For decades, traditional teacher-centered classrooms dominated education in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other western nations and resembled the methodology employed by ancient Rome. These similarities between ancient Roman and American education may have something to do with the fact that both societies felt that education should be the responsibility of the government. On the other hand, Greek education was managed privately which was a major reason behind its student-centered learning environment.
The New Contemporary Classroom Design
For a few years now, educational institutions ranging from primary school to graduate school have been designing new classrooms to address current and future academic and technological requirements. Many middle schools and high schools started this process by first renovating their outdated libraries, most of which had old desktop computers, worn-out bookshelves, mismatched furniture, no study spaces, and no WiFi. Of course, traditional school libraries had no students as a result.
Many educators begin by remodeling or adding futuristic media centers with modern, stylish furniture such as tall bistro tables and soft armchairs. Schools are also replacing desktop computers with wireless devices like netbooks and tablets, with numerous educators authorizing the use of notebooks and mobile devices in the classroom. In addition to this, more school districts are building modern learning environments that support the growing trend towards more effective pedagogies such as a personalized, project-based educational model —with technology being the key enabler.
As with the fast-growing trend involving open and collaborative workspaces, educators at every level are adopting open floor plans like studio classrooms; they’re no longer interested in traditional lecture halls or classrooms with rows of chairs and tables, all of which are designed to hold as many students as possible. On top of that, schools, colleges, universities, and campus facilities need to be adaptive—a need that has brought about the advent of adaptive learning strategies and techniques.
This new type of classroom design requires a new type of flooring for cable management.
With the burgeoning number of digital devices being introduced to the education industry and adopted by institutions, a number of universities including MIT, Yale, West Point, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, among many others, use low profile access flooring to distribute cabling throughout the classroom.
NCSU’s Student-Centered Active Learning Environment
Originally designed by North Carolina State University (NCSU) for its undergraduate programs, SCALE-UP is a Student-Centered Active Learning Environment featuring studio-style classrooms meant to promote student teamwork and instructor movement between groups. Rather than separate labs and traditional lectures, students make observations and work on engaging problems while teachers hold class-wide discussions—talking with students instead of talking to them. Research has shown unequivocally that the SCALE-UP pedagogy is an effective method for all class sizes.
Generally, the SCALE-UP model is designed to facilitate short, interesting tasks that are completed by teams of students. The original SCALE-UP classroom model resembles a restaurant with students sitting at round tables, allowing teachers to walk around the class and interact with each team. Today, hundreds of colleges and universities around the world have adopted the SCALE-UP classroom model, as well as a growing number of progressive primary schools and senior high schools.
Technology is a crucial aspect of any SCALE-UP classroom. Since these classrooms are designed for students to collaborate in a hands-on environment, tech tools enhance their ability to get creative. Some of the recommended technology for a SCALE-UP classroom includes whiteboards or smartboards, laptops, projection, and screen sharing.
MIT’s Technology-Enabled Active Learning (TEAL)
In the late 1990s, Professor John Belcher, a lecturer of first-year physics at MIT, became interested in the difference between conventional teaching techniques and how students truly learned and retained knowledge. Belcher was also one of three leading investigators on a project called Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL). The TEAL project set out to improve attendance at MIT’s freshman physics course, which had dropped significantly by the end of the term and included a failure rate of over 10 percent, despite having some of the best lecturers in the nation.
Teaming up with David Litster and Peter Dourmashkin—both co-principal investigators on the TEAL project—Belcher began reformatting the pedagogy techniques of freshman physics at MIT with a new mix of technology and classroom design.
The three investigators borrowed from the North Carolina State University’s Scale-Up program among other innovative methods, such as adding visualizations of electricity and magnetism to match the requirements of 8.02X Physics II. While Belcher was deeply involved in reformatting 8.02X Physics II at MIT, the other two investigators were both entirely responsible for the development of the first term intro course 8.01X Physics I: Classical Mechanics.
The impact was telling of how well the investigators’ innovations worked.
TEAL techniques in the MIT physics classrooms produced around double the standard normalized learning accretions for low-, intermediate-, and high-scoring learners as opposed to conventional instruction. These conclusions replicate the results of studies conducted at other universities across the United States.
The concept of TEAL classrooms is being implemented not only in colleges and universities, but also in K-12 schools. More commonly referred to as smart classrooms, these types of facilities are generally equipped with modern technology such as interactive displays, collaborative learning tech, teacher assistant apps, and animated modules. The use of these different tools provides students who have varying learning styles different ways of absorbing information.
Designing Tomorrow’s Classrooms After COVID
A flexible infrastructure will be key to keeping students safe when it comes to classroom design moving forward. Being able to quickly adapt to changes in policies, technology, and new health information will be necessary in order to prepare for the future.
Schools everywhere are not only creating response teams that are focused on preparing for emergencies, but they are also taking steps to make sure that they will not have to be reactionary if a situation like this were to arise again. As Gensler said in a recent article, “these initiatives are launching new opportunities for cross-collaboration by tying together operations, sustainability, resilience, climate impact, and healthcare departments”.