Social School Design

New learning spaces for a new generation

During my recent stateside mini-tour I delivered a couple of sessions at the CEFPI World Conference for leading school design, in San Jose (got the highest feedback rating for all speakers—whoop whoop) plus an internal masterclass in Santa Monica for DLR Group, a school design architectural firm.

Been thinking about this sector from a social media perspective ever since and wanted to offer a mind-dump of thoughts and insights plus some curated content to extend the conversation (note : for the purpose of this post school design means the physical buildings plus the pedagogical approaches in those spaces as well) :

Social Media. So What?

Social media augments and embellishes your current operations.

It’s a tool (or a set of) to not only save time and money but also to enable practitioners build better learning spaces.

How? Read on…

Conversational design

Conversations drive social media spaces.

Conversations drive design processes.

Not one of the school architectural firms or companies I met had a blog. Now I’m not claiming a blog is a panacea for all social media efforts but if I ran a design firm in this space a blog would provide an opportunity to feature stuff like Joshua Prince-Ramus TED talk. Here he details the processes behind the building of the Central Library in Seattle, thus producing a perfect catalyst for discussion (internally and/or externally) :

Of course I would be featuring and talking about our own designs and the process relating to them, but the blog would also feature stuff like’s: The 6 Best Blogs For Architectural & Interior Design Ideas and’s: Architecture resource to broaden the debate and inform myself and others that there are more examples of innovation outside the industry than in it .

During the previous mentioned sessions I also showed the participants many online conversations about their specific school designs which none of them knew about. Highlighted how architectural students, studying today, were featuring and discussing the agencies work on their own study blogs. How random people were taking photos of their buildings and adding them to related learning environment groups on Flickr. Illustrating that students were making videos about their learning spaces. This video from the UTSA College of Architecture on Why My School Rocks illustrates the point perfectly.

All online. Transparent. Sharable. With lots of opportunities for conversation and engagement (through the commenting functions of these spaces).

Technology Is Disappearing

Into itself.

Most of the gadgets we have around us today will merge into the fabric of our surroundings, such as the walls, the furniture, the mirrors, windows etc. and when that happens, our offices, homes and school spaces will look very different :

And here’s those clever chaps / lasses at IDEO and their take on the future of the humble book :

This is not a show and tell about the future but more a reminding kick in the pants as it’s happening now. Augmented reality apps like the one below will quickly start to make interactive whiteboards obsolete (are we still going to ask the kids to put their phones away for classes when it can do things like this?) :

Multiple Uses For Online Spaces

Watch The Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments :

As he brilliantly describes in his ‘extra space’, data is becoming a new fertile ground for exploration and creation. To illustrate this check out the Education Nation Scorecard which allows parents in America to check out how different K-12 schools measure up in their area :

And what happens when someone develops a similar site to that of Rate My Teacher, this time focussing on the school environment, with the students themselves crowdsourcing the content with pictures and videos and insights into the spaces they are using five days a week plus rating it? (Anybody want to partner in making this a reality?)

Internal vs External

Again, from talking with many industry folk hardly any of them are using platforms such as Google Docs, Skype, Wikis, internal / private blogs (as digital scrapbooks or team development spaces) etc.

All potential collaborative spaces to work more effectively.

Schools Are Interfering With Education

Bold claim?

Watch :

(Maybe I should’ve just embedded this video as the whole blog post and be done with it).

The end users of the school design process have the means and mechanisms to communicate their thoughts and create content globally and instantly. They can access vast amounts of information through devices they have in their pockets and it’s only going to get more ubiquitous, cheaper and quicker.

That’s the line in the sand. That’s your starting point. That’s the challenge.

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

There is an amazing amount of good stuff happening out there, like Bosch & Fjord’s 21st Century School on the Cutting Edge of Learning and plus our previous podcastee Sir Ken Robinson doing his thing with a little help from RSAnimate:

And the British Council for School Environments recently launching their Free Schools Thinking: Places and Spaces for Teaching and Learning report (below), co-developed and supported by five of the UK’s leading architect firms :


We can all agree that not including the end users (students) in the design process is bonkers (what, in my old youth work days, they called ‘participation’ and which we now call conversation), this blog post does not argue this case as most school design agencies are all over it.

