Though a sum of years have passed since we discovered that the Earth was round as opposed to flat, and that frontal-lobe lobotomies cause irreversible damage with no benefit, we still have some distorted perceptions about what learning actually looks like. In America, our classrooms are still limited to four walls, rows of desks that we affectionately prefer to call “testing rows” stratify our students’ classroom behaviors, and classroom management is a rising issue for teachers and students of the current generation. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the design of learning spaces has everything to do with levels of student attentiveness and engagement. Simply put, we are severely disfiguring the learning experience.
David Kelley, the CEO of IDEO, is also the father of the concept of “Experience Design.” Kelley’s theory, as described in The Future of Design is Human-Centered, supports innovation by working to find new ways to enhance existing experiences. In his talk on Experience Design, Tedde van Gelderen says that an experience is defined “as involving users, customers, clients. People [who] do things.” Together, Kelley and Gelderen’s line of thinking justifies the need for redesigning the standard classroom experience.
For my purposes, I have reimagined what most of us know as the “traditional” learning space: rows of desks, whiteboards, projectors (if you’re lucky), and the like. My own classroom is not far from this. In an ideal world, however, I would utilize a combination of innovative hardware and software to connect students and create a global classroom. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences is highlighted in an interview for Chapter 2 of Third Teacher+’s book, The Third Teacher (2010). In this chapter, “How Minds Work,” Rick Dewar notes that “Multiple Intelligences Theory is implicitly asking the designer of the learning environment to consider a variety of learning spaces–spaces in diverse sizes, materials, and colors, as well as spaces with different transparency, connectivity, and agility. This one-size-fits-all idea really isn’t acceptable any more.”
Incidentally and without coincidence, the knowledge that we have at our disposal related to student learning and performance suggests that our classroom paradigms are outdated. We preach the “21st Century” model of instruction from our pedagogical pulpits, but how often do we stop to consider how much the literal, physical learning environments affect our students’ learning outcomes? Imagine yourself in a place you would rather be, in the very moment that you are reading these words. Now, imagine yourself in a classroom, sitting in a row of cold, metal desks that trap you into your cubicle. Imagine opening your textbook (or laptop, even) and beginning to work. Imagine that desks are packed in, due to rising class sizes, and your teacher cannot reach you from where you are sitting, leaving you desolate of the opportunity to work with them; you can feel the same frustration and tension among the twenty-nine other students in the air. Is this environment anything like the place that you imagined yourself in earlier?
The answer, almost definitely, is no. The fact of the matter is that our thinking related to the learning environment may be advanced, and thoughtful, but our action toward implementing widespread change in the physical learning environment that supports learning theory is indubitably anachronistic. It’s past time for our policymakers to realize the importance and put the money where the mouth is.
Using the maker-friendly software program Google Sketch-Up Make, I took some time to design a 3-D model of what could be a starting point towards realizing the ideal classroom.
To implement this vision, a variety of tools and rethought concepts would be necessary. First and most obviously, the classroom that I have designed has a “media zone” wall. Aside from acting in a more general purpose as a projection screen, this wall would be completely interactive. As a presentation tool, it could be interacted with to make presentations more immersive. It could also be used to take interactive virtual field trips in English to places from novels using Google Earth, to complete virtual labs for Chemistry or Biology, or even to manipulate 3-D objects in Geometry. Its potential for globalizing the classroom is virtually endless (pun intended).
The setup of the students’ desks is designed to allow for fluid movement, but also to provide equivocal access to digital learning spaces beyond the classroom. Each computer would be able to interact with the media zone (upon the teacher providing permission). The teacher has a workstation (pictured below) that has a monitor for each student’s computer, allowing the teacher to act as more of a facilitator of learning than ever before.
In the back of the classroom, there is a small overflow station that students can use to work separately (if need be) and three bulletin boards that are also interactive. When they walk up to these interactive boards, students can input their credentials to gain access to their grades, assignments, and schedules within the classroom if they have any questions. This classroom, albeit futuristic, is not impossible.
Most likely, local stakeholders such as town commissioners would have to account a one-time fund, in combination with state digital learning funds, to make these classroom transitions feasible. The cost would be extensive:
- Media zone board (no computer needed): approximately $6,000
- 16 desktop computers: approximately $4,000
- Interactive boards: approximately $1,200
- Teacher facilitation station (monitors and one computer): approximately $2,000
- Estimated Total Cost: $13,200
There are many ways to potentially reduce the overall cost of this project, such as wholesale rates, reduction of the number of monitors for the monitoring station, etc., but the benefits would more than justify the needs. Many classrooms are already equipped with at least a portion of what is needed to create this environment (computers, for instance), so the cost above may or may not reflect the universal cost of implementation.
To prioritize, the implementation of the environmental revision could begin with the inclusion of the computers in the classroom, and be followed by the media zone wall. The classroom really does not need any more than this to function well as an authentic 21st Century learning space, but to achieve the full effect of the redesign, the monitoring station and interactive boards would be necessary additions. This proves that the process does not have to take place all at once, but could be staggered as resources and financial stability were accrued.
Bottom line, the success of spaces such as these for enhancing the learning experience is not hypothetical. Supported by learning theory, the potential for connecting students in engaging learning experiences is endless. Make no mistake–these spaces work.
Gelderen, Teddy van. (2014). Tedde van Gelderen on experience design. Retrieved 12 June 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB4VFKn7MA4
Kelley, David. (2014). The future of design is human-centered. Retrieved 12 June 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXndL3TNCmo
The Third Teacher, et al. (2010). Chapter two: minds at work. The Third Teacher (First Edition edition.). New York: Harry N. Abrams. Retrieved from http://static.squarespace.com/static/509c0d15e4b058edb8f35a86/t/50f495b3e4b0c7661ad2ec2e/1358206387728/Ch2%20TTT%20for%20Web.pdf