Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Work station?

To borrow an advert from Rock Radio, "If a train station is where trains stop, and a bus station is where busses stop, what happens at a work station?"

The coming session is set to be our last on the Jordanhill Campus here at Strathclyde. While I see the advantages of a single campus university and while I look forward to new facilities in the City Centre campus, I must admit to some sadness when I think of the loss of the Jordanhill campus and all the history associated with it. (My personal history as well as institutional and educational history.) That, however, is a topic for a future post. This post is about work stations - hence the introductory paragraph.

Today, I had a look at samples of the furniture proposed for the new office space. The only piece I have strong feelings about is the stool pictured here as I found it surprisingly uncomfortable. Therefore, I was going to send a, "Not really fussed", message to the people asking for opinions. But before I sent the message, I decided to clear some of my email backlog... and I'm glad I did because I read message from Terry Freedman's Computers in Classrooms newsletter - specifically the June edition.

There are a number of interesting articles in the newsletter (as always) but two in particular caught my eye and connected to what I had just been doing. The first was "Building a thinking room" in the news section. This article led to a piece of the same name in the Wall Street Journal which talked about research into the effect of things like colour, light and space on peoples' creativity and their well-being. Given that we are moving into open plan staff accommodation on the city centre campus, I was especially struck by Terry's comment which I will quote at length:
It reminds me of when I visited Pearsons publishing a year or so ago. Our guide said, “Let me show you our ideas room”. This turned out to be a plain room with white walls and white comfy furniture and, if my memory serves me well, a single painting on the wall. Very relaxing, and certainly a far cry from the sort of open plan, manically active spaces that seem to be de rigeur these days. I asked a proponent of such areas how the kids and teachers cope with the noise from other areas. He replied, “Oh, they get used to it.”

No, they don’t. And even if they do, why should they have to?

Spaces should be designed according to the purpose for which they’re intended to be used. Vast open plan areas are great when you’re running an activity that involves students working in groups and then coming together or interacting with other groups. They are hopeless for housing different classes working completely separately from each other.
Part of the rationale for moving to open plan is that it will encourage collaboration but I wonder what proportion of our time as academics is taken up with, "working completely separately from each other..." Perhaps that proportion needs to change. If I am to up my research profile, I probably need to work more with others and by myself less. Perhaps a new layout and new office space will help me do that. But I wonder if I will become more or less effective when I do have to work on my own?

The second section of Terry's newsletter that connected with what I had just done, was "Youngsters designing learning spaces" in the "Quick Looks" section. It linked to a report from RM on a competition for schools to design their ideal learning spaces. The winners and further details can be found on the RM site and a report in the TES gives a good summary. Two things struck me. The first one picks up Terry's comment above as the TES notes: "Perhaps surprisingly, controlling noise was important to many pupils, and sound-proofing the room was suggested in many cases." I suspect that it is not just about having somewhere quite to go and think (interesting that the iPod generation sees the value in this) but also about having somewhere they can make noise without disturbing others. I was also struck by the pupil's understanding (at least at some level) of the importance of colour and comfort in a learning environment.

The end result is that having read Terry's newsletter, I'm going to go back down to the room with the furniture, I'm going to look at it, I'm going to use it, I'm going to think about colour... and then, I'm going to write what will hopefully be a more considered response on what furniture and colours I'd prefer in the re-furbished accommodation on the city centre campus.


Terry Freedman said...

Hi, David
Thanks for kind comments about my newsletter. A very interesting article: I'd be interested in learning the results of your deliberations. Perhaps you might even consider writing about them in the newsletter?

David said...

I don't seem to have much to deliberate. When I went back for a second look at the furniture etc. it turned out they were showing us what we'd get rather than asking us what we wanted. Curses!

Mosher said...

The school I was recently working at is getting a new build (finally) and the architects are really going to town on lovely new ideas, use of space and so forth.

However, in major areas, someone seems to have neglected to inform them they're designing a *school* not an office. Open plan here, classrooms divided by moveable "teaching walls" there, pupils overlooking walkways with no walls to stop them chucking stuff over, computing classrooms with walls made of shelves (i.e. nowhere to put the computers)...

Another of their suggestions is circular "pods" of computers with 4-6 machines in a circle with dividers between each machine. This effectively means the teacher can't see approximately 50% of the class while teaching, and the other 50% have their back to the teacher.

It took my PT *months* of arguments to get a lot of this changed.

David said...

It was a real struggle to get Computing labs in the refurb in the first place so I lost the will to keep fighting for a decent layout. We are getting a clumps of six in the middle of the room layout. I'm told that this is the only way to do it and that benches round the edge would make the rooms less flexible!

Mosher said...

Oh well, it's not like Computing is important. Especially judging by its placement (or lack of it) on many schools' timetables in this locality.

But that's another issue!

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