January 13

Work Spaces, aka the classrooms we teach in, Part 1 of 2

A chapter of Tim Harford’s book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives that has stuck with me discusses work spaces. In a 2010 experiment, subjects were placed in one of four office spaces. The first was lean, in other words spartan. The second started as the lean space then was  enriched with some decorative elements. In the third case, the subjects had the same enriched space, but were invited to arrange the decorative elements to their liking, including having pieces removed if they wished.

In the final case, the subjects were again invited to place elements where they wanted, but then the experimenter went in and re-rearranged everything to the original enriched layout. The researchers labeled this fourth case as the disempowered office, as it was the space that engendered the lowest productivity and lowest morale.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the third case, where the occupant had control of the space’s arrangement, was the most productive, the empowered office. Subjects in the empowered space got 30% more done than in the lean office, and 15% more than in the enriched space.

Those in the disempowered office expressed many negative reactions, including boredom, physical discomfort, dislike of the work they were doing, and dislike of the company whose work they were doing.

The results of this experiment give me pause as I think of how we control the physical space our students work in. We often decide some pretty major things, such as what goes on the walls and the seating arrangements. We use our perfect penmanship to write directives on the whiteboard. The classroom is the students’ primary work space, yet they have no voice in deciding what it looks like.

In 12 Ways to Upgrade Your Classroom Design, Jennifer Gonzalez explores the question of classroom design, and offers specific ideas on how to improve the appeal and effectiveness of classrooms, all with little or no budget. The first of the twelve points? “Ask your students.”

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Posted January 13, 2019 by inspirepassion in category #DigiWriMo, design thinking

About the Author

I am a process-focused leader who uses collaboration, authenticity, and mentoring as key skills to inspire passion among learners of all ages. Aggregate eclectic professional experiences have honed my ability to coach others in designing and implementing courses of study using inquiry-/project-based learning (PBL).

6 thoughts on “Work Spaces, aka the classrooms we teach in, Part 1 of 2

  1. Wendy

    I think about my office space. I love having space that I have control over. I can put things where I like and have no threat of anyone coming to rearrange. This contrasts with the usage of teaching spaces on my campus. Some are custom teaching spaces (like metal work and mechanics) but some are general spaces and teachers are not encouraged to customise them at all. They have to leave them generic and blank and somehow that is supposed to benefit the students how? HE has a lot to answer for in the way they use their bricks and mortar.

    1. inspirepassion (Post author)

      Agreed, Wendy. It just reinforces the idea the students are entering an INSTITUTION. A dreary, drab, uninviting place.

  2. Sheri Edwards

    I love the thoughts here and on Jennifer’s blog. Yet, behind this is what it says on Bob and Rebecca’s book: “It’s not about decorating learning spaces; it is about designing them to amplify learning.” To even consider “amplify learning,” one must be in tune with learner needs and teach in learner-centered ways. That requires a thoughtful pedagogy, and asking how to design the room is just the starting point. When I look at your sidebar and see the categories in your blog, I see a concepts that are thoughtful considerations for maximizing student agency. That will be reflected in your classroom design. It’s like using technology: it’s the concepts behind the tech [and room design] that is the power. Glad you brought it up!

    1. inspirepassion (Post author)

      If I understand your comments correctly, Sheri, you are saying learning space design is just a detail in the overall pedagogical design. I agree with you. If I am looking at my overall framework, classroom design is a facet that aligns with the overall vision. I wonder, nonetheless, how many thoughtful, well-intentioned, inquiry/PBL-focused educators “decorate” their classrooms with boards such as “Driving Question.” In an ideal world, the students would create that board themselves.

      1. Sheri Edwards

        Yes! Charlene, yes. That’s what I meant, and yes, students should create the board themselves — all the boards. I would hang up a blank roll of poster paper in 8 foot wide lengths in the hallway, and students would put up their work. Then we’d use sticky notes to add appreciations. Well-read hall walls! ~ Sheri


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