Innovating education with technology.
We have traditionally viewed school architecture as a means of satisfying utilitarian functionality. Rooms segregate groups of children and academic departments. Boards are placed at the front of the room to enable frontal lecturing and seating is arranged accordingly. Hallways allow easy transition of groups of students from room to room. Play and eating areas serve their very specific roles. Colors? They are normally bland and "institutional".
When you look at great examples of architecture in society they are generally singled out for their beauty, inspiration and vision. Their unique image stays with you. Architecture isn't just a random arrangement of space and building materials. Impressive architectural plans usually reflect a certain philosophical outlook - political, cultural, religious, social or otherwise.
The same is true of schools. The manner is which schools are designed reflects specific educational assumptions and pedagogical objectives. The basic template that forms the foundation for most school planning was created over 100 years ago ... and that's where we encounter a problem.
If the design of any educational environment reflects a particular approach to learning, how can spaces that have essentially been designed the same way for 100 years still serve the learning needs of our students in the 21st century?
Environmental design impacts education. When you stand in a classroom and look out at your students, what does the layout of that room say about the educational philosophy of your school? When students sit alone in rows facing a teacher and board at the front of the room, what is the educational statement being made? What do the walls and hallways look like? We go to great lengths and expense to provide technology to our schools - hopefully in part because we see it as a means of empowering students to research, explore, experience, collaborate and more. Does your physical learning environment support that vision? How does it impact the process and flow of learning taking place?
We could write a book full of ideas for innovative school design - many have. If you want to inspire the pursuit of 21st century learning objectives such as creativity, collaboration and student centered learning then many factors should play into the space design. Consider:
Clearly it may not be within your ability to knock down and rebuild walls and rooms. You may however be able to scrape together a budget to paint and decorate walls, buy or rearrange furniture, plant gardens and more. Get your students involved and allow them to help make their environment warm and welcoming. Give them a sense of pride in the place they come every day to learn.
Whatever technology you're placing into school, the physical learning environment should support the same pedagogical objectives that prompted the integration of the technology. Everything should work in unison to create an atmosphere that encourages and fosters 21st century learning objectives.