EDSpaces 2021

EDSpaces 2021 Roundup: Highlights from Pittsburgh

I spent last week in Pittsburgh, Penn., for the 2021 EDSpaces conference, put on by the Education Market Association. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 event into the virtual space, the 2021 event marked the return of the in-person gathering—in style. From an eye-opening keynote speech to a Roaring Twenties-themed EDfest celebration, the event welcomed thousands of attendees happy to be out in the world and gathered among other like-minded individuals. Keep reading for the highlights of this year’s conference!

Plenary Keynote Session

This year’s keynote speaker, Bill Strickland, took the stage and announced that he didn’t have a speech prepared, joking that it was too early in the morning. Instead, he walked the audience through a series of pictures and told the associated stories that represented his life’s work. The topic of the presentation, “Make the Impossible Possible: A Blueprint for Change,” covered ways that educational facilities in low-income areas can create positive, permanent change in communities. He’s worked to establish performance venues, art studios, culinary schools and more in the unlikeliest of environments all around the world. He emphasized the importance of treating people like people, no matter their circumstances, and his belief that the U.S. can become less polarized by forming genuine connections and partnerships with one another.

Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Penn., as seen from the outdoor patio of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center
Photo credit: Matt Jones

The Show Floor

The show floor of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center was packed full of booths from vendors in every variety of the education vertical. Furniture manufacturers took up the lion’s share of space, with no less than half a dozen mock classrooms set up to demonstrate active-learning alternatives to the standard classroom desk. We spoke with representatives from KI Furniture, MiEN Company, NorvaNivel, Whitney Brothers and more about modern furnishings for modern classrooms.

Other vendors that we spoke with (in no particular order) include:

  • Vaask: Jon Olsen, founder of Vaask, demonstrated a hand sanitizer fixture with a distinct aesthetic flair. He explained that as these types of fixtures became more widespread during the pandemic, he began noticing cheap or obtrusive free-standing dispensers clumsily set up in spaces that had been designed to reflect a certain design or aesthetic. The more elegant, wall-mounted Vaask dispensers offer the same function without sacrificing the excruciatingly conceived architecture of something like a building lobby, campus library, or residence hall.
  • Nook: It was hard to get a good look at any of the Nook pods or booths set up around the floor, as they were constantly in use by conference attendees catching up on emails or making phone calls. The semi-open collaborative spaces help transform empty space into collaborative or solo work environments. They’ve also been named a Certified Autism Resource by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
  • NightCap: The brother/sister team of Michael and Shirah Benarde from West Palm Beach, Fla., attended their first EDSpaces with NightCap, the “drink spiking prevention scrunchie” as seen on a Season 12 episode of the television show Shark Tank. A simple hair scrunchie unfolds into a drink cover that fits over all standard-sized glasses, reducing the risk of the drink being spiked while one’s back is turned. The duo has formed business partnerships with a variety of universities, and they can even be customized with colors and logos.
  • OE Electrics: Michael O’Keefe of OE Electrics, an electrical manufacturer based in the United Kingdom, demonstrated its education solutions for charging, data connectivity, 360-degree socket access, replacement cartridges and more.

Final Thoughts

Beyond the conference itself, we attended a couple social events: A happy hour hosted by MiEN Company and EDfest. The more people we talked to, the more we heard some slight variation of the same story: Their organization was hesitant to send people to the event against the backdrop of the pandemic, but the attendees themselves jumped at the chance to attend a real, live, in-person event; talk shop in person; and enjoy small talk and casual conversation. No Microsoft Teams meeting in the world can take the place of eye contact, a smile and a firm handshake.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].