2018 Winter Topic: Redesigning Learning Spaces

Vanessa Clark's profile
Vanessa Clark

Read the Redesigning Learning Spaces research summary, then post your thoughts and answers to the discussion questions in this conversation thread. Please feel free to share photos, videos, or ideas from any redesigned classrooms that you've seen. 


Tim Chase's profile
Tim Chase

In Bend, my sons go to high school in a warehouse, and they LOVE it. Seriously, the school system has leased a warehouse in between the Humm Kombucha brewery and FedEx dispatch, in an industrial-zoned part of town.

The form of traditional high schools dictates the function. Rooms of a certain size, efficiencies of desk sizes, the fact that all 1800 students need to be moving at the same time so that classrooms can be repopulated for the next 57-minute block of time … there are lots of unintended consequences that come with owning a school building.

The warehouse is inefficient in many ways, especially in terms of per-student square footage. If they would subdivide it into classrooms and make sure that each student only had a desk to sit in, they could cram WAY more students into the space. It’s true that the space is cheaper per square foot because it’s a mostly unfinished space, so maybe that counts as a financial efficiency, too. The kids really enjoy getting to spread out. They cluster for instruction and then disperse for working time. Their classes are a nice hybrid of F2F instruction and online learning. The online portion takes place in both fully-online electives AND as a digital platform to support the F2F classes.

In many ways you could say that this experience does NOT support the Dutch process described in the article, because instead of starting with pedagogy and building toward physical forms, what they did was to simply remove form and see what would work for teaching and learning. And on that score, they are still daily adjusting on day 35 of the school year. They’re modeling a positive “fail forward” approach in front of the student body, and the students are flexible with the adjustments.

Vanessa Clark's profile
Vanessa Clark

Starting from scratch is a great way to find out what works and what doesn't! The articles that I read all mentioned the importance of involving students and staff to collaborate on what should be considered in a redesigned space. One of the case studies that van Merriënboer et al. discussed included a school that set up pilots in their building before making any permanent changes. I think your sons' school will definitely benefit from seeing what works for students before making permanent additions to the space. I'd love to see a documentation through photos of changes made as they find out what's working! 

Angela Arends's profile
Angela Arends

Have you or do you know anyone who has redesigned their learning spaces? What did you do? What was the impact? I am looking for a presenter on that topic for Beyond Devices 2.0 in Clackamas on December 7. Please contact me if you have a recommendation or are interested. aarends@clackesd.org

Vanessa Clark's profile
Vanessa Clark

On Monday and Tuesday this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Future Ready Institute at Clackamas Community College. During the opening session on day 2, Tom Murray (follow Tom on Twitter: @ThomasCMurray) talked about redesigning learning spaces - how timely for the conversation that we’re already having!

Here are some of the points he talked about considering when designing your learning spaces:

  • Do students feel like they belong in the space? Do you have images that are representative of the students you teach? Have you decorated in a way that might exclude anyone? Tom suggested inviting someone with a different perspective than you (e.g., different race, different interests, different gender, etc) to come into your room and take a look around. They can provide feedback from a perspective that you might not have thought of.

  • How much activity is on your walls or hanging from your ceiling? Is it possible that students might be overstimulated in the environment? With so many important things to call out and remind students of, sometimes there is a tendency to put too much on our walls or to have cluttered spaces. Tom mentioned that there is research suggesting that too much in view of students corresponds with students being off task more frequently, and off task for longer than in classrooms that are not overstimulating.

  • Daylight has a positive impact on our brains and learning! The research Tom mentioned suggested that more daylight is increasingly positive until it presents a glare on screens or things that students need to view. Tom pointed out that while we can’t control how many windows we have in our learning spaces, we can control whether we cover them with blinds or use them as spaces to hang additional items that block out light.

  • The colors we use can also impact students’ learning. Some colors are more calming than others and can be used to provide a soothing and calm environment for students to learn.

Thank you, Tom, for sharing this research and your thoughts on designing effective learning spaces for students. Tom is a co-author of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today, from ASCD.

Vanessa Clark's profile
Vanessa Clark

I came across this article from EdSurge this morning about how a couple of universities are promoting redesigned learning spaces to the benefit of student engagement. It's exciting to see that this is helping instructors shift their pedagogy to a more student centered approach!