Education Transformation

Educators today are engaging a new generation of students with multi-modal learning strategies while effectively utilizing advances in technology. In this evolving pedagogy, there has been a steady transition from the traditional knowledge-based, faculty-centered approach to a student-centered learning model. Communication technology and digital resources are supporting research and analysis by active learners in a student-centered environment where faculty serves as a guide and facilitator rather than as the source for all information. A variety of flexible spaces and systems, from technology to furniture, are essential to supporting this evolution.

Higher-ed pedagogy is adjusting to a student-centered style of education, multiple learning modalities, and technology. Until very recently, faculty have been “digital immigrants,” while today’s students are “digital natives” who are able to learn while engaging in multiple activities simultaneously; technology is a constant part of their environment. For these students, technology and digital information are ubiquitous elements of their lives, and they expect to learn in a multimedia environment with a multitasking process. With the digital gap between faculty and students closing, spaces designed to support future teachers and learners need to be informed by both pedagogy and technology.

A student-centered learning process recognizes variability in individual learning styles and provides for learning to occur in multiple modes — listening, reading, writing, and researching — as well as either individually or in collaborative groups. This approach allows students to interact with the content, allowing for deeper understanding and ownership of their learning. The effective integration and use of technology within a “learner-centeredness” framework is a developmental one for teachers and learners. Emphasis needs to be placed on teaching skills in information gathering, evaluation, and synthesis into student knowledge and understanding. Technology will continue to play an important role in this process.

Students today are accustomed to being connected with and communicating with some form of technology throughout the day; whether on their own personal device or in a university lab, they’re collaborating electronically via the Internet, social networking, searching, accessing, instant messaging, listening to music, and watching videos. Technology has had a significant impact on learning and creating multi-mode learners. This combined with advances in online education and the uses of technology throughout education have resulted in the evolution from “content knowledge based to process and behavioral knowledge — the ability to find and analyze information.” 

Learning spaces are evolving to address the wide range of content, methods, and medium for education, as well as adapting to various learning modalities. Even in large lecture halls, technology is being used to support learner-centered communication and interactive group learning. Classroom clicker systems and electronic messaging via the Internet allow real-time responses, enabling teachers to interact with student group clusters, accommodated by flexible architectural and furniture systems. As classroom systems and design evolve and improve, faculty will adapt, becoming more skilled and experienced with a student-centered collaborative learning methodology supported by technology.

Integrating Technology and Flexible Space
The expansion and renovation of the School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) at the University of Oregon (UO), provides a range of flexible environments for both formal and informal learning. Renovated and new classrooms, a new Digital Commons, Digital Labs, and smaller seminar rooms offer a wide variety of spaces for formal learning. Common areas as well as multiple breakout spaces in hallways on all levels serve for informal gathering and learning outside the classroom and lab spaces and faculty offices. This range of space provides a variety of opportunities for faculty and students to engage and learn.

New and renovated classrooms include a wide range in size with 36, 72, and 146 seats, and all offer technology-rich environments. Standardized audiovisual systems include sound reinforcement, overhead projection, and multiple flat-screen displays distributed on all walls around the rooms and, when appropriate, suspended from the ceilings. The distribution of screens considers view angles and distance for both student and instructor, with one screen oriented specifically for instructor viewing. Current camera technology offers excellent documentation and classroom capture ability, as well as distance education. Each classroom in this case is equipped with a remote control room for sound, camera, and video control for distance education purposes. With current digital display screens, camera technology, and user-friendly instructional software, many institutions no longer see it necessary to separate distance education classrooms from traditional ones. For many institutions, technology and “digital native” faculty will effectively deliver a hybrid model of education where both distance education and in-person education are delivered without duplication.

User-friendly, intuitive controls and interactive systems are combined and controlled from standardized teaching podiums. These are equipped with hardware and software systems easily operated from a central location to control content, overhead projection, sound, and lighting simultaneously and seamlessly. Power is distributed along the perimeter of all classrooms, with additional power distribution located in floor boxes in the new classrooms. The only distinguishing element between new and renovated classroom space is power distribution and use of floor boxes. Due to existing structure, cost, room proportion and size, and anticipated uses, electrical floor boxes were not added to renovated classroom spaces.

Universal WiFi access is provided throughout the building with receivers located in all learning spaces and hallways. These technical systems are combined with flexible flat-floor classrooms and moveable furniture systems, both tables and chairs, maximizing the ability to reconfigure student seats for collaborative, interactive learning sessions. Typically, each learning space combines traditional medium and new technological systems, giving educators the option to deliver content while interacting and collaborating with students using the most effective method and medium.

Multiple seminar and conference room spaces are provided on each level for group collaboration and much needed meeting areas for small groups. These interactive learning rooms are also intended to mirror typical meeting spaces from professional and media agency spaces to provide a close real-world experience. To extend the learning environment, encouraging faculty and students to meet between classes, additional breakout areas are provided along wider circulation paths. These spaces with power, data, and digital displays, facilitate informal learning and collaboration in between classrooms, seminar, and conference rooms and faculty offices.

Two spaces have been created to address computer laboratory curriculum for the SOJC — two Digital Labs and a Digital Commons. Both are equipped with the similarly technology-rich environments of the building’s classrooms in terms of overhead projection and a central control location/podium. Both Digital Labs are equipped with power and data at the perimeter as well as overhead with whip and power pole configurations to allow for perimeter, centralized, or group configuration of 16 student desktop computer stations. These labs are more similar to a traditional computer lab and most often will only be reconfigured in between terms.

The Digital Commons is envisioned as a flexible open studio-type environment similar to today’s newsroom. The design aligns three lab spaces with 16 student stations each. The labs are separated by moveable glass partitions which, when closed, create breakout spaces. When opened, the labs flow together, creating one open studio environment for deadline-based, creative work that is often executed around the clock every day of the week. The ultimate goal is to maximize desktop computing while providing ultimate flexibility in all systems so that the space can be reconfigured into a studio environment where educators and students collaborate and explore converging media formats.

The Evolution Will Continue

As higher education strives to provide individualized learning experiences, pedagogy and technology will continue to converge. To accommodate this evolution, learning spaces need to combine traditional medium with new technology. Space needs to be inherently flexible in order to allow for many delivery approaches and multiple learning modes. In a student-centered model, the learning environment, which includes informal learning space beyond the classroom and lab, requires a wide range of spaces that fully integrate technology. Preparedness and adaptability will ready us for whatever the future holds. If innovation and ingenuity continue, the evolution will persist and developmental improvements will come to fruition.

Those designing for higher education need only recognize that change will continue to occur, and encourage campus planners and administrators to continue to embrace the integration of technology in the learning and teaching environment so that students may reap the benefits. 

Miles Woofter is an architect and senior associate at Yost Grube Hall Architecture. He has worked with educational and governmental clients for the past 15 years on a wide range of technology-rich projects. He is currently the project manager for the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication’s expansion and renovation as well as providing technology design and management on Central Washington University’s Samuelson Communication and Technology Center. He can be reached at 503/222-0150 or [email protected].