Redesigned learning spaces can support new learning potential

August 16, 2013
By Educator Innovator

No, the spaces in this video don’t look like the average U.S. high school classroom, school library, or cafeteria. And that’s the point.

Elizabeth Forward High School in suburban Pittsburgh is remaking itself as a laboratory for new thinking about learning spaces. With support from the Grable Foundation and in partnership with Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, Elizabeth Forward High School began to redesign learning spaces around an Entertainment Technology Academy inspired by the YOUmedia centers spreading across the country in public libraries.  First steps led to second steps as rooms were reshaped into working environments for young people engaged in production. The school is serious about inspiring innovation.

Most of us heading back to school aren’t in a position to gut our school library and rebuild it, but we may be thinking about how we can refresh and redesign for the school year. Edutopia’s Remake Your Class project shows the dramatic results that can be achieved with only $1000 and a week’s work. Their Remake Your Class resources cap off a long list of related blogs and articles about the impact of space and design on learning. And in this video, David Thornburg demonstrates a serious less-is-more design approach built around simple white walls and multiple ceiling-mounted projectors. Built for project-based learning, he calls the environment The Holodeck.

Educators who have gone through a redesign process, whether large or small, attest to the impact of design, and identify common lessons learned:

  • Don’t design around furniture. Design around key interactions or processes that you want to go on in the space.
  • Use color, art, and display to signal ‘something new, valued, and unexpected is expected to go on here.”
  • Zone for different kinds of activities and interactions so that moving around the space communicates different expectations.
  • Don’t forget to look up and down for design options—space outside of eye level is often under-utilized.
  • Reduce clutter and let storage contribute to design.
  • Involve colleagues and young people into the design process to spur creativity and to design for ownership and function.

If you are looking for guidance and inspiration for a redesign project, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Discover Design project  supports educators and youth taking up design challenges in schools and libraries. North Carolina State University has created a Toolkit for designing technology-rich information learning spaces. And numerous educators are posting favorite classroom design ideas on Pinterest.

After all, it’s a new school year and another great chance to make a first impression.