By Andy Ng
The table wasn’t staffed, yet students still flocked to grab laptop stickers and add their info to a sign-up sheet. I walked over to see a banner reading, “Learning Space Design,” and was immediately intrigued. As an educator, I hadn’t thought critically about space design before. That was back in September 2017 at the Harvard Innovation Lab’s startup fair, and there hasn’t been a day since that I have not thought about the intimate relationship between spaces and learning.
John Cary beautifully wrote that “Well-designed spaces are not just a matter of taste or a question of aesthetics; they literally shape our ideas about who we are and what we deserve in the world.” He gestures towards a fundamental value of room2learn: design matters because the spaces in which we inhabit impact learning and teaching. Spaces in which we feel accommodated and comfortable in can help us ease into new experiences. Spaces that are durable and organized help to limit distractions and allow us to focus on the task at hand.
Now, a classroom with fresh paint and bean bags doesn’t guarantee that all students will pay attention, or that their test scores will improve. The design of a learning space is bound to a teacher or school’s available resources and the overall culture the teacher helps foster. Too often, though, teachers don’t have control of all these variables, but if we know anything about most school teachers, they are resilient and inventive. Many teachers adapt the layout of their class based on the day’s activities or how students prefer to organize themselves, and have shared these creative designs on room2learn. There are plenty more teachers who need to hear these stories and think more about the spaces in which they are actively creating and maintaining. There is an appetite for this learning and that is the need room2learn serves.
In my time as room2learn’s User Experience & Education Specialist, I have had the privilege of talking with teachers and other stakeholders in the learning space design ecosystem. In January, we spoke on the phone with multiple architects and educational planners to learn about their day-to-day procedures and challenges. In short, how were school spaces designed? Who was involved, and how were they involved? Through these conversations, we better understood how each group speaks about their work and about each other; from the third-party position of room2learn, we could start to map out overlapping challenges and opportunities within and across groups.
Being a part of the close-knit room2learn team has been a tremendous learning experience. I have been able to evaluate and audit our website and database, offering recommendations that our superstar programmer Ryan could often deploy within minutes. I have enjoyed the responsibility of championing the voice of the teacher as we defined and met our measures of success, making sure we periodically fielded feedback from new and returning users as we did in mid-April, and bringing teacher anecdotes into team meetings. As we tested each round of website changes with users, it’s been rewarding to give teachers the space and respect they so deserve so that room2learn can truly be the most effective search engine for learning spaces.
Andy Ng is an educator & designer committed to racial justice, learning spaces, and bringing people together. At room2learn, Andy has served as User Experience & Education Specialist, contributing to design and strategy decisions. Andy received his Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After room2learn, he will be joining SYPartners as a Program Manager.