Nicholas Cole-Farrell, Director of Technology and Making
Published in 2010, as a collaborative project from Cannon Design, VS Furniture, and Bruce Mau Design, The Third Teacher takes on the idea of transforming teaching and learning through the design of the learning environment. In looking at the process of teaching and learning with a wider lens, we move from the traditional teacher (first) to Piaget’s constructivist student (second), to the learning environment (third), in order to not only frame the factors that influence learning, but also to discover new levers for effecting positive change in the instructional space. This approach fits perfectly with elements of our Brandeis 2023 Vision, where we name this intention specifically in the “Our Campus” component in our desire to “Incorporate relevant best practices in design of instructional and work spaces.”
By using the language of contemporary design, as well as understanding the instructional and environmental needs of our students at Brandeis, we were able to use this third teacher to shape our work in the redesign of our Library/Media Resource Center, thanks to the generous support of community members during our 2018 Fund-a-Need campaign. In the redesign process, we were able to interview and gather data from our numerous stakeholder constituencies (students, families, teachers, community members at large) in order to develop a vision and plan for not only a 21st-century learning space, but also one that would afford us the opportunity for adaptability and iteration based on future research and ideas. Among the numerous student-focused features we added to the space are lower/wider bookshelves to accommodate library patrons of diverse age and height, cozy and flexible furniture that understands the dual need for both a quiet and a social space, multifunction bookcases that double as benches for read-alouds, and the Digital Design Lab—a design studio that is home to our yearbook production, digital storytelling, and graphic novel clubs and electives.
While the foundation of this work was done during the 2018–19 school year, we continue to see this space as iterative and evolving, by definition. To this point, students continue to share their voice as stakeholders in this dynamic community space. We have added greenery and plantings to bring a natural element to our space, and a recent petition from our lower school students has proposed the value of adding a “library pet” as both an opportunity to learn about the responsibilities of caring for an animal as well as the added benefit of having another friend to visit during our trips to the MRC. While I can’t disclose the type of animal being considered at this juncture, I can share that we have had to strike “shark” and “cheetah” from the list, for obvious logistical reasons.
At Brandeis we continue to uphold as central the impact of design on the learning environment and continue to work to find new and innovative ways to incorporate methodology in the development and iteration of our instructional and work spaces.