The ancient art of Feng Shui is premised on the idea that your environment affects your well-being. While many people find some of the points of Feng Shui suspect and superstitious, there is no doubt that the underlying principle is true. A more contemporary version of this insight is a central feature of design thinking. When you create solutions for people you need to do so with their needs in mind. Imposing solutions on people without considering their reactions and situations often leads to more problems that need fixing.
Do we do the same in our classrooms? Sometimes we do in kindergarten and elementary school. But, as children grow up we seem to think that design matters less and less. So, by the time I see students in a college classroom we have them in spaces which often give no thought to their needs. Somehow, adults are considered not to be in need of design solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Most college classrooms probably look like mine. Concrete walls, few pictures on the wall, fluorescent lighting, uncomfortable seating. How does this enhance the learning experience? In my case, the irony is that the building has very nice conference rooms with more natural lighting, better seating, nicer ambiance. They remain empty most of the time being reserved for important meetings. The message this sends is that meeting with students in a class is not important enough to warrant the use of these spaces. Nice.
A little design thinking would go a long way in education. Not only would it help with the physical environment but also with the learning itself. Do most professorial lectures take into account any design principles? Hardly. Do most PowerPoint presentations take into account design principles. Mostly not.
A few good places to start might include:
Be mindful of the environment and what you can do to enhance it for learning.
Show some empathy for students.
Ask them what they want to learn and why.
Ask them for ideas that might enhance their own learning experience.
Work together to create a learning environment that works for everyone in the classroom.
Be open to accommodating different needs.
Be willing to experiment with the various elements of the learning experience: the text, the room, the presentation, the assessment.