Learning Spaces: Campfires, Watering Holes, Holodecks?

Our workplace has been in the midst of great change recently. Walls have been knocked down, furniture has been culled and storage systems replaced. The result is a huge space, which has brought many visitors from the upper floors, amazed at how different the area looks. We, who work in the space are experiencing a mix of emotions. The openness of the floorplan is very inviting; it encourages collaboration and a different way of working. However we also are struggling with the complete lack of privacy; our work area is open to the world, and any ‘mess’ we make –  processing books, creating displays, sorting through equipment – is oh so public. The space in which we work impacts upon us tremendously; not just in the way that we operate, but in how we communicate with others and how we feel emotionally.

Is it any wonder, then, that many question why we ask students to do their best work in uninspiring rooms, with uncomfortable (and sometimes immovable) furniture, under the glare of fluorescent lighting? While in many ways schools have changed, in some ways they remain the same. Most schools have at least some ‘traditional’ classrooms that are yet to be revisioned to reflect what we now know about pedagogy, environment and learning spaces. Who says that we need  front and a back of a classroom, or even a black/white board, when we consider the changes in technology that bring the information of the world into the palm of a student’s hand? The traditional classroom design is not necessarily the most effective model today.

Part of our physical change has been as part of a larger review of learning spaces in general; and has been accompanied by professional reading and research, most notably (as you may have noticed by the title of this post) the work of David Thornburg, Bruce Mau and the Third Teacher crew and Ewan McIntosh. I have tried to encapsulate some of what I have learnt into the infographic below.

Learning Spaces

For those undertaking any type of redesign, I would direct you to my Pinterest board, Learning Spaces, the Third Teacher , and also to follow the Twitter hashtag #inf536, which are the tweets of students currently undertaking the new CSU subject Designing Spaces for Learning, being run by Ewan McIntosh in consultation with Judy O’Connell.

Have you been on a journey redesigning learning spaces recently? Share your experiences in the comments!




5 thoughts on “Learning Spaces: Campfires, Watering Holes, Holodecks?

  1. Chantal Hochstrasser

    This a fascinating Infographic, Kay, and your blog echoes many of my thoughts and experiences in library spaces. We have just relocated our TLs away from the circulation desk, in order to have a proper working space; but our desks are still ‘out in the open’ and the lack of privacy and constant interruptions is certainly a challenge. Finding a quiet space to concentrate is sometimes a priority for both teachers and students, so we have made one of our lab spaces a Silent Study. It is increasingly popular, and the students will remind others that they need to relocate if they talk.

    1. kayo287 Post author

      Thanks for your comment! It is important that we find the balance, and offer different spaces for different needs and ways of working. I think it is great that learning spaces are getting the attention they deserve, finally, instead of being considered a secondary aspect in schools.

  2. John Sole

    Sometimes, student centered design is less about outcomes than processes. In this design Project, “Imagine”, below, in which students at a storefront charter school in deep urban New Jersey -and for which Ewan McIntosh had a small part in bringing to ultimate success- decided to locate an abandoned industrial building in Downtown Plainfield (don’t worry, there are plenty to choose from) to sustainably re-design as the next iteration of their school. The Project provided multi-layered transformative opportunities for the students to work with expert professional Community Partners, both on-site and online, take ownership of their educational processes, and see for a moment, spectacularly, above and beyond their inner city realities. “Imagine” was featured in the July STEM Ed Coalition newsletter. Take a look…

  3. John Sole

    “Imagine” was a high school Project. Here is another similar student centered middle school design endeavor where process was at least as important as outcomes. This Project was also featured in the June STEM Ed Newsletter. Take a look…


    1. kayo287 Post author

      Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this; it looks wonderful, and what a terrific project. I totally agree – process is quite often a much more powerful part of the learning than the outcomes.


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