How Does this Space Make You Feel?

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I’m knee-deep in the design process for learning space prototypes. Yesterday, I did what I love doing best: interact with students randomly using one big question:

  1. How does the physical classroom space (not the teaching & learning) make you feel? My follow-up at the end was which ones would you change?

There were four themes that emerged during these interactions (Anything in “” are the students’ words):

  • Focus on the shift from an “uncomfortable and dead” feel to a “comfortable and alive” feel
  • Focus on the shift from a “getting”/consuming feel to a “creating”/producing feel
  • Focus on the shift from a “sitting” feel to a “moving” feel
  • Focus on the shift from a “boring and distracting” feel to an “engaging and life” feel

I really dig that spectrum of thought especially the movement towards comfortable and alive. “Alive” is such a penetrating word and speaks to the heart of it, doesn’t it? It was awesome hearing use elements of the IDEA contrasted with elements of the traditional classroom to illuminate what they feel and see.

And what is uber important is that students talked about this from a space perspective not from a learning and teaching perspective. They quickly wanted to talk about how their teachers try to go to the right and do go to the right of that spectrum. However, they (students and teachers) have to navigate a physical space that makes it challenging. They especially found this true with the new 1:1 learning environment where they are trying to navigate classroom spaces not constructed with that concept in mind.

If we don’t design the habitats for the desired habits, we make it increasingly difficult on both students and teachers. We must challenge the old “it was good enough for me” statement because many school spaces no longer serve meaningful learning and teaching.



Illuminating Current Reality

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An ethnographer mindset is one of the most important things leaders can adopt today. By doing so, your lens embraces the paradox of the human condition and focuses on herding and finding needs, possibilities, and problems instead of focusing on ideas in isolation and chasing change (or complacency) for change sake.

While participant observation and artifact sense making are two of my favorite strategies, individual and focus groups using a semi-structured interview format offer much in the way of valuable insights into the experience. These take time but the themes that emerge create opportunities for growth beyond what one could imagine.

For example, here is a recent approach to better understand our current 1:1 experience.


  • 16 Focus Groups
  • 3-5 people per group
  • each discipline represented twice

Semi-Structured Interview Questions

  1.  What is the current 1:1 experience (in thoughts/emotions and action) within your department?
  2. How well has the department adjusted to the 1:1 learning environment?
  3. How might we use these thoughts to enhance the 1:1 experience?


  • avoid declarative statements
  • focus on redirects and depth creation follow-up questions
  • use “so what I hear you saying…” points to draw deeper connections

Give it a try with a new idea or approach recently started in your area and see how many insights it illuminates. After all, the first step to changing for the better is clarity of one’s current reality. This, however, is easier said than done and not easily accepted.

It Doesn’t Start With Furniture


Years ago with the emergence of friction free technology such as web 2.0, a number of us in educational technology argued that we shouldn’t start with the technology. While this idea of it not being about the technology is an old message and most folks understand it, another trend in education is seeing similar misplaced focus: classroom spaces.

Reimagining classroom spaces does not start with furniture. Furniture is but one outcome of reimagining classrooms as learning spaces.

Where does it start? Emotions. Perceptions. Experiences. Traits.

And we take those current realities and we dream about something better, about something more magical.

Starting Point Process

While there are different process flows one could take, here is one that I have always loved.

  1. Learning Space Walks: walk your building and capture what spaces are doing for engaging, learning (formal and informal), reflecting, and socializing. Interview students about their perceptions and experiences with physical classrooms: how does the current physical space make you feel and how do you learn in these? How might we change it to better meet what you’d like to do?
  2. Doorway Reaction: have teachers stand in the doorway of a classroom and discuss “what emotions and perceptions of the classroom do students have from this viewpoint”. Have them capture thoughts on a post-it note. The key is not what the teacher ends up making it but what the initial reaction is of students at that doorway.
  3. Desired State: Share out findings from 1-2. Place the post-it notes on a wall. Then, next to the post-it notes, write what you want that doorway reaction to be in the future.
  4. Experiences and Traits: Using this desired state, brainstorm experiences and traits of the classroom based upon this desired state, learning, and teaching.
  5. Prototype: Taking the desired emotions, perceptions, experiences, and traits, hand teachers a space and markers to create prototype classrooms that can bring these pieces to life. These will be messy. They aren’t CAD drawings but rough sketches of what could be.
  6. Designers: the four qualities explored (emotions, perceptions, experiences, and traits) are given to designers to determine how to bring this to life.
  7. Prototype Remix: After designers create their prototypes from our given information, we build upon it for better prototypes.
  8. Repeat the process with students and teachers.

