consideration of the style of teaching and learning that will take place and the flexibility to provide for different styles in the same environment. Buchanan (1992) discusses “the role of design in sustaining, developing, and integrating human beings into broader ecological and cultural environments, shaping these environments when desirable and possible or adapting to them when necessary” (p. 10). So “using constraints as inspiration” (Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby 2012, p. 110) I’ve turned my attention to the activities that could occur to make the space more appealing rather than focusing just on the physical.

I have been thinking for a while that I’d like to use this space for students (and possibly teachers too) to present “how to” sessions about their interests, passions and hobbies. This idea was formed last semester when we looked at Creative Cultures in module 5 of Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age. I’m still working on how to get that started but in the meantime this task has given me the impetus to try something else first.

My plan is to provide a variety of new activities for students (a different one each day or week) in this space at lunchtimes. First up will be a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle that I will place on a table in the middle. I’ve no idea how quickly it might be completed but there won’t be any problem leaving it as a work in progress over a few days. The table usually lives against a wall but can be easily moved by two people allowing us to clear the space for classes at other times. I will look for other similar ideas (and thanks Patricia Lee for your inspiration already) – perhaps some craft activities or obsolete equipment that the children might like to take apart and tinker with.Jigsaw


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

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

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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Thinking about design

I’ve done some reading and thinking but rather than write this post in a true academic style I thought I’d just note down my own responses to these questions, based on but not specifically referring to what I’ve read. They probably sound a bit random. I’m thinking that coming back to these questions in a couple of months time would be an interesting exercise – hopefully my responses would have matured. Anyway, for what it’s worth this is what I think right now:

Why does design matter?

Design is the difference between something being good (great, fantastic) or merely good enough. Good design embodies a holistic approach that takes into consideration the human and environmental factors at play not just simple function or cost. Innovation is a product of design. Design enables clever solutions that can do more than was first thought or imagined.

What are the core reasons for which we need a design process?

A process allows for planned and agreed steps. Points along the way to try things out, reflect, refine and try again. Without a process it’s likely that the first ideas get implemented without being prototyped or trialled in an inexpensive or non-permanent form. Expensive mistakes are likely.

What might be the role of design when we think about learning spaces?

To use all the many and varied needs, wants, constraints and possibilities to come up with creative, inspiring and practical places to learn. Design looks further than current practice in the one field – it seeks and plays with ideas from unrelated, even incongruous fields to develop ideas that can be explored further with prototypes.

Other reflections

Last week at my school we were fortunate to have Sam Gliksman, author of iPad in Education for Dummies present to us about using the iPad to demonstrate learning and tell a story.

Our first activity was a challenge, “The Marshmallow Challenge” – groups of three were given 20  sticks of spaghetti (uncooked), a ball of string, sticky-tape, scissors and one marshmallow. Our instructions were to use these materials to make the tallest possible structure that could support the whole marshmallow at the top. We had 18 minutes and were also asked to record what we did using the iPad camera. The purpose of the exercise, as it turned out, was twofold. Firstly, we were gathering material to use while learning how the app Explain Everything can be used to demonstrate learning, but more importantly it was to illustrate a difference in the ways adults and children learn.


My group was monumentally unsuccessful. Our tower was tall but collapsed as soon as we put the marshmallow on top. Children (even kindergarten aged) almost always do better than adults at this challenge; better than teachers, lawyers and high-flying CEO’s (the only group of adults who does do better is architects and engineers which is probably a good thing). The difference that has been observed is that children will test the marshmallow at the top of the structure up to five times during the 18 minutes whereas us adults wait till the end (I know we did in my group). 

Thinking about this as I was reading about design and design thinking I realised that what the kindergarten kids did which we adults didn’t was prototype. They tried, failed and tried again. It made me realise that I only look for one solution to a problem – yes, it was me saying “don’t put the marshmallow on top yet, what if we break it, we’ll have to start again!”

Since starting this blog post I’ve found this TED video all about the Marshmallow Challenge.

Designed for a purpose


On one day this week, spend 30 minutes on your way to work, at the gym or in a restaurant, taking care to observe, and note in a sketchpad, everything that you think has been designed for a purpose, without which the journey, gym or restaurant experience would be more difficult, or less pleasant. Has anything been designed for one purpose but harnessed for another?

On Wednesday I left home 20 minutes earlier than usual so I would have time to observe the waiting area at my local station. I might add it was dark, foggy and 4 degrees at the time, although that wouldn’t have been much different 20 minutes later.

Macleod station is an entirely utilitarian space, all hard surfaces which could probably be hosed down if necessary. Items in the space include:

  • Three different machines related to ticketing – one for topping-up, one for balance check and two for swiping on and off
  • Snack and drink vending machines
  • Plastic modular seating in groups of two or more, each seat bolted to the floor with a central pole
  • A kiosk with a coffee machine selling snacks, newspapers and magazines as well as coffee
  • Rubbish bins
  • Two display stands, one holding various brochures, the other with lots of “cheerful” messages from the authorities
  • A customer service window (but don’t hold your breath waiting for “service”)
  • A raised, textured walkway for guiding people who are vision impaired
  • Automatic doors at the entry and exit to the platform

People using the space frequently craned their neck as they entered to see the display indicating when the next train is due. This display is outside the space, on the platform.

As people entered they either went to the kiosk, the Myki top-up machine, took a seat, or went straight through to the platform.

The only item I observed being used for a purpose other than its original design was one seat pole had been harnessed as an anchor point for a chain to secure a display stand (the one with all the messages about law and order!).

Macleod Station

Impact of space

Doorley & Witthoft (2012 p.30) impress upon us that space is something that can create an impact on the way we learn, work and play immediately. So, starting with what you have, make a change. In your learning environment, is there an empty space? Find one, take it and transform it, quickly. You might consider making a pop-up learning space from scratch for a short period of time, or adapting an existing space in a small way with the goal of making a difference to learning. Share your ideas or inspiration in the Forum.

What did you change or transform quickly in your learning environment?

The top of a set of plan drawers had become a dumping ground for e-waste and rubbish. Located next to the television in the viewing area of the library it was a mess of old videotapes (redundant as we no longer have a player), the no longer functional video player, various outdated cables; old signs, bits of fabric from old displays and other rubbish. The globe is so old it even shows the USSR!
The unexpected arrival of a 3D printer to be housed and supervised by the library was an opportunity and impetus to turn this space into a 21st century creation station.
The space was cleared and the printer installed.
Next step, add signage and information.
The space in use:
It’s too early judge the impact of this change, the printer only arrived last week and the posters and signage went up today. However, the students have been showing a great deal of interest. They particularly like picking up and playing with the few sample printed items we have provided and I’m sure having something in their hand is helping spark their imagination about what they might be able to produce.