Classroom as Coffeeshop?

I see it all the time on Twitter.  “You should <INSERT NAME OF FAMOUS COFFEE SHOP HERE> your classroom.  Good idea?  Or bad idea?

The real answer is that it depends.  The focus on redesigning classrooms should be to create the spatial conditions that support the realization of the student experience you want kids to have at school.  This can mean many things depending on the school, but jumping to an immediate solution that the classroom space should be a “coffeehouse” is probably not a viable or realistic first step.  On the other hand, considering how cafes, coffeehouses and other spaces beyond school can inform the design of classrooms, and schools themselves, is an interesting question to explore. 

My provocation to you:  Design intellectual spaces for learning based on a community-held set of beliefs associated with what you want kids to experience as learners while at school.  Start there.  And when you unpack that, I’m guessing the design that you’ll arrive at is not a coffeeshop.

On the other hand, students work more and more in these types of spaces.  As a freelancer that employs many different types of spaces in the work that I do, I see it all the time.  Coffeeshops are on-demand, highly social, filled with technology (and food and drink), very fluid, loud, and interactive.  And kids find a way to make all of that work, and have come to expect that these types of spaces will be available to them.  They are part of the equation for students today.

So, it does make sense to understand these spaces in the context of student learning and what they might offer with regards to learning space design.

What is interesting about coffeeshops is the human dynamic of interaction present there, and how that could potentially inform spatial design in schools.  So it’s not about the things of a coffeeshop, which most people mention when they talk or write about coffeeshopping, but understanding the patterns of interactions that occur there.  I’m not interested in recreating the “coffeeshop as classroom” at all, but I am interested in understanding the conditions that make such spaces compelling for human beings, and how these conditions could inform a school spatial solution.  That also includes understanding other types of spaces, such as co-working locations, incubators, start-ups, and makerspaces - spaces beyond school - that present unique conditions that students will eventually encounter and will be required to understand and employ as part of their career or life.

While focusing on a coffeeshop classroom is trendy and a blog post about it will get retweeted wildly, think beyond trying to create a space not really intended for education as the primary space for education.  Real space design focuses intimately on identifying the student experience first and uses those expectations as a framework for pivoting to a spatial response that can support those expectations.  If components of spaces beyond school can contribute to and inform that response, good.  If not, that's ok too.  Visiting such spaces with a careful eye focused on understanding human interactions in those spaces is the key, not the cafe table or the other things in the space.  Getting ideas is always good, and having new ideas from other professions and locations can be a valuable and healthy way to initiate and direct educational change.