Spotlight on Designing for Student Engagement

Student engagement is becoming a more and more integral part of school planning and design with each passing year. Bill Payne, CEO and Board Member for the firm Fanning + Howey, based in Indianapolis has seen this trend grow and answers a few questions about the growth and direction of designing for student engagement. Bill guides the architecture and engineering firm in its mission to support educational achievement through the design of vibrant environments for learning. As a principal and architect, Bill has directed the design of more than 1,200 new construction or renovation projects, including some of the nation’s top-ranked primary and secondary schools.

Q. What are some trends you are noticing when it comes to designing for student engagement?

A. The most important thing is empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning, and the designs are now facilitating that more and more. No longer are facilities being designed to house several lecture-style classrooms, but now we are seeing spaces that are engaging and that mirror things more in a way that resembles how the real world works. This means students working in teams to achieve goals or figure out the answer to a problem.

We are seeing these old models of learning like lecture style classrooms being blown up, and giving way to more flexible styles that put students at the center. For our projects, we are involving the interior design team earlier and earlier. Furniture choice is crucial to engagement as is everything from the windows to the walls and doors.

There is also an idea we work with that is “no square foot can go to waste.” Even hallway corridors can be used as collaborative spaces.

Q. What are some trends you expect to see take off in the next few years when it comes to designing for student engagement?

A. Well, less and less are we seeing your standard library in a school. Now, they are more spaces that are reserved for technology and collaboration, and the librarian serves more as a guide to help students uncover these resources and use them. These types of changes are occurring wherever students gather in a learning space, and that can be pretty much anywhere.

Also, lots of designing for student engagement with technology and other resources has been aimed at the high school level. As things progress in the future, this trend will certainly extend to middle school and elementary school. Younger and younger students will favor spaces where they are challenged to do group work and given the proper technology to do so. Even students in kindergarten will begin to learn in this fashion.