It is easy to look at furniture. It is easy to stare at photos of classrooms redesigned already. It is easy to redo classrooms. However, it is much more challenging yet beneficial to reimagine classrooms as learning spaces.


The Visual Cues of Boredom and Distraction


During my pre-service work, I recall vividly our discussion and research on visual cues of boredom and distraction. We spend hours observing classrooms and noting what we saw (how nice would it have been to use a SmartPhone at that point. Alas, they didn’t exist).

This common experience for pre-service teachers no doubt yielded similar results across universities: hand on head, yawning, glazed eyes, staring out window, head on desk, doodling, etc.

And while I argued back then as I do now that mind wandering and doodling are important moments of reflection, the larger point remained that these were visual cues that something was off in the learning environment.

Visual Cues in a 1:1

Today, this isn’t as easy in a 1:1 learning environment. We need to retrain ourselves about visual cues and be cautious about assumptions.

  1. is a smile while looking at their screen a sign of being disconnected from the moment
  2. is a chuckle while looking at their screen a sign of being disconnected from the moment
  3. is an intense glare while looking at their screen a sign of being disconnected from the moment
  4. is an extended focus on the screen a sign of being disconnected from the moment
  5. is a rush of excitement while looking at the screen a sign of being disconnected from the moment

I taught in a 1:1 learning environment for three years. This was such a challenge to retrain my brain and not to make assumptions. It is unnerving to wonder so much when the cues were so clear prior to the technology.

How are pre-service universities adjusting teacher learning in terms of visual cues of boredom and distraction? How are we working with current teachers on visual cues for boredom and distraction?

Take a Risk. Take the Gold.

Risk is a scary word especially in schools. If we talk about risk-taking, how will it be interpreted? Will students think we are giving them permission to try harmful things? Will teachers design poor learning experiences? Will administrators create uncomfortable situation for the district due to public transparency?

Risk-taking often raises those yellow and even red flags.

But then you hear or see stories of what happens when you take risks, when you look over the edge without fear. Stories like Sage Kotsenburg and the risk he took this year on the biggest stage: the Olympics.

“I like doing crazy things, like spontaneous moves. I’ve never even tried the trick I did on the last jump. I thought about it before the run. But once you’re going into it, if you’re thinking it, you’re going to fall on your face.” Kotsenburg

On his last jump, he attempts a trick that he hadn’t done before that moment. He hadn’t practiced it. He hadn’t rehearsed it. He hadn’t pondered it. He let the moment guide him and he took a chance.

He took a risk. He took the Gold.


Image: Sports Center Twitter

As The World Turns

The pace at which society moves versus the pace at which education moves is both positive and fraught with problems.

The most recent example is that of social media. While many in education are just now figuring out what it is let alone starting to use it, there is a definite movement in society to figure out balance, to understand impacts on human interaction. It is a movement towards balance, pause, and perspective that I think is greatly needed! However, we need it because we walked through social media and are now able to critically evaluate and adjust thoughtfully.

The problem has many layers but juxtapose society and education. It illuminates how we in education are misguided and unable to move thoughtfully at times.

  1. Society sees value in social media. Society embraces it knowing there will be challenges, opportunities, and problems. Society works through those elements. Society (hopefully) finds the right balance and moves forward.
  2. Education as a whole avoids social media*.  Education hears about society at large and those odd educators wrestling with the challenges, opportunities, and problems so they take a “see… I told you it was bad for you”. Education finds themselves stuck where they are unable to find the right balance, progress forward, and act thoughtfully.

And this is the cycle for so much in education.

Our avoidance behavior allows us to sit back and wait for inevitable challenges, problems, and failures just so we can shout, “Told ya’ so!”. What we don’t realize is that it isn’t telling anyone anything and it is us that is lacking the thoughtfulness, the critical thinking, that allows a continuous state of growth.

