Elevating the Discussion On Transforming Education

Expert teams of designers, architects and administrators managing and renovating educational facilities gathered at EDspaces 2019 in Milwaukee last month, elevating the discussion on transforming education. Attendees understand that today’s students are multitasking, tech-enriched collaborators with a variety of learning styles. They also understand the value of education for their own teams, as they took advantage of conference educational offerings that included plenary and education sessions, interactive classroom designs and tours of new K–12 and higher education facilities.

transforming education

Photo credit: EDmarket.org

AIA - CAE Reception

Spaces4Learning: How did 2019 compare to past years? What are growth trends compared to five years ago?

Jim McGarry: EDspaces has been named one of the fastest growing tradeshows in the United States for the last three years running in several different categories. Attendance this year is about 10 percent higher compared to last year. More education institutions are bringing their teams to EDspaces so they can explore their facilities’ challenges and discover approaches to the pedagogical and technological needs as they design and create spaces to better serve future student populations.

S4L: What were some of your highlights and takeaways from this year’s convention?

McGarry: Every year there are new ideas at EDspaces that enhance attendee experience and expand the scope of learning and fun. Milwaukee was no exception.

One of the most anticipated programs was the designed classrooms program, where each year A&D firms, dealers and manufacturers compete to design and outfit each of the classrooms where professional development happens. Attendees get the opportunity to visualize and experience new classroom design theory as well as some of the most innovative products and technology available. This year, we held an open house for attendees to more thoroughly explore the classrooms and chat with the designers and manufacturers about how concepts and furnishings might work in their projects.

Since the classroom program has been well received, we expanded the program to feature cafeteria seating and furniture on the exhibit floor. Since every school and college campus has a designated food service area, we thought the EDspaces 2,000+ participants would appreciate being served lunch in designed seating areas. This gave teams a hands-on opportunity to consider a variety of possibilities available when planning for a new cafeteria or dining hall.

S4L: EDspaces has seen some tremendous changes over the last few years, evolving from a distributor kind of show to one addressing the broader education sector. Can you talk about the changes that were put into this year’s program — the networking opportunities, the sessions, the exhibit hall?

McGarry: Exhibitors rank seeing customers as critical to their success, and delivering outstanding ROI for our exhibitors is a high priority for us as the organizer of this international event. The growth we’ve seen in school participation is a result of new marketing efforts and our unique scholarship program that helps fund travel and registration for those districts with planned construction and renovation projects. Another interesting trend is that even with the steady growth in school, architect and designer participation, EDspaces continues to be the only home for distributor education. We continued our commitment to the distributor community by hosting the pre-conference Educational Distribution Symposium, sponsored by Spaces4Learning. This education program inspired top management and sales professionals to reach new levels of service to the educational products marketplace and to work in partnership with their vendors and customers.

S4L: Will you talk about the themes of this year’s conference and how they were predicated on changes in the market — sustainability, STEM and STEAM education, changes in pedagogy, new demands on security, etc.?

McGarry: EDspaces is focused on the intersection of technology, space and pedagogy, reinforcing that a successful educational environment cannot be designed without exploring these issues in tandem. Our volunteer program committee identifies program areas that are timely to challenges facing school districts and the A&D community. This year, the focus was on active learning environments, collaboration, community engagement, equity, health and wellness, integrating furniture and technology, makerspaces/STEM labs, pedagogy and space and safety and security.

transforming education

Photo credit: EDmarket.org

Makerspace and hands-on activity lab on display in the EDspaces exhibit hall.

EDspaces is always adjusting and changing to address the unique challenges in the education arena, so this year there were new program offerings that included a pre-conference Learning Lab, STEM Innovation Tour, exploring how school districts of diverse backgrounds promote STEM and STEAM learner-centered education.

Sustainability and wellness of students and faculty continue to be a focus, so we created a lounge on the exhibit floor where a series of 30-minute professional development sessions highlighted these important aspects of educational design. It also housed a gallery of ideas from Knowledge Partner USGBC and sponsor Interface to highlight concepts and examples of wellness and sustainability.

S4L: Technology is playing an ever more ubiquitous role in all aspects of education, including facilities, learning space design and teaching and learning itself. How large a part of this year’s conference was technology, and how do you see it expanding in the future?

McGarry: Yes, we see technology playing a larger role, as it is thoroughly embedded into every aspect of education. That’s why we created the new Knowledge Partnerships with AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, and ATLIS, the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools. The number of vendors showing integrated tech products is growing as more schools bring their tech experts to EDspaces. We even had a VR specialty space to highlight its use in design. We definitely see an expanding role of technology in the future.

We’ve integrated new technology into our own conference management, using artificial intelligence to connect attendees with relevant education sessions, peers and products through the EDspaces app. We launched it via our registration and mobile app, providing suggested connections to participants, making the EDspaces experience more meaningful.

transforming education

Photo credit: EDmarket.org

Scenes from the EDspaces 2019 exhibit hall.

S4L: A lot of the focus on this year’s show was K–12. Do you see it growing to include an equal focus on higher education as well? Can you discuss that?

McGarry: About 20 percent of the education attendees were from higher ed institutions. This is growing every year. We are encouraging their participation through the types of vendors on the exhibit floor that they can see nowhere else as well as the specific higher ed sessions and tours of cutting-edge buildings on higher-ed campuses.

S4L: What do you see as the major trends you’ll be spotlighting at your conferences over the next few years? And do you have any new types of events you’ll be hosting?

McGarry: In Charlotte in 2020 we have plans to highlight a few new areas. We’re excited to continue to expand the technology presence and look to create an area that will showcase what’s coming next. We also know that there’s a growing need to create spaces for students with special needs, so we are going to build out an area to allow a conversation about designing for these types of areas. And lastly, as the interior designer attendees grow, we are going to focus more on the finishes and materials they can specify that work best in the high-use education environments.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.