Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Changing Spaces

Just recently I attended EDspaces 2015 in New Orleans. The conference focused on forward thinking, sustainable design and the changing impact of environments on learning. The exhibits showcased products and services that mirrored the drastic changes we are now seeing in today’s classrooms. There was so much more to see than a new palate of colors on existing desks and chairs. It was as if in the last few years, when business was slow, all of these companies took advantage of the time in order to develop the type of furniture that truly enhances the student’s desire and ability to learn. For that, I thank them.

No more desks in straight rows. No more looking at education through an old lens where the focus was limited to net-assignable space and efficiency ratios. No more assumptions that learning could only take place in a formal location. Attention was paid to the latest research on how today’s students learn. The furniture I saw was designed for maximum flexibility and an easy transition from small group, to large group, to individual learning spaces. Not forgotten were soft furnishings designed specifically for the usually ignored areas where informal communications and self-organizing groups could meet and collaborate. The integration of technology into the space was no longer an afterthought — the use of technology is now a given, and is an integral part of the classroom and furniture design for today’s digital learners.

Student-Centered Active Learning Environments (SCALE) and Technology-Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms were discussed, along with the improved student gains when compared to traditional instructional environments. Spaces for innovation, discovering and experimenting were showcased in the designs for STEM/STEAM classrooms, Fab Labs and makerspaces, along with the required work surfaces, storage and display spaces, and utility infrastructure to make these spaces work.

Change is something we often discuss, but rarely do. It’s not easy and it’s not quick. But with a new breed of student, the integration of technology into the classroom and what I saw this last week, our educational facilities and everything in them are about to see a big change for the better. Everyone appears to be on board… students, instructors, administrators, manufacturers, designers. It may have been a long time coming, but it appears we have finally overcome inertia. Our job now is to keep the ball rolling!

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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