Instead it’s more a rallying cry around the emergence and continual shift social spaces and technology now offers. An ever moving target for school designers to lock their targets on.

We’ve already seem some noticeable adoptees : universities are using geo-location apps to better acquiant new students to their campus, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation getting involved in prepare high school students for college.

The biggest takeaway from the recent stateside sessions was a school design architect saying : “wouldn’t it be cool if we blogged the whole process of designing and building a school, like every bit of it”—YES IT WOULD but more importantly why wouldn’t you?!?!?

The final and last word goes to scifi writer source) :

I think that our grandchildren will probably regard the distinction we make between what we call the real world and what they think of as simply the world as the quaintest and most incomprehensible thing about us.

What do you think?

Related post : School Design And Digital Content Strategies

3 thoughts on “Social School Design”

  1. DK – a really great blog and one that’s well worth sharing with all of us who work, live and breath school design as a day job. I like the way you have built up and out of Ewan’s previous blog and reflections on spaces for learning – and also brought people back to basic principles of sharing ideas through social media. We ourselves have tried to harness the power of social media through our site and bring about influence and change at the system level for all those involved in the design process – but as you say there is much to do.

    On your specific headings – a few reflections – to continue the conversation.

    Social media – so what – well exactly! I think social media is still hugely underused and underdeveloped within design and construction firms but also with local government too. Schools seem to be much better at harnessing its power – but a total social media solution across an area for example has not been put together, to my knowledge.

    Conversational design: I agree that listening and learning are hugely important for any organisation. We did develop a lot of tools to engage young people in the processes of school design including some online tools that may seem ancient now – like our schoolworks online poll but there is still room for greater development

    Technology is disappearing: fascinating stuff and a great insight. As devil’s advocate – i’d like to know how the massive budget difficulties facing building schools in the UK (60% cut in england) will impact on the use of technology – so what’s a more for less technology solution – i would hate us to return to heavy tech in classrooms as the only way forward. The distance between the technology used by pupils outside school then becomes enormous with the tech they are offered at school. You mention the tool in the US – I’m aware of 2 others in the UK – one from Berg which visualises complex data from OfSTED and a cool App from teamagogo called mycoolschool – which perhaps is similar

    The rest!: Agree that Ken’s video and thinking is great. I also love this video about changing thinking and spaces in higher education too. And thanks for the name check for free schools thinking – plenty of opportunity for further collaboration on that front too

    Overall – a great post – more social media/school design mashup plans/collaborations please – you know where we are!!

  2. DK: This is a fantastic compilation of thoughts and links related to School Design and Social Media.
    I loved every example you quoted.

    I would add two more: “Architizer” and “” – they both crowdsource architecture. They are slowly becoming the online repository of the built environment. They also have facebook feeds, through which I get to see some cool (some ok!) architecture everyday.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing. Also, on another note, I am developing a similar crowdsource model for sustainability and so I will be more than happy to partner with you on shall we call “Rate My School” application partner?
    I am serious though! Let me know, I have a set of friends helping me develop an application on facebook. We are planning on an alpha launch by the beginning of 2011.


  3. Ian – appreciate you taking the time to comment and for offering your insights into the industry which you guys have done some great work in.

    Interesting to read you think there hasn’t been a social media school design case study out there… ripe for being the first then ;-)

    re: your question around technology cuts in school – our response would be kids are already ‘tooled for involvement’ anyway. Another words the phones they have need to be utilised not discouraged in classrooms.

    Thanks again Ian (and anyone who is new to this area/space please check out what Ian’s organisation is up to).

    Prem – thanks for the kind words and the two great examples you offered. Also looking forward to hearing more about your Facebook app.

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