How might we re-design the physical space of post-secondary classrooms in order to encourage creativity and collaboration?
A VR experience showcasing the impact of our CreateLab classroom redesign, which focuses on cultivating creativity and collaboration.
How It Works
Our solution is broken down into 3 pillars: giving students ownership over their own space, embedding a sense of community in the classroom, and providing a living, creative classroom environment. To tackle these pillars, we have divided the classroom into four sections: Stimulate: a space for inspiration, Collaborate: a space for sharing, Create: a space for thinking, and Play: a space for exploring.
To begin our investigation into creative classrooms, we did a lot of research. Once we had settled on a game plan for how we were going to disrupt the education system, we started sending out surveys over the hackathon slack, the facebook page for our program at sheridan, to friends and family, teachers we knew, anyone we could think of who would be considered a user in the context of our project. We ended up with over 40 responses, and charted all the responses out with sticky notes on the wall. This data was important to help us understand the real feelings and opinions of our users that we couldn’t get out of articles and previously done studies. We acquired peoples opinions on existing classroom designs, favourite areas of study, what people would really like to see in their classrooms, variables that make it easier to focus and become engaged in the classroom etc.
With this user study as a jumping off point, we dove into scholarly articles and studies based off of the results. To delegate tasks and get ourselves organized, we compiled a six page document outlining research goals, areas, useful sites and articles, and who would be in charge of each area. We then combed through roughly 20 or more scholarly articles, studies and databases to gain an understanding of the psychological effects of different working environments. We would read our articles out to each other, and analyze the information as a group, and through this research, paired with the insights we gained from our user study, we managed to pull out our key points for the redesign. This is how we determined that there were four key areas of need in the average classroom: Stimulation, Collaboration, Reflection and Play. We then built the classroom from these four areas, each with different furniture, colours and layout to cultivate these different mindsets.
Our teammate Daniella also dove into colour theory, analyzing studies on how different colours stimulate different responses, moods, and thoughts. She compiled a table that that explained the interpretation of multiple different colours, and how combinations of colours could work together to help support our four areas of the classroom. These colours were also very important in our VR experience. One of the most frequent comments from user testers who tired to the VR, was the immediate difference they felt internally when they transitioned from the “before” view (based on one of our pre-existing Sheridan classrooms) to the “after” view. The colours immediately inspire a sense of joy, engagement, and curiosity.
My main roles on our team were ideation and planning, and using UX principles to design accessible furniture for our unique space. To kick off our hack project, I led my team through many different brainstorming and ideation exercises that I have learned over my time studying creativity and creative problem solving at Sheridan. We used methods such as reverse brainstorming, stick ‘em up brainstorming, card sorting, and dog tagging to generate as many possible solutions as possible and then narrow our selection to our strongest ideas. We also used these same methods to figure out the areas of a classroom we needed to focus on in order to create an optimal creative learning space. Once we had landed on a concept and generated our goals for the project, We moved forward into our research. I headed up research in furniture and how the design of the physical space impacts creativity. One thing that came forward for us was the importance of desks. Desks are a tool that are vital to every classroom, but often seem to be overlooked when it comes to design considerations.
Both my general and user focused research became focused on desks. I evaluated different users, their needs and pain points, as well as considering classroom space and modularity. I started by researching different kinds of modular furniture, looking through Pinterest and Google to get my ideas rolling, and then I decided what the key considerations of this desk needed to be to suit our creative classroom space. I decided on:
Here is how I tackled these considerations:
Modularity was one of my number one concerns when it came to these desks, I wanted to think of ways that the desks could be designed that would allow for free-flowing, organic classroom organization, with the ability for stand alone desks and multiple variations on group settings. During all of our research it was important for us to read through articles about primary and elementary schools despite our focus on post secondary, because of a quotation we came across that stated, “98% of children aged 3-5 showed they can think divergently. By age 13-15, only 10% could think this way.” (Bartel, 2008). In my research, I came across an article written by Deanne Bealing titled “The Organization of Junior School Classrooms”. Bealing writes, “Group layout, teacher mobility and the opportunities for pupils to work independently outside the classroom all suggest and informal approach to organization.” With this in mind, I created a dynamic, shifted desk design, where the desks are able to slot into each other in a number of different ways, as well as be cleanly and easily put away for classes that require use of the full classroom space.
