Monday, November 12, 2012

I Could Start a School In Evernote's Offices Today #EvernoteLife

I've been reading articles on Learning Spaces the past year. Lots of pictures of cool new designs and floor plans for these new schools. I would read and look at the pictures and nod my head in agreement. For me, it was still theoretical. I needed to see it first hand. This weekend, I had the chance to see innovative learning spaces, but it wasn't at a school.

I spent the day at Evernote's office in California. It was awesome. I got to meet the amazing staff I worked with over the interwebs and CEO Phil Libin (@plibin) stopped by with his awesome Empire Strikes Back coffee mug to chat with all of the ambassadors and to just see how things were going. From start to finish, the entire day was an awesome experience that really got me thinking. I could actually start a school with the set-up Evernote uses in their offices.

The traditional school layout is based around classrooms. Each classroom is designed for one teacher to teach 30 students in a particular content area. Classrooms that have similar classes are located in the same part of the building. All English teachers are in the the North end of the building, Science in the South end and so on. Kids shuffle from one class to the next every 45 minutes or so to get instruction on the next subject. This format seems to have "worked" for decades and there doesn't seem to be any serious push to change it. The way Evernote laid out their offices is the exact opposite and I think it has something to do with their success.

Evernote does not lump departments all together on one floor in cubicles. The layout is open floor where all of the different departments are mixed in together. Designers sit with programmers who are sitting next to sales who are across from PR. The design encourages people to get up and move around and to work with others in different departments easily.

Why is this not done in schools? There has been plenty of talk about cross-curricular needs, yet we section departments off from one another. If students stayed in one part of the building and had access to all of the different departments in one spot, might that encourage stronger bonds between students and teachers? Wouldn't schools see great collaboration between the arts and sciences if they shared a hallway? These are important questions to ask. If schools want collaboration across the curriculum, space needs to be utilized to accomplish it.

I could not find a cubicle in the building. I tried my hardest to find one, but all I found were desks and work spaces. The open format allowed for easier communication from one person to the next. I saw employees working across desks and huddled over drawings without the confining feeling of a cubicle. Cubicles are just the business world's versions of classrooms. Do you know anyone that actually likes working in a cubicle? I didn't think so.

When employees need to work or have a meeting a more private settings, the offices are filled with conference rooms of all sizes. Some are large board room types with the long table, but others are small meeting rooms that sort of resemble the confessional booths from Real World, only a bit bigger and with less crying.

Yes, the conference rooms are named after video games. Each floor is assigned a letter and the video game named rooms are based on that letter. Awesome. Room numbers are so lame. I need to come up with a name for my room and cover the room number with it. I guarantee kids will remember where my room is now.

I think the idea of rooms for meetings when meetings are needed is great. The open space area allows students to work and collaborate when needed. When something a bit more private is needed, presentation planning, student conferences, etc, they can be used. If we really want students to be independent thinkers and learners, we need to provide them the space that encourages this model. The traditional classroom is still geared toward the teacher as the sage on the stage. Even and I move to a more collaborative environment in my classroom, the projector still faces the front of the room and the students still look to me as the hub of information.

The other big things I loved about Evernote's offices was the fact they covered just about every surface with Ideapaint. Ideapaint turns any surface into a dry erase board. Desktops and walls are now a canvas for people to brainstorm and plan.

There were other walls filled with notes from meetings employees used that I cannot share, but there were elements of fun and work everywhere I turned. Ideapaint allowed Evernote to utilize all of their space and not waste paper for simple brainstorming meetings. Many of us still like to write things down to help us through a thought process. Ideapaint is perfect for just that. Best of all, Evernote can take the pictures of the work and save them right into a note. Clean the wall and start all over.

At the end of the day on Fridays, they have a gathering of all employees to share a snack and a drink. In most places, people are out the door, but you can sense the environment is different. Teachers are out the door to their local watering hole the minute the end of the day bell rings on a Friday. Doesn't that same more about the school environment than it does the teachers? If the school environment was better for teaching and learning, would teachers and students hang around to get more done? If schools offered S'Mores like Evernote did when I was there, you might have more people after school willing to help.

The biggest push back I see is from teachers who think our students can't work in such a free flowing environment. To them I say, "Yes, you are right."

However, that's not the students' fault. They do not know any better because we are not preparing them for a world that is starting to look more like Evernote and less like the classroom. If we do our job as educators, our students will not only be successful in these new environments, but they will be innovators and leaders.

I had the best time at Evernote and I can't wait until I get to go back and work with these great people. These are the types of people we need thinking about education reform. If you haven't checked out Evernote, you are missing out!


  1. This is my first opportunity to visit this website, I found some interesting this topics.
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  2. If more schools resembled these offices, I would definitely spend more time there! We need more opportunities for artistic expression on our campuses (student-painted murals for starters).


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