“Okay, class,” I say, “get into groups.”
A collective sigh, then shuffling and scraping of chairs. I survey the results.
“No, Jonah. You can’t sit in a corner and read. Move here. Lynsey, turn around. You guys, arrange yourselves so you can talk to each other.”
This is the drill every time I want my English Comp class to analyze a story or to discuss questions. Why is this so hard?
Simple. It’s bad design.
Designers, educators, and Herman Miller are known to encourage collaboration. In fact, Herman Miller is partnering with several institutions to try on some new approaches to learning spaces and to measure the result.
And yet, while we expound on the power of collective intelligence and the value of teamwork, most classrooms are still furnished with immobile, tank-like tables all lined up in rows. If the design of an environment signals how it should be used, most classrooms signal naptime.
I’m confident that students will, by and large, survive their educational gestation in these bland boxes and emerge when the real world prods them into out-of-the-box thinking, but in the meantime, it sure ought to be easier to create an environment conducive to teamwork in the classroom. Or at least to form a group.