Sharing the learning – impact of furniture #hardiefellowship

Feeling confined!

Feeling confined!

This morning I saw a tweet that was attached to the hashtag #archlearn that talked about furniture in the classroom. The comment came from Alice Keeler (who is worth the follow, especially if you are interested in Google products) who I met at the Minecraft in Education summit LA.

Screenshot 2015-08-02 10.54.47

On my first day at Ohio University I was somewhat taken back by the chair above that I had to seat myself in. I will be honest, I was just as much challenged by sitting in it as I was with regard to its purpose in learning. I was so shocked by it that I shared it with some friends I chat with regularly in a Voxer group, as it was relevant to a conversation at the time. I refrained from sharing it too openly on social media, as I felt somewhat uncomfortable with it and more particularly with my reaction – I did not want to come across as too critical, and at that time I think I may have. Further into my Hardie Fellowship I travelled to a number of universities to find the same/similar furniture. This was a little encouraging on one level as it meant that it wasn’t just confined to the learning institution I was attending. However, this did not reduce my concerns around its existence in a learning space. On further discussions with students at Ohio University it became apparent that this was furniture that was widely used in a range of levels of education across the USA, including pre university level and was particularly popular in the 80s (according to my source). Yes, my mind was turning and wrestling with this concept. On a visit to a local middle school this concept of chair attached to the table still existed. This was in the canteen area and proved to be confining in nature.

This led me to think about the stock pictures we often see associated with educational articles. It is my thoughts that one needs to be careful choosing such pictures as they send a very interesting message. I find the subtle message particularly concerning when they are attached to blog posts and articles that originate from Australia. You see I have never encountered this type of furniture in my schooling as a child, or in further education within the university system (although we did have lecture theatres that had immovable seating with a movable table, it was designed for that learning space and the lecture in mind).

This is where I get more concerned, as the desk attached to the chair supports one style of delivery. It does not easily support anything other than a passive learning approach. When I reflect on this I think it is important to note that all educational systems move at different rates. To this I am thankful that I have not encountered such furniture that constricts learning as a child and on the whole as an adult. I think I would have become noncompliant, it would certainly have impacted on my behaviour, let alone my learning. I know as an adult it impacted, and as an adult I am aware of self regulating, yet as a child I may not have had the awareness.

On reflection, I am glad that I have had opportunity to involve students in setting up a classroom, although we may not have had (at times) the latest and coolest furniture, we were able to create spaces that were more suited to their learning with regard to the range of activities utilised. I am glad that the furniture that I have had in my classroom has not constrained the learning to the point that this type of furniture does.

I wonder how furniture subtly drives the learning in a classroom, with regard to this I am thinking more broadly than the picture above? I wonder how easy it would be to move away from traditional school furniture (if money were not a barrier) and how that might impact the teacher and the student – is there some comfort in this furniture, what risks does it remove or create?

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