Posted on March 6, 2012 by admin
Creating a smart classroom environment conducive for learning and development of students is not about cramming technology in classrooms. A more methodic approach in designing the basic shell, the teacher’s space, and the students’ independent and collaborative work areas is essential in the creation of a smart environment that truly enhances student learning.
According to Issac Herskowitz, director of New York-based Touro College’s instructional technology program, schools that ignore taking the right steps toward classroom designing will end up creating classrooms that are well equipped with technology but not too helpful in the learning process of the students. “Designing classrooms for today’s learners requires a different approach than what’s been traditionally employed in K-12 settings,” said Herskowitz.
Let’s look at the different design elements that make up the 21st century classroom.
1. Arrange desks and furniture to support collaboration:
Single-seating arrangement in classrooms is a thing of the past, according to Herskowitz. He firmly believes in developing classroom furniture designs that seat learners in groups and foster effective collaboration between students and teachers and among students themselves. “You want students to be able to do discovery learning and to work together on projects and problem-solving,” said Herskowitz.
To maintain a sense of collaborative learning inside the classroom, the arrangement of furniture, according to him, should accommodate multiple learners and then be repositioned if required, in such cases as testing. “When you start with this foundation,” said Herskowitz, “the collaboration comes naturally.”
2. Provide sufficient electrical outlets:
In every class there are usually some students who don’t come to class with their iPAds and laptops charged up and ready to go. To make sure 21st century learners have their learning media electrically powered to engage in classroom activities, a school should use a combination of electrical outlets, some of which are integrated into the classroom furniture, and power strips that are distributed through the classroom.
Early in the design phase, while estimating your students’ power needs think not only about current requirements but also future demands; this way you’ll avoid the hassle of having to add more at a later date, post-construction.
3. Have a handy teacher lectern:
It will only add value to a classroom if it had a smart lectern, said Herskowitz, who urged school administrators not to limit spending on structures that teachers use as their home bases. During the construction stage, the designers should incorporate into the fixtures USB ports that allow for easy document camera connections, interactive whiteboard equipment controls, and other features. “You really want to make everything accessible for the teachers that are using the technology,” said Herskowitz. “If instructors are comfortable in the space and able to use all of the tools that you put in front of them, half the battle is won.”
4. Create a suitable lighting environment:
Owing to the increased use of audiovisual technology in today’s teaching environments, a lighting system that allows you to control the brightness of the interiors has become necessary. Lighting arrangements must be done in such a way that even the student seated on the last row experiences no interference, from factors such as shadows, in viewing the displays. “Factor in the natural lighting, the fixtures, and the controls,” said Herskowitz, “and focus on accessible lighting controls that allow the teachers to adjust quickly.”
5. Make room for physical space that goes beyond the single classroom:
The modern-day classroom need not necessarily be a single room. Sometimes radical measures need to be taken to extend the classroom beyond the walls. At SVCi Charter School, Castaic, CA, for instance, holes were intentionally made in the classroom walls to help create a collaborative environment. The executive director of business development and operations at the school, Amber Golden Raskin, added, “Students and teachers can go in and out of the openings, which are covered by curtains when not in use”.
The above technique will help teachers collaborate especially on interdisciplinary projects. “Being able to share across classrooms is a big deal here,” said Raskin, “and something that we strived for when designing our learning spaces.”
6. Get rid of expansive gathering areas:
SVCi does not believe in having a traditional, campus-wide auditorium. They have instead built several mid-sized gathering areas designed to accommodate up to four classrooms of students who can gather to share, collaborate, or watch a live presentation. “We went with smaller common areas rather than just one big assembly room,” said Raskin.
Raskin essentially believes that the modern-day classroom’s design should be based on the idea of encouraging students to collaborate and communicate among themselves—thus developing skills that are critical in the 21st century workplace—and not make the teacher the center of the interaction. “In the last century we were a factory-driven society and schools were designed around that concept,” said Raskin. “Today we must create spaces where students can collaborate and participate in real-life environments where they can learn how to work as a team; that’s what they’ll be doing in the work world.”