F is for feng shui

| February 6, 2014

Our classroom is pretty obviously designed for the purpose of fostering learning. It’s probably even supposed to be some sort of emblem of some sort of educational revolution. Everything about it is intentional—the latest technology, smartboards on every wall, modern/21st-century/even futuristic design, writable walls and desks, a green-and-white color scheme I can only assume is meant to subconsciously call up feelings of creation and goodness. To repeat, and in relevant terms: the aesthetics of the room are very intentionally meant to produce a certain kind of experience.

But do they? Or more particularly, might the same qualities of our classroom work against learning at the same time they promote it? This is a question that I think was in the back of my mind, unarticulated, during our class last week. It came up when I was scribbling word maps on my desk with a dry-erase marker instead of in my notebook with a pencil. Was this, I wondered, actually making my notes worse? I think it’s a valid concern that writing on desks instead of paper could produce less focused notes, as well as ease of access issues (i.e. I had to take pictures of my word maps with my phone to preserve them; I’m less likely to go back and look at those than a page in my notebook).

There are other questions you could ask about our room—are the multiple smartboards distracting? Are the fancy bench seats? It seems like the aesthetics of the classroom, even though they are in place to foster learning, might well draw attention away from the meat of the class, where the learning actually happens.

And this example begs another, more theoretical question. If our classroom can be seen as a case of aesthetics in education, then on a larger scale, can aesthetics in education be a double-edged sword, both promoting and inhibiting the learning experience?