My life took a turn a little over a month ago when life sent a message to me and my husband that it was time to simplify our lives and go from a two household family to a one household family. I had reached candidacy in my doctoral program and was not tied to classes, and I taught online. This meant we were no longer bound to Las Vegas so we no longer required two houses (we had purchased the house in Bend, OR as a future retirement property). Retirement was not on the horizon, but the savings that would come from only having to maintain one household was an important consideration. Fortunately some friends were looking for a house to rent and that sealed the deal.
But it did mean some big changes. Our home in Bend is still very much a work in progress. We walk on subflooring, have very little furniture, and half the rooms look like construction zones. Trying to figure out where to put my office was a bit of a challenge. At first we figured the best location was in the room that did have flooring. We had installed this several years ago and never got around to finishing the room…there are so many more fun things to do in Bend when you are just there for the summer. So this is where I set up:
My desk fit in that back right corner and I had a small book case on the right under the window. The pile of flooring will hopefully be put to use in the next few months. The walls are gray and the ceiling is a dark blue (an idea of my husband’s as this is to be the future entertainment room – he wants it dark). Dark and gloomy it is, and I tried to work here and learn here for the first few weeks of our new lives. And I couldn’t. I simply did not like being in a room that felt cold, not just because of the weather but because of the colors and the darkness. I also need things neat and tidy, this is most definitely neither. I found it difficult to concentrate on the research studies I need to get through in order to write a paper, I could not learn. I finally had enough and figured out a different location and after storing some extra furniture (to be used once the kitchen area is complete), I now have a tidy, sunny work and study area:
The walls have had wallpaper removed and look yellowish, but they are much more inviting than gray. The floor is concrete and there is an outdoor loveseat facing the fireplace, but it is tidy and organized. This may not be ideal for some, but considering my situation, it works for me and I can finally get back to writing and conducting my research – YAY!!
Which brings me to why I felt the need to share my office dilemma. I’ve read several blog posts and articles on the importance of the classroom environment, not the emotional environment but the physical environment. If you spend a few moments on Google you can come across a number of these: A Comfortable Truth from 2007, How Comfortable Classrooms Lead to a Better Student Community from 2012, and more recently from 2015, Can Classroom Furniture Improve Student Engagement? Clearly our physical environment plays a large part in our emotional well-being and on our ability to focus and think. Yet I know my classroom was not very comfortable and we were warned not to make any changes. Instead we had to teach in an industrial-like environment. And wonder why some students had problems maintaining “proper decorum” throughout the school day. I couldn’t sit in my cold, gray office for more than about 30 minutes before I had to find some light and color. Why do we think students would react any differently?
Now for the twist, I also believe this idea of a “comfortable classroom” applies to online learning as well. Many many years ago a person who will remain unnamed was having trouble making one of his avatars happy in The Sims, a basic sandbox type game where the player creates their own world. The avatar was getting ill because she did not like using the bathroom. I noticed that nothing had been done with the space – no color, no pictures, no reading materials – it was just a white space. My response was that I wouldn’t want to spend time in there either! Color was added, a couple of pictures thrown up, and the avatar increased its happiness level. The digital space had been made more inviting, and I think this should apply to online courses as well.
I know there are instructional design criteria for online courses. No walls of text, certain style and size of font, color palates, minimal movement or transitions, etc. But I think we need to dig deeper and explore ways that would help someone enter an online course and think, ahhh…I am able to learn at last. This site makes me feel part of something special, part of a community of learners. Games like World of Warcraft (WoW) have figured this out and use design to help players feel part of a special community. It is time for those of us in online learning to look at digital instructional design in a new way in order to create more of those ahhh moments.