As part of my MAETy1 experience, we explored the concept of Experience Design (Sometimes User comes before that). The very general idea is that the environment that students are placed in has a significant impact on their ability to learn, so much so that it has been called the third teacher resulting in a consultancy firm by that name.
There have been a variety of studies done on this, but the one that we focused on was called “A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils” (Barrett, Zhang, and Kobbacy 2013). My main take away from the study is that there are six design parameters that made a significant impact on learning.
The six parameters are color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and natural light. They determined that “Warm colour is welcomed in senior grade’s classrooms while cool colour in junior grades, as long as it is bright.” Choice refers to the furniture selection that “has a high-quality and purpose-designed Furniture Fixture & Equipment (FF&E) and has interesting (shape and colour) and ergonomic tables and chairs” (Barrett, Zhang, and Kobbacy 2013).
In regards to complexity, they mean that the design of the walls should be “designed with a quiet visual environment, balanced with a certain level of complexity.” Connection refers to ease of movement around the space. Finally, light refers to the amount of natural light preferably from multiple directions (Barrett, Zhang, and Kobbacy 2013).
With this information in mind, we were tasked with redesigning a learning space with what we learned in mind. I thought the best place to start was to poll my previous students via email. Before we jump into that, this is what my room has been set up as for the past three years (before that it was groups of four but I changed schools and the desks wouldn’t fit in groups of four).
I received an interesting assortment of ideas. A recurring theme was that the kids mostly liked it the way it was with some potential modifications. The first modification was that when students present the group in the upper left couldn’t see past the presenters, so a student suggested taking those three desks and adding them to other groups.
One young man mentioned that he thought groups of four would be more beneficial. Another student suggested painting the room “a more lively color.” That student and another one suggested putting the desks in a circle to make discussion more seamless.
Someone else mentioned that the overhead lights were too bright and harsh. One of their girls (one who suggested the circle) said that I should ditch the desks in favor of beanbag chairs. There was one student that said I should put the desks in rows, and another that told me that I shouldn’t change anything.
With that feedback in mind, I set about looking at constraints. The first is that the class isn’t particularly large, and the desks I have are too big to put in groups of four. Also, walking around space is pretty limited which fails the connection piece above. Upside, there are three huge windows that let in a lot of natural light for the majority of the day.
So, how can I transform my class so that the students (stakeholders) can have a more effective learning environment?
With the above information in mind and the students’ input, I came up with a conceptual design for the space focusing on the six aspects from the study we read. The easiest first step is to paint the walls a cool (but bright color) such as green, which will be free to me since the school will provide paint if I do the painting.
The next step is to find a better seating option. I fell in love with these seats until I saw the $400 price tag for each one. I decided to go with tables and cushioned chairs that will take up less space than the desks, which will also allow me to go to my preferred group size of four. We fortunately are near Duke University that gives away classroom furniture to schools if you come and get them.
For complexity, I tend to be pretty minimalist as it is. I will keep the map outline that I have on the wall so I can point at where things are and the huge globe hanging from the ceiling for when we talk about continents and oceans, but I think I will reduce the number of posters to the current culture and the last culture we studied.
So, a rough idea of what it will look like can be seen below.
I feel like this space will meet all of the suggestions from the study. In order to test it out, I would invite some past students to come and talk through what they like and what they think might be improved. Once the new students come, I would need to check in to assess their needs as well.
What do you think? Would this space be conducive for learning?
Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016
All images are the possession of the author.