Death of the Desk ?
In the last year I've been surprisingly inspired by discussions about classroom space and design at #140edu and Educon. Most recently, Mind Shift published a post naming ten things that should be obsolete in education. These pieces of an emerging path have been resonating and encouraging my curiosities about how learning spaces will evolve as technologies are increasingly integrated.From a pedagogy point of view what does the desk represent? It is a visual to the antithesis of the collaboration and communication components of 21st century skills. It makes me wonder if this classic, iconic piece of classroom furniture has met its maker. Here's some thoughts:
I've been looking for that. From a traditional design perspective, the bottom part of a desk is intended to hold books and those back corners remain convenient for hiding distractions such as notes or sneaked-in snacks which were forgotten until 'desk dump' or cleaning day (mystery smell found). As more schools move to becoming absolutely paperless the bottom of the desk serves no function other than a clutter holder. The top of the desk serves as possible gateway to young onset carpal tunnel and the traditional chairs are comfortable...for the first fifteen minutes.
Mine and Ours We know that Problem Based Learning includes collaboration as one of its pivot points to students obtaining career and life skills. Desks stand for a person's single space, it screams 'mine'. When students work at a table and transfer 'mine' to 'ours' the group work philosophy continues outside of the assessment. When a table surface is crowded, guide students with the right questions to create more space for the group by placing personal items elsewhere (such as cubbies). I'll always remember when a table group of students made a group pencil box to help each other; definitely a proud moment.
Think here, only here Desks define the work space. If we trust our students with technology, we should trust them to think where they are comfortable too. Some students work best on the floor, some work best at a table. Honoring our students' different styles of thinking and learning should include differences in preference of physical space. If we want ours students to have the 21st century skills needed to work for companies like Google, Apple, Twitter, etc. we can start by looking at the environments these companies provide to foster the collaborative, creative thinking that many of us depend upon in our daily lives.
Am I saying we should all drag our desks to the field and dig mass graves? Not exactly. I'm giving food for thought to the idea that physical space evolve with pedagogy. I'm encouraging teachers to ask questions about their classroom environment and what it says to our students, parents, guests. The desk is the icon of the classroom, its time we ask how it speaks to where we have been in our practice, where we are now and where we will be in the near future.