Student-Influenced Design

There’s a trend in classroom and learning spaces that has been developing recently. Add students-as-contributors to interior design. Blend in a healthy heaping of learning theory, and you get something I’m calling “student-influenced design” or “student-driven design,” depending on how much say the students have in the process. (At first, I was a little hesitant to have the emphasis on student in this term, but I think it works for reasons I’ll get to later.)

Several teachers have been posting the transformation of their learning space. Teachers are removing their desks from their classrooms and posting entire articles on the event. In many posts, the traditional desk is viewed as an albatross that weighs down innovation or as an artifact of the 20th-century education system. In other posts, the desk is modified or replaced by something more functional and versatile.

One of my favorite bloggers who posts on this trend is Erin Klein. Her main blog is at but you can also find her on Edutopia and Edudemic. She is also a contributor to Scholastic publications and is one of their featured educators on their site Top Teaching. In a post for the site, “Designing Your Classroom Space,” Klein discusses getting her students’ input when making design decisions. She then used the feedback to create a comfortable space that invites her students to learn with special areas for relaxing and reading.

Although Klein’s use of her interior design chops is in itself worth a read, what makes it truly “Awesomesauce” (or “#awesomesauce” as some of my Twitter friends post) is her use of student input in making classroom design decisions. Her students’ feedback had a direct impact on her design decisions. The result is a student-centered space that encourages collaborative and individual exploration. (See below for direct links to her posts on the subject.)

Klein is not alone in creating student-centered learning spaces. I have recently learned of a school in Los Gatos, California that turned their computer lab into the iLab, a “collaborative, dynamic space where students and teachers could build their environment and access tools that were not yet in classrooms.” Before they embarked on this project, the Hillbrook School involved students and teachers in the design process by having them brainstorm and use other ideation methods to come up with spaces that inspired creativity and inspiration. Here is a YouTube video from 2011 that provides a glimpse into this process:

Creative Learning Spaces by Hillbrook iLab

In reading blog posts on classroom transformations, like Klein’s “Designing Your Classroom Space,” and watching various videos on designing learning environments, including Hillbroook’s iLab flexibility shown in  a time-lapsed video, I noticed two common themes:

  1. Student input was, in various degrees, used. The very notion of this being “nontraditional” leads me to emphasize the student’s role by including “student” in “student-influenced” and “student-driven design” as terms to describe this trend.

  2. The room was cleared of the traditional features (furniture, desks, carpet, single presentation point) in order to create a flexible learning space.

I have found this literal clearing of the classroom space and starting with a clean slate an appealing metaphor for the complex and shifting relationship between educators and their students. The frequently-used term “empower” carries a lot of baggage and implies a power relationship that may not accurately reflect the structures in place. “Clearing the space” takes a different approach to the discourse in education. (For more on this discussion, read here:

[Section added 7:30 pm CT, March 16, 2014]

A wonderful example of how the redesign of the learning space goes hand in hand with rethinking pedagogical approaches is the CoLaboratory at the Ellis School. In this remodel, a group of students was directly involved in the transformation and integration of an innovative space that was part of their Active Classroom for Girls Project. As Dr. Lisa Palmieri, Director of Technology and Innovation at the Ellis School (and fellow DTK12chat-er), writes in a recent blog post, “The Ellis Geek Squad, a team of 18 Upper School students that support the spread of tech & innovative approaches across the school helped design the room, purchase the furniture, put it together and decorate the room.”

This project, including the “classroom” renovation, epitomizes an approach to addressing a challenge in education, in this case, encouraging girls’ involvement and success in all areas of STEM, that involves the students. The students are not only redesigning the learning space but are a major contributor to the culture that enables that space to become an integral part of the school community.

(For more details on the Ellis School and their Active Classroom for Girls Project, read Dr. Palmieri’s post cited below and linked here.)

Resources on Transforming Learning Spaces with Student-Driven Design

“Designing Your Classroom Space” by Erin Klein

“Tons of Classroom Design Ideas for Setting Up Your Cozy Learning Space” by Erin Klein

Hillbrook’s description of their iLab (including videos)

“School Make/Innovation Spaces” by  Lindsey Own

The CoLaboratory and The Active Classroom at the Ellis School

Building Innovations Around Experiences: “The Active Classroom & CoLaboratory: Creative Spaces for Learning” by Dr. Lisa Palmieri

Clay Shirky: What I Learned About Creativity By Watching Creatives

Outline Your Classroom Floor Plan

STEM Future Dallas (uses the term “student-influenced design”)

Featured Image Photo Credit:
roujo via Compfight cc


2 responses to “Student-Influenced Design

    • Erin Klein is extremely innovative. She has a great way of communicating her ideas and helping other teachers in technology integration and using creative methods for engaging her students.

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