We cannot afford, on a small island, to abandon anyone. So how do we design schools which work for everyone?

- Ira Socol

What are the Design Questions?

by Ira David Socol

We usually design our schools, the entire school experience, without even beginning to ask the essential questions… What will the user experience of school accomplish for the user (the student)? How will our user interface (the design of the school and the school day) help us to provide the user experience which will accomplish what we desire? These, I suggest, are the questions we must ask, and answer, long before we hire any architect…

Growing Iridescent Classrooms

Questions 1: The purpose of the user experience.

What do we want students to get out of their school experience?

How will the school experience transform them?

What will they be… what will they be able to do… how will they be able to live as a result of their school experience that would be impossible or unlikely without it?

Questions 2: The technologies of school.

The user experience is crafted through technology – technology defined (via Heidegger) as “the art of manipulating the world.”

How does the use of time in school impact the user experience? To what purpose?


How does the limitation of ICT choice impact the user experience? To what purpose?


Is it possible for students to do higher-level critical thinking if they are physically uncomfortable?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/sitting-trap

Why are classrooms rectangular? Is there an educational purpose? Would round rooms be better? Ovals? Triangles? When was the last time this was considered?

In 1832 American educator William Alcott noted that children needed to leave the building every 20 minutes in order to refresh their minds and reconnect with the world? Is this true? Have you asked students about this?

What would your students say about classroom lighting? Why is classroom lighting different from living room lighting? Restaurant lighting? Retail lighting?

If the classrooms of 1910 looked like the workplaces of 1910…


And the classrooms of 1960 looked like the workplaces of 1960…

Should the classrooms of 2015 look like the workplaces of 2015?

Questions 3: What does space tell us?

What messages are sent by the traditional spaces of school… corridors, classrooms, desks, chairs? What are the intended messages? What are the received messages? How do we understand the received messages?

What were the design intentions of those who first created schools-as-we-know-them? Do those intentions match up with our intentions? Do the needs of students who will live their lives in the mid and late 21st Century require the same educational structures as when these buildings were designed?

If students sit down to eat lunch, what do we want them to be learning? When students walk through the school’s doors in the morning, what do we want them to be thinking? When students leave the building at the end of the school day, how do we encourage them to keep learning broadly until they return? Not about homework – about authentic observation and learning

If students enter any classroom or learning space on a path unchanged from the day before… are they learning?

Questions 4: Terroir

“very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has”

Does Ireland expect the same things from its schools that England does? That Scotland does? That the United States does? Are the cultures so much the same that educational structures can be wholly imported?

Do Irish students enter school with the same experiences and needs as students in England, Scotland, the United States? How might we define, determine, those differences? How will our “user experience” account for these differences?

Even in a nation as small as Ireland, is there a national culture? Or are their significant local cultural differences? Does a child from Dualla, or Ballinskellig, or Buncrana, or Tallaght enter first year or seventh year with identical needs?

Questions 5: Contemporary Skills

Our students will enter a work world which prizes

(a) the ability to collaborate globally,

(b) the ability to communicate continuously with a wide range of digital devices,

(c) the ability to create one’s own work environment – from a flexible office to a home to an airport floor,

(d) the ability to craft one’s own work schedule with supervision,

(e) the ability to do instantaneous, effective research,

(f) the ability to be intrinsically motivated rather than supervised – how is the learning space we create, and the ways we use those spaces, contributing to those skillsets?

Our students will enter a society, a world, in desperate need of repair. They must be effective citizens, caring community members, responsible family members. They must be empathetic to those who are different. They must be skilled global communicators. They must be excellent curators of information. They must be able to solve problems individually and collaboratively – how is the learning space we create, and the ways we use those spaces, contributing to those skillsets?

Questions 6: Education for all.

If you took the “most troubled” or “most trouble” students in your school, and had them show you how they see the school environment, what would you learn?

What does your school look like to the dyslexic student? The emotionally struggling student? The bored student? The student who struggles to, or cannot, walk? The student who struggles to pay attention? We cannot afford, on a small island, to abandon anyone. So how do we design schools which work for everyone?

ICTEDU 2012 Keynote LIT Tipperary....
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