When I was in grade school, I distinctly remember the libraries getting new desks that were designed to have more room for writing on the dominant hand side. However, these desks were only designed for right-handed students. I actually had more than a few left handed classmates that regularly expressed disdain over these desks and struggled to use them. With this in mind, when I designed our desks for CreateLab, I wanted to start with the same idea of having extra room on the dominant hand side, however I wanted to execute it in a way that worked for left and right handed students. It is actually the simplicity of this design that allows this to work. The desk is designed to suit the user in the exact same way no matter what side of the desk they sit down on. It was also important to us that these desks were designed ergonomically for the classroom. If these desks were to replace pre-existing ones, it is important that they do not disrupt the pre-existing flow and open space in the room.
The accessibility of this desk was really important to me. I wanted to design it in a way that it was fully wheelchair accessible from both sides. The first hurdle I navigated was determining the width and height of the average wheelchair, and how tall/wide the desk had to be in order to be comfortably used by those who need - and do not need - a wheelchair. I played around with these measurements for quite some time, drawing them out on whiteboards and running the designs by my teammates for their critiques.
Once I had sorted out the dimensions of the desk, I had to iterate further because one of my teammates rightfully pointed out an accessibility flaw in the design of the bottom of the desk. I had originally designed the desk with the right dimensions, but I had a bar running across the bottom. In my head, this bar provided balance and structure, when really, after making some paper models and tests, it became clear that it was not needed, and was causing unnecessary issues with the accessibility by blocking the wheels of a wheelchair. I had done some studies into the materials standard desks are made of, what is affordable/accessible/reliable etc. and through this we also determined that this desk would ultimately be more than stable and safe in its final design.
Besides the initial effort it took to figure out our approach, our process through this project went fairly smoothly, however we did have a few road bumps. In the beginning, we had planned to design these classrooms for elementary schools and high schools. However, when we went back to the original problem, the challenge had specified that it was meant to be for post secondary. We spoke to a representative from Accenture about our idea, and she was really excited about the concept and said we were more than welcome to step outside of the challenge in that way. However, as a team we decided it was important that we challenge ourselves, so we agreed to rethink our project for its applications in post secondary and the workforce. All in all, this redesign could be applicable to just about any workspace, anywhere, so we experimented with how we could expand the reach of CreateLab to other areas.
In addition, the key, important asset to our project was the VR experience that simulated a before and after, interactive window into the potential of our redesign for users. Naturally this was a very technical endeavor and with so many 3D models, code, and compatibility considerations, there were a couple of situations in which problem solving had to be enacted.
Our team members Izzy and Roneilla put a lot of work into making this VR experience work. Izzy created both 3D models from scratch, and Roneilla coded the program to run it interactively using A-Frame and AR.js. The three predominant issues they face were file size, navigation within the experience, and the limited time frame.
File size for the 3D model was an important issue because the program needed to run smoothly in order to create a valuable and immersive experience for the user. Izzy solved this issue by ensuring there was no excess of unnecessary polygons in the model that would bog down the program. The model was kept as simple as possible while still creating a realistic and immersive experience. In order to continue this experience, it had to be easy for the users to navigate between the before and after classroom with ease. We tested multiple navigation options, and the one that we landed on was placing a portal on the door of the room. This worked better for navigation than having a simple gaze-triggered button, because in real life, if you wanted to leave a room, you would naturally look for the door. With regards to the limited time frame, these two worked closely with each other and regularly workshopped the program with the rest of our group. They also made sure to only add features that were immediately beneficial to the user’s journey and experience for the purpose of our project.
A VR experience that allows users, and potential clients to experience the impact of this redesign comparatively, without having to leave their own classrooms
A classroom plan rooted in user testing and research
A breakdown of colour theory relating to physical spaces and the learning environment
Custom furniture designed for an informal, fluid classroom layoutInsights on how custom interiors for areas of the classroom with varying goals can help cultivate productivity and creativity
This project was really engaging and exciting for me as a designer, because this was one of the first projects I have worked on where I had the opportunity to design a solution that is not an app, website or form of technology. This was a new and exciting application of my UX design skills, and an opportunity for me to apply my knowledge of design, accessibility standards, and systematic design to a new medium. At Sheridan, we are really lucky to be constantly surrounded by creativity, art, innovation and inspiration, but it was very intriguing to dive deeper into how the classrooms we work in can impact our creativity and productivity, and the logistics of what it would take to make beneficial changes happen. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with industry professionals and get their feedback and guidance on our ideas. The atmosphere of hackathons has always been exciting for me because it is a space full of innovative thinkers and problem solvers, backed by experienced designers who can provide guidance and critique in real-time.
In conclusion, this project was very important to me because it opened my eyes to the possibilities of how I can apply my skills and ideas on a larger scale, and cultivated new curiosities and ambitions for me as a designer going forward.