Redesigning learning spaces in education is a trend for many K-12 school districts. I was personally involved in helping develop redesigned learning spaces for student in my previous school district, and it came with some successes & lessons learned. After visiting office of education with a redesigned learning environment, myself and many school administrators and district leaders wanted to find a way to redesign learning spaces for our student to not only better reflect a 21st century classroom, but also be conducive to collaborative learning experiences for our students. It was a great project with many great ideas. However, it is easy to move past cutting edge to the bleeding edge.
As mentioned in the NMC Horizon Report Preview, one of the greatest benefit of redesigning the learning space is to put learning in the hands of the student, allow for more student choice, and to create authentic learning experiences for students. With the “beefing up” of network infrastructure students also have access to the outside world as they never have before. As mentioned in the reading, such upgrades have created “smart rooms.” By changing the physical classroom space; it opens doors for student to not only engage in real world authentic learning experiences and in a way cognitive apprenticeships, but also allows for teachers to structure their class in an entirely different way. The classroom become student centered both in design layout and in instruction whereas the teacher is no longer reliant on direct instruction, but is able to move to being the facilitator of instruction. Classes become less focused on content delivery and more focused on content creation within the classroom and outside the classroom walls. The teacher becomes a mentor and guide to the success of the project oriented student. The teacher provides the necessary resources and support for the student to analyze, understand, create, and ultimately share. With this setup, student are able to collaborate with each other. The focus shifts from students retaining knowledge to students developing knowledge about the content through collaborative efforts and authentic learning experiences.
Many classroom are being redesigned with these 21st century skills in mind. My personal class was designed with 6 TV’s around the outside and student learning spaces changed to pods. In some of the elementary and middle school classes, desks were replaced with study bars, couches, and green screen areas. SMARTboards were replaced with 55” TV’s and IPAD’s while whiteboard tables on wheels that could be moved around were installed. My class was similar, however students were less mobile due to my class being a windows computer lab.
By redesigning the space, it forced me to think differently about how to design lessons. As mentioned in the reading, moving myself away from the traditional classroom setting allowed me to develop and facilitate learning for students to own and create. Students were able to collaborate on digital project that were relevant to the world around them. As mentioned in the reading, the interactions became organic. Rather than developing a video project for students to create, students developed the project ideas for themselves. I asked student to think about a problem in the world that is troubling to them. What kept them up at night about the world, their community, or their family? Their answers became their passions projects, in which students developed plans using technology on how to develop awareness to their project. Many used the technology to develop their project, visit with outside experts, collaborate with classmates with similar issues. The project became authentic and student centered. Students were then to create PSA’s outlining the problem and possible solutions. They would then create a condensed video to run as commercials during live broadcast of school events. Other students dedicated their time to developing a broadcasting program, working with experts in the field to develop the tools needed to broadcast events to a professional standard. This type of collaboration would have never happened without the redesign. The learning was personal, individualized, meaningful, and authentic. Many students chose to take on side projects that they chose and were meaningful to them.
The Challenges - Personal Failures
Classroom redesigns do have a tendency to get challenging without foresight, critical reflection, and evaluations of the changes made. In many cases, most of the classroom setup, preparation, and design gets taken out of the hands of the teachers and placed in the hands of just a few administrators. These can lead to design flaws because of the disconnect between those who will be using the space, and those who have the vision for the space. In fact, one school I looked at painted the rooms to reflect school colors, and they painted one wall a solid orange and designed to be used as a chroma key screen. However, the orange tones of flesh blended with the orange background causing the chroma key to fail. This could have been avoided by planning the space to utilize this technology by installing chroma key green. The intention of the color design was to brand the rooms with the school colors, but through the eyes of the classroom teacher these intentions were flawed because they failed to take into account the needs of the users. Without teachers having an understanding of the space, they had little ownership as agents of change. Just as it would be a poor choice to throw devices into the hands of students and expect their educational outcomes to change, redesigning classroom without the same sort of vision, culture change, and most of all professional development will lead to really expensive classrooms giving their students the same old isolating results. Teachers literally were unable to use the room, and had no model as to what the new learning environment should look like. Without ownership, communication, and clear expectations through professional development, change is difficult to expect. Teachers must have a vision as well.
The classrooms should be designed to be mobile, bringing in moveable furniture for students to easily collaborate with. Many schools also desire to install TV displays for student to work collaboratively. Using AirPlay, ChromeCast, or other digital display technologies, TV’s are installed for students to easily share information with other groups and to and from the teacher. Unfortunately, this too can present a design flaw if not thought about in advance. After the TV’s are installed, this many times reverts the classroom back to a stationary environment. Instead of students having movable work spaces, they don’t move much throughout the year because students will always be tied to the TV’s in some way. In some schools, devices were literally tethered to the TV’s with HDMI cables.
I believe it is important when implementing such change to begin small and evaluate the changes made so that all newly designed rooms don’t have consistent major flaws. The focus should be how can rooms be redesigned to both change how teachers teacher. Does the room and technology make the teachers facilitators of learning. Does it create an environment for student centered, authentic learning experiences? The utilization of the classroom must be at the forefront of design. For redesigners, it will be very difficult to see success out of 21st century classroom redesign without feedback. Teachers will need to have ownership in the classroom instruction, classroom design, and integration practices as well as the continual evaluation of these components.