Don't Fall Into the Box

Sage on the stage, independent study, collaborative teaming, hands-on/project-based teaching methodologies and many other learning/teaching styles and methods that have evolved and transitioned throughout the past 20 years will not be thinking of the past, but will continue to be married harmoniously together. The archaic “factory model” of double-loaded corridors, with repetitively aligned classrooms filled with nice and tidy rows of student desks, will continue to become a thing of the past.

Imagine the Possibilities
Imagine educational spaces that are inviting, accommodate multiple learning activities, appeal to varying teaching methods and learning styles, represent a pursuit to provide access to our digitally immersed society of ever-changing technology — one that is filled with natural daylight and reflects our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.

Change of Pace Impacts Learning Environments
Educators are looking at ways to adapt their teaching styles to appeal to the multi-tasking, technology-, digitally and eco-driven new generation of students. Students are immersed in digital media and technology at such an early age that it appears that it may be having an effect on not only how students learn, but how they remain interested in a subject due to the amount of information being presented on any given day. Out of necessity, they peruse the information at great pace, navigating through it differently than previous generations. They do this as an effort to determine if it captures them.

This should cause all of us who impact educational spaces to pause and think: perhaps this may have an effect on the design of educational spaces to better serve this generation as well as future generations and enhance a teacher’s ability to utilize a variety of teaching methods and appeal to their students with creative learning styles. Does the answer lie in how businesses remain adaptable, nimble and flexible in our highly competitive, rapidly changing global society?

Not Too Unlike the Past, Yet Vastly Different
The answer may not be too unlike the generations before us, modeling schools after the businesses of the time: the factory. The future may also too mimic business models of the day, but, rest assured, it will be a vast contrast to those of the past. Schools and businesses alike are collaborative, independent, hands-on, have sage-on-stage moments, incorporate interdisciplinary teams, require multi-tasking, are immersed in digital media and technology, and are a reflection of responsibility and accountability to be good stewards of the environment.

Educational spaces may need to become a collection of more diverse types of space to flexibly accommodate these needs and approaches. Do they begin to look more like today’s office environments that, if designed well, accommodate these already? Is there a mixture of open and closed spaces to offer a variety of opportunities to be explored? This collection of diverse space should also allow for a variety of group sizes. A collaborative café for 25 to 50 students provides a large, flexible, enclosed, visually transparent space for multiple activities — whether a lab setting with a wet area requiring special equipment (art, science, construction), a large group activity or even activity centers.

An enclosed classroom for 20 to 25 students provides a more traditional setting and, at the same time, can be used for an array of activities specific to medium-size groups. A seminar/project space for 15 to 20 students provides a small group setting for focused discussion, learning or could be used for individual and team projects. A conference space for eight to 10 people provides an intimate, small learning environment or team collaboration. Corridors would become “found space,” disappearing and becoming usable educational space in lieu of space dedicated to moving people to and from those neatly aligned, repetitive classrooms. Being replaced by large open spaces connected with the enclosed spaces mentioned above could consist of soft seating areas to promote casual small group interactions and/or a small group break-out alternative; a table area for hands-on projects, collaboration or large group activities/presentations; workstations for students use in independent learning/studies; a café/kitchenette space; a “Kinko’s” work area for projects offering printing, cutting, copies, binding, etc. The dead space between these zones could be filled with single small tables and a piece of soft seating or two, providing breakout alternatives to collaborate.

On the surface, this may not sound too different than a well-designed activity space surrounded by those repetitive classrooms. But, again, think of a well-designed office environment with diverse types of spaces serving 100 to 125 students: students and teachers collaborating without any restraint to a specific space for set period of time awaiting the factory bell to ring and send them off to their next destination. Instead, each would be allowed to flow and move in a space that enhances and immerses the students into the curriculum, accommodating not only different teaching styles but differing learning styles. In this, we desire to help foster and retain a small learning community.
Ideas Out There but not Widely Integrated
In the future, could furniture model that of an office to further enhance flexibility? Could schools create business partnerships to share space, resources and provide an alternative to creating multi-media meeting spaces, community media centers and community athletic/wellness centers? Could it integrate community E.M.T./police facilitie, enhancing safety, security and emergency responsiveness?

Don’t Put Yourself ‘In a Box’
As we approach these questions, dialogue and collaborate to dream bigger with our colleagues and clients, we will together come up with ideas that no one could have come to on his or her own. This is the only way to properly serve and provide leadership that fosters a culture where ideas can come from anywhere at any time and at any age.

Keegan Jackson is the partner and vice president with Hollis & Miller Architects in Overland Park, Kan.