21st Century Learning Space

Instead of focusing on my own classroom for my Learning Space Design Activity, I decided to focus on a centralized area of the school; the cafeteria. I chose this areaa, because I believe it is currently under-utilized in my school, and would like to see the space be put to use. By following a holistic approach considering our users, the environment, the products involved, flow, participation, emotion, and the human senses, the experience of this area can be re-designed to allow for much higher and more piratical modern usage (Van Gelderen, 2010).

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Currently, the space is very utilitarian in nature. It serves its purposes (hosting students eating lunch, and the occasional dance or social event), but outside of those specific tasks, it is used very little. I wasn’t present at my building when the space was designed, so I cannot comment on what the thought process was behind the experience for this location, but I imagine it mostly has to do with getting everything into the space that was believed to be needed in the area (mainly enough tables and chairs to feed the students lunch); in other words, it is a typical school lunch room. I’d like to re-imagine this space through the lens of the 21st Century, and through the lens of Constructivist Learning Theory, to turn it into an area where staff and students can be happy, comfortable, and productive at various times throughout the day.

The cafeteria is one of my least favorite places in the building. It is white, white, white, and completely artificially lit. The room is surrounded by hard materials that do nothing to dampen the sound, and when the lunch hour is in full swing, I find it to be an absolute assault on the senses. When full, it is hard to have a conversation in the cafeteria, let alone do any serious thinking or learning. With the cafeteria being one of the largest rooms in the building (only the gymnasiums are larger), I feel there is a lot of opportunity to utilize the space for learning purposes outside of the lunch hour. According to the study performed by Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, & Kobbacy, some of the most influential features on a student’s learning environment are: lighting (needs to be natural or high quality artificial), furniture (should be high quality, have good ergonomics, interesting shapes, and be able to support varied learning), space navigation (should be open and easy), stimulus (should have appropriate amount of complexity), and color (should be bright and warm for higher grades)(2013). With these features in mind, I would make the following changes:

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First, I would add skylights, and if possible a couple of glass walls, to increase the natural lighting. Next, I would consider wall materials that would dampen sound. Color would be important for the walls as well, but I’d have to research further as to what would be the best choice. If money was no object, I would take customization of the environment a step further by utilizing what I call “Collaborative Pods”. These are modular work / social spaces of my own design, which would include the following features:

  • Programmable RGB LED light strips (users can control brightness and color)
  • Individual pod monitors for multimedia
  • Individually directed pod speakers to control sound in the area
  • Plenty of outlets / media input
  • A height-adjustable table (could alter to standing table)
  • Cushioned bench seats that can fold up out of the way
  • Move-able stools to add flexibility
  • Created out of sound-dampened material
  • Tinted dry erase glass barriers
  • Dry erase surfaced table with power outlets & media inputs
  • Accordian style re-tractable shade

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The idea behind the “Collaborative Pods” is to allow for a greater customization in order to give staff and students autonomy over their work space. By making it highly comfortable and customize-able, we can maximize the effectiveness of the space. Soon the cafeteria would be more than just a room where students go to eat, it would be a central hub for learning in the school, with room for multiple classes to learn and collaborate in.

In addition to the “Collaborative Pods”, I’d like to see more space available to display student work. Some of this could be done using the pod monitors, but I would also like to see physical locations for 3d objects, and wall space for student art work. As Howard Gardner states in his interview with the authors of The Third Teacher, “It is important to display scientific, artistic, and historic works that have been fashioned by students and teachers” (OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design (2010).

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As far as cost goes, it would be quite expensive. The main room re-model (skylights, wall materials, paint, student work display locations, etc) would probably be in the $10,000 t0 $20,000 range (if doing the glass walls, I’d guess that this would probably double). The pods are a little more difficult to pin down. Experimentation would have to be done with electronics and materials to find out what works best for this application. I imagine if  we had a contractor do the work, the cost would quickly become prohibitive. If, however, staff and students were brought in to collaborate to design and build the structures, I think it would be manageable. Students in FACTS, Industrial Tech, 3d Design, Automation & Robotics, could all play a role in creating the pods. We could shoot for building one or two a semester, and if that project replaced various other projects that are currently being done in those classes, perhaps the material cost wouldn’t seem that out of line. When you consider how much more use the space would see after the project was completed, I think you could easily justify the cost.


References:

Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The Third Teacher (1st ed.). Retrieved June 16, 2016, from http://static1.squarespace.com/static/509c0d15e4b058edb8f35a86/t/50f495b3e4b0c7661ad2ec2e/1358206387728/Ch2 TTT for Web.pdf
Van Gelderen, T. (2010, February 09). Tedde van Gelderen on Experience Design. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BB4VFKn7MA4

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