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Learning can happen anywhere, but learning may happen better with the right classroom design. Research on learning shows that creativity and collaboration can be enhanced through the redesign of space. In Make Space: How to  Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration, Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft of Stanford University’s d.school apply research-based design principles to show how an ordinary classroom space can be turned into a flexible, creative space. You can hear an interview with the authors on the Harvard Business Review blog.

Over the last year, I’ve learned about the design of learning space by visiting several schools and organizations that have redefined how space is used. At Summit Denali in Sunnyvale, CA, students work in an open space for personalized learning as well as collaborative projects. When you walk into the room, it’s hard to find the teachers because they’re acting as facilitators and aren’t teaching from the front of the room. Students work comfortably in a variety of seating areas and have the freedom to move around as needed. This student-centered, flexible learning environment facilitates collaboration and maximizes the use of space.

Using some of what I learned on site visits, I was able to work with a team this year to create space for our new R2 Innovates innovation incubator. In the tradition of the Stanford d.school, we started with an old portable and transformed it into a space for innovation teams to collaborate and work. We purchased furniture that could easy be moved around to facilitate different types of group work and stocked the cabinets with lots of post-it notes. I worried that we purchased too many rolling whiteboards but realized quickly enough that our teams love to use the boards for brainstorming. The boards also act as movable dividers when several groups are working in the same space. Everyone who uses the space says that it inspires creativity and enables collaboration.

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Some of the most exciting R2 Innovates projects that I’ve been involved with this year have involved the creation of space for active learning. Several of our innovation teams focused on redesigning and making new space for learners. The Summit Parkway Middle School Creative Commons team redesigned space in the media center as makerspace. Now that the students have 1:1 Chromebooks, she wanted to reclaim space that was previously used for desktop computers and turn it into an area where students can create and collaborate. Library Media Specialist Jennifer Lanier collaborated with a class at the school on the design and then the students pitched their idea to the principal.  Follow their blog to see the latest updates.

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As you begin to design or redesign learning spaces, keep the following in mind:

  • Observe how people currently work in the space and interview them to find out what type of environment works best for them.
  • Work with others to brainstorm ideas for the space. Use a technique like 100 ideas in 10 minutes to get your initial list and then pick the most promising ideas.
  • Use rapid prototyping to put your idea into action. The first prototype can be very rough but will give you lots of information about next steps.
  • Refine your idea based on the reactions that you receive from the rapid prototype.
  • Implement and continue to get feedback, iterate, and scale!
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