“Relationships and culture are profoundly shaped by space, physical and virtual.” Steve Collis ( http://www.happysteve.com/bio)


I have just commenced teaching a one semester visual art unit with a Year 8 class. As a compulsory unit, the class involves many students who, as David Kelley described, will have lost their creative confidence. Alongside learning art skills, it is my desire to change my students’ perceptions of themselves as artists; building confidence and capacity. In my thinking and analysis of my classroom space I have sought to apply Steve Collis’ thinking. How can my classroom space be transformed to affect relationships and culture?


Problem Space

The classroom space that I need to use has many issues that inhibit human centredness, social interaction, collaborative learning and the ability to engage with autonomy for some of the following reasons:

  •  As a result of recent building works and a decommission of this room, there is no projector or whiteboard and students do not have devices for class use to research inspiration.
  • This classroom is part of the older school buildings and was not purpose built. It has large concrete support columns in the midst of the room and some awkward dividers for storage and kilns.
  • My use of this space is for a 5 week block only. This migratory use of space inhibits a genuine sense of ownership and with that the development of optimal relationships and classroom culture.

I sat in the student seats to see it as they would – empty, blank, boring, cold rows of desks. As described in my earlier blog post, I initially took ownership of the space myself and made changes to create greater accessibility to existing resources and displayed imagery related to task requirements and then thought of consulting my class.

To enhance student ownership, I asked students to find and display images that inspired their work process. Further to that, I attempted to incorporate the IDEO concept that “all of us are smarter than any of us” (Brown, T 2009) and ask my students for input about their classroom. Considering the Sztejnberg and Finch finding that “if traditional seating in rows dominates, so do teacher-centred approaches” (quoted in Blackmore et. Al, 21), I asked students “how might we” (Brown, T 2009) rearrange the existing furniture in the classroom to allow productive, collaborative, student-centred teaching and learning to enhance relationships and culture.

How did it go? After an initial (awkward) silence, discussion generated student ideas before it emerged that one student vehemently wanted things to remain the same! Therefore, a quick consensus did not occur; however, as the group dynamics evolved and one idea inspired another, it was suggested that the two  front tables could stay as they were and the back tables join. This idea allowed a resolution for my resistant student and a more collaborative workspace for others (some of whom had previously grouped themselves with an unworkable 7 at one table). It also created a group table for a student with some learning needs who had initially sat by herself.

Another result of my initial improvements is that other staff users of the space have also contributed ideas. It was agreed with the faculty coordinator that further visual resources – up to date periodicals, books and posters could be purchased to reinvigorate the space.



These minor changes have inspired a little momentum that, in time, may make a tangible difference to this space. Design thinking allowed me to identify a problem that needed a quick solution and consider options to make improvements. The human-centred approach of design thinking created a goal focus (improved space for students) and a focus on a view of things from the perspective of the main stakeholders. I stepped back to allow a process of collaborative thinking. The process has been flexible and it was interesting to see the unexpected outcomes – my colleagues’ contributions and ideas, different student perspectives accommodated – showing that a flexible process may enable unexpected outcomes to enhance the relationships and culture of my classroom.


Blackmore, J. Bateman, D. Loughkin, J. O’Mara, J. Aranda, G. (2001) Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes. Literature Review Paper 22. Education Policy and research Division, Dept Early Childhood and Early Childhood development Victoria. https://www.deakin.edu.au/arts-ed/efi/pubs/deecd-reports-blackmore-learning-spaces.pdf

Brown, Tim. (2009) Change by Design: How Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper Business, 2009. Print.

Collis, S. n.d. Happy Steve: Innovation and Learning (biography) Retreived from http://www.happysteve.com/bio

Kelley, D (2012). How to build your creative confidence. TED2012. Retreived from http://www.ted.com/talks/david_kelley_how_to_build_your_creative_confidence

Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: Part II. Design and Culture, 4(2), 129-148.http://www.designstudiesforum.org/dsf/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/kimbell2-berg.pdf

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in Innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson.

Leifer, Larry; Plattner, Hasso; Meinel, Christoph (2013). Design thinking research : Building innovation eco-systems


Razzouk, Rim & Shute, Valerie (2012) What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It Important? Review of Educational Research, 82(3) pp 330-348. www.researchgate.net/…What_Is_Design_Thinking_and_Why_Is_It_Important


Peer Blog Comments:

Matt’s blog: http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/mattives/2014/07/29/designing-spaces-for-learning/#comment-18

Liz’ blog: http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/lizeckert/2014/07/30/inf536-blog-task-1/#comment-20

Margo’s blog: http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/margo/2014/07/30/blog-task-1/#comment-5

Bec’ blog: http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/becspink/2014/08/01/but-im-not-a-designer-changing-a-problem-space/#comment-24