How we “do” education has changed immensely in the last decade. Pedagogy has evolved and the role of the teacher has shifted from the bestower of knowledge to the facilitator of it. Educators now flip their classrooms, encourage active, project-based learning and increasingly use online tools to deliver a more personalized education experience. These changes in teaching and learning have had a dramatic effect on how we think about and design classroom spaces.
“The old, more fixed, more static, more traditional classroom layout is becoming obsolete. It just can’t support those new behaviors and activities and, in fact, gets in the way of them,” says Sean Corcorran, general manager, Steelcase Education.
The word “classroom”, itself, is becoming an outdated term. Many people prefer to say “learning spaces” and the vocabulary of education now includes words like “flexible,” multimodal,” and “collaborative.”
“The [word] classroom has become so pejorative that the minute you say it it kind of boxes people’s thinking,” says Mark Thaler, an architect with Gensler, a global design firm.
The term “learning space” doesn’t come with any preconceived notions and shifts the thinking to what needs to be accomplished in the space. Design really derives from there.
Many of the changes we now see in education are made possible by the integration of technology. The rise of 1:1 and BYOD learning environments, especially, brings with it a host of challenges that simply didn’t exist before.
The biggest challenge when it comes to devices is keeping them charged says Cindy Weinschreider, director of marketing Communications, Bretford Manufacturing Inc. “Tables with built-in power and other power-enabled furniture is necessary to prevent battery drain, which in turn, interrupts teaching and learning,” she says.
Often, schools make the investment in devices and do not think about power requirements. Many U.S schools were built long before the laptop computer or the tablet existed and certainly before they were mainstays in education. School buildings are not designed to adequately support modern power needs and adding outlets to a room isn’t as easy as it may sound. That makes furniture with built-in power all the more necessary. BYOD and 1:1 classrooms also need storage solutions that can both charge and sync devices. These solutions might be movable and on wheels or wall-mounted depending upon floorspace or the aesthetic you’re trying to achieve.
If you were to walk into a brand new, state-of-the-art school you might see armchairs in the library with outlets on the side, tables with a built-in power supply and even charging stations similar to those in an airport terminal.
Another hallmark of modern learning spaces is flexibility. Teachers and students use all of the classroom. They work in groups. Some students may huddle together using iPads to complete an assignment. Others may work together at the front of the room using an interactive display. Others still, may work with the teacher to receive further instruction in an area they struggle with. Every part of the room can be used for something different and it can happen at a moments notice.