Oversimplification. Yes. Broad Generalizations. Yes. Just another thought(ful)(less) meandering but one I wanted to get out.

*Some educators embrace it knowing there will be challenges, opportunities, and problems.

Reimagining Learning: Designing Experiences that Empower and Engage Inventive Learners

The power of pen and pixel provide unprecedented experiences for learning and inventiveness limited only by our own curiosity, imagination, and wonder. But to create those opportunities, we need to design the learner experience around empowerment, engagement, and inventiveness. This means exploring and experimenting with these designs as we reimagine learning as moonshot thinkers, which became the focus of my recent keynote at the Northern Illinois Computing Educators MiniCon.

Guiding Questions

  • How do we amplify the creative thoughts, sparks, and passions of individual students with the conditions, people, and resources in an organization to bring those ideas to life?
  • What if we created conditions for agency, agility, and people who lead to engagement and inventiveness?
  • What if we shifted our beliefs and actions of our classrooms towards a garage studios concept?
  • How might we make schooling worthy of student engagement
  • What if  we focused on joy, love, and passions over policies, procedures, and standardization?
  • What if we were able to tell our story instead

While there are many paths towards classroom as garage studio where agency, agility, engagement, and inventiveness rule, there are four experiences at the heart of this transformation.

  1. Pen and Pixel
  2. People and Places
  3. Pause and Perspective
  4. Play and Produce

Today, we need to reimagine learning around more than skills, more than content. It is about co-designing experiences for knowledge, skills, mindsets, and dispositions. It is about getting beyond saying and start doing. It is about more than ideas but watching those ideas blow up when wrapped around resources, people, and time.



Re-imagining Leadership: Creating the Conditions for Agency

When I look at education leadership , I’m more convinced than ever about this point: our past models of leadership can inform us but they are dated. In a world that is rapidly changing and shifting, leadership is about a continuous state of renewal and avoidance of complacency. This couldn’t be more important than in the area of Educational Technology Leadership, which became the focus of a recent presentation given to Chief Technology Officers and Directors.

Guiding Questions

What if we led as fast as the world is changing? How might we create conditions for this type of leadership?

I believe it starts with a sense of agency and agility born out of these eleven conditions:

  1. What If We Empowered and Fostered Ownership Not Standardization
  2. What If We Developed a Designer and Ethnographer Mindset
  3. What If We Focused on Design Thinking for Decisions
  4. What If We Put Wheels On Other People’s Ideas Not Our Own
  5. What If We Embraced the Crazies in the Organization
  6. What If We Build Experiences Not Products, Programs, or Tools
  7. What If We Rapid Release Tech and Professional Development
  8. What If We De-Privatized Our Department
  9. What If We Shortened the Yes Change (Take a 30 Day Yes Challenge)
  10. What If We Built Spaces (cognitive, digital, and physical) for engagement and renewal?
  11. What If We Never Landed

This list of conditions is not exhaustive but even this small sampling can raise concerns especially the first one that speaks to minimizing standardization and maximizing autonomy. But we simply must reconsider our roles to be focused on the human experience and less focused on change management and textbook leadership models.

The role today needs to be reimagined as one that disrupts routine, facilitates connection, and fosters organizational agency and agility. It cannot be one that defends and protects the status quo, tells people what they need, and focuses on dated mantras like under deliver, over promise.

The Value of Daily Exams

Do you give daily assessments at the start of each class? Why or why not?

A recent article in the New York Times “Frequent Tests Can Enhance College Learning” points to a study that concludes frequent (daily) quizzes over larger unit and final exams improve learning (both in current and next in sequence).

For those fearful of grade grubbing students, this must send chills down your spine.

But I recall courses like this. These quizzes became so routine that they served merely as a daily benchmark of my performance. As the professors in the article noted, these also “[forced] students to stay current in the reading and pay attention in class, [and] also how to study (Carey).”

In many ways, it sounds like ongoing feedback and formative assessment. However, the study emphasized consequential quizzes.

