On the box, off the box – INF536 Blog Post 1

(a) Describe a problem space that is not serving the purpose it could do, for learning 

The orchestra my son was playing in during music camp had a very small podium to rehearse on – about 8mx4m for about 35-40 students including 1st, 2nd & 3rd violins, cellos, violas and double basses. The podium had an upright piano – which wasn’t being used but can be moved but not off the podium. The “norm” would for orchestras is almost double this – a recommended 1.7-2m2 per person – this particularly has to do with health and safety guidelines – for sound exposure (Sound Advice, 2007).

(b) Explain, using some of the suggested reading, why that space might benefit from some thinking on its design

The musicians only come together for four days of rehearsals with the final concert on the fifth day. Most do not speak English, and the average age was about 12 years – an interesting case of “extreme users” as suggested by Brown (2008) where an effective learning space is critical.

Kimbell refers to design thinking as “a set of contingent, embodied routines that reconfigure the sociomaterial world” (Kimbell, 2012, p. 141) – in this case the “embodied routine” of using a podium was limiting the efficacy of the space and not allowing “design in use”. Further the context of a junior amateur orchestra was not the embodied knowledge of the (professional) conductor which prevented a reconfiguration of space and thereby value.

The impact the limited space has includes the fact that it is very difficult for the conductor and the teachers aiding the orchestra to move between the ranks, and individual players – this is normal behaviour in amateur and student orchestras since the players are often too young to just take the instructions and write them in the music unaided, or even sometimes to understand exactly what is meant or asked for so this needs to be demonstrated in situe. All players should be able to see the conductor which was not the case.

Day 1 – squeezing 38 players on a podium

Viola players off the edge at the back

First Violins nearly on the edge

A lot of space and few observers

Day 2, piano moved not much improvement

(c) Describe the changes, however small, you make to that space as a result, in order to attempt to create a better space for learning

The interesting part of the equation is although the podium is small, the rehearsal space is very big, and there are relatively few observers. Although I made the suggestion to the conductor that there was no particular need for the rehearsals to take place on the podium, and we as observers would be happy to sit in one part of the room while they took over the rest – he wasn’t open to the idea.

However, I saw my suggestion in action on the third day when I went to look at the rehearsal of another orchestra. Voila! This conductor obviously was not constrained by the box! The first violins, cellos and double basses sprawled over the front edge, as did the conductor and the spectators were pushed back.

Compared to the limited freedom of movement which leads to more cramped posture and claustrophobic feeling of the first orchestra, there was more space, and this space was used more often by the conductor and teacher-aides to move around the players and “show not tell” what they were requiring.

Why? I can only imagine that with six cello players needing chairs (as opposed to just three in the first orchestra) they just HAD to move down, it was no longer an option to stay “in the box” in this case the constraint was a source of inspiration, and flexibility of mind and “risk taking” behaviour was exhibited (Kuratko, Goldsby, & Hornsby, 2012).

Conductor off the box!

Violins have plenty of space

Cellos spread out. Violas on the podium

no-one falling off the edge!


Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86(6), 84–92. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=heh&AN=32108052&site=ehost-live

Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: Part II. Design and Culture, 4(2), 129–148. http://doi.org/10.2752/175470812X13281948975413

Kuratko, D. F., Goldsby, M. G., & Hornsby, J. S. (2012). The design-thinking process. In Innovation acceleration: transforming organizational thinking (1st ed, pp. 103–123). Boston: Pearson.

Sound Advice. (2007). Sound Advice Note 12 – Orchestras. Retrieved July 22, 2015, from http://www.soundadvice.info/thewholestory/san12.htm


Funnily enough I did ask my son and his fellow other viola players how they felt as well as the other parents. The students were a lot less indignant than their parents. Is it because they are much younger and have less insight and perspective? Or is it because they are more happy to accept what someone in authority decides? Or do they get less upset and excited generally about this type of thing? Didn’t it matter enough? Would it have mattered more if it went on for a longer period of time? Anyone have suggestions? Do we care too much?

4 thoughts on “On the box, off the box – INF536 Blog Post 1

  1. I love how you have used a less ‘traditional’ space to carry out your design task! We all automatically think of our classrooms when asked to change a space made for learning, but it has been refreshing to see people have been thinking outside the box and creating change in spaces that we don’t see from day to day.
    The simple changes you have incorporated have made a world of difference to the enjoyment and therefore learning of music for these children! No one likes being on top of each other while trying to master a skill. Well done on taking a ‘risk’ and having it be accepted by those who it mattered to most. As you said it may have just been that you were in a position of ‘authority’, but I am sure that if those children felt strongly about the changes you were trying to implement that they would have been able to let you know.


  2. What an exciting life led, working with talented musicians!! I believe younger people are happy and adjust easily to different spaces. They are so much more flexible than adults. I consider myself flexible and a ‘go with the flow’ type but children have the attitude to learn in spite of us! Im a primary school teacher in a leadership role, this means in and out of the classroom at different times through the week. The students want consistency in their routines but aren’t that fussed if im there or not as long as its part of their weekly routine!


  3. I love the shift in thinking this subject is initiating. It was gratifying to read that your reflection on space recognises the impact ritualised behaviour has on pedagogy. Similarly, my own examination of my space forced me to recognise the damage adherence to ritual can make upon student learning.
    The interference poor space considerations have on the student engagement and attainment is explicitly demonstrated in your photographs of young musicians on the edge of the space. It was interesting that another conductor recognised the importance of utilising the rehearsal space for learning. Ruth M. Mirtz (2004) has noted that the design of the classroom, its movement and lack of movement, are “physical manifestations of power” (p. 14) for both teacher and student. I think we might be able to attribute this power issue to the case you have raised.
    As Miller-Cochran and Gierdowski point out as they cite Reynolds in Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference “we should not ignore the physicality and materiality of learning environments, asserting that “places are hugely important to learning processes …because the kinds of spaces we occupy determine, to some extent, the kinds of work we can do or the types of artifacts we can create” It’s not possible in the time constraints but it’s a shame we can’t measure the efficacy of learning for students off and on the podium. Particularly as I hope that your suggestion for movement into the rehearsal space might have yielded better results for the kids.


  4. What a beautiful example of the research in action – creative constraints leading to the ‘right’ answer, not something to bemoan. As a percussionist, often placed teetering on the back of stages or huddled under the stage in the pit, I can sympathise, let alone empathise. The photographs really make clear the “pain”, too. Making that pain feel painful to the reader is useful to bring the research to life.


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