How a Shift in Student Learning is Driving 21st Century School Design
by Tom Wannen, AIA
This past October, I had the opportunity to attend the national EdSpaces Conference and Expo in New Orleans, which focuses on improving learning environments in K-12 and Higher Education facilities. The conference was held in conjunction with the AIA Committee on Architecture for Education which provided over 30 education sessions and the Expeditionary Learning & Facility tour of LB Landry High School, Ursuline Academy, and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
While I experienced a sensory overload of new and exciting classroom furnishings and technology products on display, the one aspect of the conference I found most interesting was the general discussion on the shift to student-centered learning. Countless articles on 21st century learning environments in recent years lead some to argue that it is a fad or an experiment recreated from the 1970’s. Still, there is a guiding principle behind 21st Century design that I believe has now gained consensus among students, teachers, administrators and designers: Learning behavior is shifting from ‘teacher-centered’ to a ‘student-centered’ approach. This is mainly a result of students learning more from each other and from themselves with the use of technology.
One seminar I attended, ‘Technology in Education: Transforming Learning Environments’ discussed the ‘Mosaic Generation’ as a different group than the Millennials in that they are always connected and expect full and immediate access to media at all times. This is substantiated in that students are found to be bringing on average 2.7 devices per student to higher education settings compared to the 1.0 devices that architects and engineers are typically designing these spaces to accommodate. The location for the use of this technology also varies in that students are finding ‘cave’ spaces for independent research and study both inside and outside the school building. There is also an increasing demand for smaller group huddle rooms of four to five students equipped with flat screens. One University even mentioned they would give up three full size classrooms for 10 huddle rooms.
Library designed by HuntonBrady Architects at Valencia College in Florida provides space for independent study, group collaboration and smaller technology-enabled huddle rooms.
The physical location of learning is not bound by the school building, either, as explained in the seminar ‘Non-Traditional Learning Environments’. Edible school yard projects and teaching kitchens are increasing across the country to teach students how healthy food choicesalso affect their communities and the environment. Programs like TREE: Teaching Responsible Earth Education, allow students to spend up to five consecutive days in the forest learning an environmental science program.
The main takeaway from the conference is that learning opportunities can happen anywhere and at any time, and we should be careful not to neglect these opportunities. I am excited to be part of the process to help shape learning environments for our children and improve their educational experience.