The piece I find most intriguing is that the professors customized the quizzes for students by bringing back questions they previously missed. In a way, this is at the core of grades as flexible, dynamic learning objects: place the emphasis on ensuring that learning occurs not when leaning occurs.

No Excuse in a 1:1 Learning Environment

In a 1:1 learning environment, this is a feasible routine: google forms, Flubaroo, email, and Socrative/Infuse Learning as needed.

The question, thus, is on the value to learning, learner, and environment within K-12 schools.

Read the full study here.

Thoughts on Bored to Death

I enjoyed the recent post Bored to Death by Amanda Ripley because it disturbed me (which is a positive for those new to my blog) especially because I love keeping the focus on learner engagement.

With that said…

The Lead was Buried.

Like a line Turkle would jump on, the author Ripley paints a picture that classrooms lack interaction, a place where “listening and learning” leave the person feeling bored (or is it lonely). This story unfolds with a student who finds herself using her phone to entertain herself and find that interaction her brain needs to avoid boredom.

But the lead is really lost in this story. The last paragraph returns to this student and her insights after not having her phone to create this interactive, non-boredom:

Last month, Dos Santos’s phone broke. She had no way to Instagram or Tweet in class. It was a natural experiment in boredom management, and it nudged her in the direction of a reappraiser. “At first it was really annoying,” she says, “but then I felt like I got more work done, and I didn’t feel more bored. I could live without it. I can function without being stimulated.  It kind of gave me perspective.” (Ripley)”

This goes right to Turkle. This desire to feel connected. This desire to never be alone. This desire to be stimulated and entertained by the mundane makes us less tolerant of moments that required sustained focus. It is amazing how insightful this brief glimpse into the two experiences of this student. Sadly, this piece was not explored in-depth (at least so far).

Even worse, this one part will draw the attention directly, DIRECTLY, onto technology as the reason boredom is in schools when the reality is that boredom has long plagued education and…

The Article Doesn’t Recognize that Boredom is Everywhere.

Ramsey claims the easiest way to understand the level of boredom in high school is to search Twitter for “bored” and “school”. She is correct. No question it is an amusing walk through the life of adolescents as is seeing them paint pictures about many life experiences. Heck, try “homework” and see what you get.

But let’s do the same experiment with work. I just searched Twitter using “bored” + “work”. Like Ramsey, I found an indictment of work: selfies, twitter rants, photos, and many other digital strategies to entertain.

And like Ramsey said, “flares of creativity”:




And there are thousands just like it and more that kept updating in just my casual walk through this world.

The thing is that I can do these searches left and right. I can make numerous combinations and the results all show the same thing. People are bored whether school, work, church, life, or events.

What does this say?

There are Deeper Questions on Boredom and There are Ways to Answer Them.

Don’t get me wrong. Boredom is a reality in school – where true engagement is a rare and compliance is what gets many through. However, those that are unwilling to comply are left struggling.

So Ms. Ripley, I agree with you that lack of engagement is an issue – a critical issue for the social-emotional health and academic as well as life success of our students. In fact, there are deep questions that we must address:

  1. being in a constant state of flow is not healthy either so what is the middle ground between unhealthy boredom and prolong states of flow?
  2. is boredom always bad?
  3. can boredom be a temporary pause of reflection or positive distraction?
  4. is technology bringing out, leading to greater levels, or making transparent boredom?
  5. is what appears to be boredom more of what Turkle describes as Alone Together?
  6. is boredom natural and unavoidable?
  7. are the ways to recognize the onset of boredom and counter it?
  8. what Ripley says “given the dangers of schoolhouse boredom” what are we doing about it?
  9. and ultimately, who owns boredom?

This is why we use things like IPI, ESM, and HSSED. This is why we focus on the whole child. This is why we give our learners a seat at the table. This is why we make engagement a district-wide theme not just a goal.

But We Need to Call Out an Equal Problem!

The question I have is why not call out the real problem: the US government is not encouraging nor giving the room to place the focus on student engagement. The focus is on standardization and teacher proofing. It is on fear and a single definition of student success. It sacrifices deep engagement and student passions for compliance and student scores.

I wonder what would happen if the keys and freedom were given to schools to solve the engagement issue.


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