Design Space Design Culture

I appreciated being invited to co-host #AussieEd Twitter chat this Sunday night. Here is the video to explain what it’s all about.

Introducing Design Space Design Culture

I believe there is a misconception around the design of learning environments, the ‘Kevin Costner Principle’, because ‘if you build it’, it doesn’t necessarily follow that ‘they will come’.

That’s because it’s not about the building, but how the building meets the need of the people – this may be the current, pressing need, or an aspirational vision for the future.

We design environments for people and we then must co-design the culture to create the transformation we seek to see. Otherwise, human behaviour maintains the known and comfortable.

Each question block below is an active link to a short video provocation.

Within our communities, we accept the default and we put up with frustrations because it’s meant to be that way. I want to encourage you to fine tune your observational/user experience radar.

Look at your everyday circumstance and see what’s not working, what could be better and what changes you would make.

Now that you’ve worked on your radar, think about the learning environment. If you’re in this chat, it is likely that you’re passionate about student engagement and sparking their curiosity. We know that learning is a social activity, that sharing ideas and rich dialogue leads to deeper engagement.

Think about how you and your students might co-design a space that serves your aspirations.

This is the hardest part and where a focus only on ‘design space’ without considering ‘design culture’ lets us down. As the space serves learning and social connections, I begin with a ‘user experience’ lens on the learner – who are they, what are their needs? The critical thing in transforming culture is recognising the changes we as individuals, and then collectively, need to commit to.

What do we need to ditch, maintain and embrace as we transform culture?

Remember when a visit to the bank, was a humanless queue to be endured, with the only person you spoke to was the one with the frown behind the glass. But then banks awakened to humanity. I have had bank-people approach me, ask about my needs and take me out of the queue to assist.

Which structures, systems and schedules are ripe for redesign?

Here’s one quick example: Timetable. Does a 5x 60 minute schedule serve deeper learning and engagement?

When the new building is under construction it is the optimal time to co-design the desired culture. Too often I see this as a last minute, “we’re moving-in in two weeks”, or worse, an afterthought, “now we’re here, what do we do?”. I have seen too many designs not meeting aspirations, because there’s not the attention to the human elements, the culture.

Edgar Schein, a leading voice on culture outlines three levels of culture:
artefacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions.
Schein, E. (2009) The Corporate Culture Survival Guide

Pasi Sahlberg speaks about this as small clues “often hidden in the complex fabric of values, behaviours and cultures that determine what teachers and students do in school”

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four Big, Inexpensive Ideas to Transform Education
Lindstrom, M (2016) Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends

Here is a link to a post I wrote about small data last year: What’s all this talk about small data?

Where to start this week?
Your newly fine-tuned radar can start to look for these culture clues. We can begin to design culture by looking at our own context.

I often do this, as a fresh pair of eyes when I visit schools. I look for what I can learn from the artefacts, especially the signs that are displayed. There are many things (artefacts) you may walk past every day, that shout loudly about espoused values and underlying assumptions.


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