Jane Zhang (MDes ’17) bridges designers and educators with room2learn

A Pinterest for classrooms: that’s how Smithsonian magazine describes room2learn, a peer-to-peer web resource cofounded by Jane Zhang (MDes ’17) and Grace O’Shea, a public-school teacher in New York. Zhang and O’Shea met at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s hackathon HIVE HackED in fall 2015 and discovered a shared interest in improving classroom design.

Zhang and O’Shea pitched room2learn at HackED, winning first prize. They also reached finalist status at MIT’s Global IDEAS Challenge. Through the Harvard Innovation Lab’s (i-lab) 12-week Venture Incubation Program, Zhang and O’Shea enriched the site further, developing it into a veritable resource for educators and administrators.

With room2learn, Zhang and O’Shea aim to bridge their respective fields, design and education. “Learning has changed; classrooms haven’t,” Zhang tells Smithsonian. “We bridge designers and educators for the 21st century.”

Among other resources, room2learn presents a palette of implementable ideas for teachers to consider for their classrooms. Organized by a tagging system, ideas, photographs, and renderings are searchable by metrics like room type and school level. The site also offers architects and furniture designers a showcase for their work and platform through which to connect with schools and teachers.

Zhang and O’Shea coined the hashtag #HackYourClassroom to encourage educators to share classroom ideas via social media. (And there’s even a competition currently underway until September 16.)

“Designers, by virtue of having spatial fluency, have immense capacity to shape learning experiences,” Zhang observes. “At the same time, we have much to learn from educators on programming vernacular spaces.

“When we begin with people and programming rather than form, how does our design process shift? How might elements like lighting, color, and furnishings impact the daily lives of learners and educators? These are the questions that educators are waking up to, and I believe it’s time that designers join the conversation.”