International Symposium 1998 TOP

Mr. Hillel Weintraub
Director, Communication Center
Doshisha International Jr/Sr High School, Kyoto, Japan

The Designing, Constructing and Utilizing New Learning Spaces

In this talk I would like to present some images through video and words about our new Communication Center at Doshisha International Jr/Sr High School in Kyoto and discuss the process by which it is being created. In showing this I would like to explain how this process has provided and continues to provide us with a chance to think about learning and our roles as both teachers and students.

I have divided the Center's development into three phases. In each of these phases, because of the way we have designed things, thinking about this new space has been a way for us to explore our own thoughts about community and communication. Just as writing a paper or giving a talk like this isn't only a chance to express our ideas, but also a chance to think about the process of presenting our ideas through writing or speaking, creating a new learning space is more than an opportunity to construct something; it's an opportunity to explore the design process and the learning processes.

The first phase we shall look at is design. I will explore some of the ways our "Construction Committee" managed to create a final architectural plan and yet keep the space flexible enough so that our ideas could be continually developed. One of the most interesting aspects for me was that the design phase itself was designed in a way to encourage us to think freely about our dreams and educational goals. I think this served as a model for all of us showing the importance of collaboration and interaction. So much of daily interaction in schools is top-down, and the experience on this committee gave us a vision of what we could also do in our work with students.

The actual construction phase of the center was handled by building professionals but because the design phase was so collaborative, we felt that there would be no problems here. Of course we found out that many ideas were miscommunicated. My favorite story about this is, after more than 300 hours together talking about our educational philosophy and what we really wanted to do, at the opening of our Communication Center, one of the chief architects came up to us and, looking around wide-eyed at the Center, said, " Now I see what you were trying to do!"

Throughout the whole construction phase, our committee was busy working on the choice of furniture, rugs and colors. We were also involved in developing the technical plans for our computer network, and making choices for all equipment. Thus the design phases and construction phases overlapped. But everytime we made a decision, we were forced to consider the key point what does this decision mean as far as education goes. The materials for desks, the color of rugs, the use of each space each of these choices gave physical reality to our educational thoughts. This was a bit scary: dreaming was one thing, but actually knowing that our dreams would soon have shape certainly caused us much concern. As we saw the frames being set and the concrete being poured, there was always the question in our mind "What have we done!" And of course, perhaps even more frightening, "What haven't we done!"

Finally, we will look at the Usage Phase. What has happened since our Center opened in August? How are students using the new facility? How are teachers using it? What does their usage say about their ideas about learning? How are these ideas changing and how is our staff supporting their use.

Since we believe that nothing proceeds neatly in steps or stages, we built our Center with the expectation that it will be constantly redesigned and reconstructed, and that these processes will be a part of the learning that takes place through using the facility. We are trying to create an environment in which our users, both students and staff, will be able to have input into how their learning spaces are shaped. With the power to affect their environment, we believe they will also be encouraged to think about their roles in teaching and learning.

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