Learning is now fundamentally a social process. School design is more about creating a community rather than a structure to house students. Active, versus passive, learning is enhanced through communicating, listening, collaborating and producing to create meaning with identity. By embracing this concept, and through the versatility of technology, the future of school design is becoming more transparent, interactive and inviting.
We are in the midst of a paradigm and cultural shift in the delivery of curriculum and how that influences school design. Buildings need to be designed to accommodate how and where students learn, both in teaching styles and building design. The flexibility of wireless technology has transformed how instructional spaces are used which is no longer defined by the four walls of the classroom. As designers, we need to recognize how students learn and create flexible and collaborative areas throughout the building to accommodate a variety of instructional spaces for both individual and collaborative learning.
Today’s students have grown up with technology and are therefore “digital natives.” Their parents are “digital immigrants” who have adapted to technology as it has evolved. Students are always online, taking the opportunity to learn from almost anywhere and anyplace. Technology is continually evolving, not only as an instructional tool for the teacher, but as a source and media for the students to learn, prepare and develop a thorough understanding of the curriculum. The B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) initiative that is being implemented facilitates this learning experience, which is enhanced further with supporting devices and software. Rooms and spaces are equipped with a variety of visual display surfaces that range from interactive “Smart Boards” or white boards with short throw projectors above them, to floor-to-ceiling walls being covered with dry erase paint. The future of school design will include a mix of rooms for teacher-centered instruction and learning studios to support interactive learning with flexible and movable furniture to allow for the movement of the students to support group instruction and collaboration.
Learning has become more social and students expect to find and use spaces that support group and collaborative work. The former “library” served as the space to house volumes of books where everyone was to remain quiet. In the late 20th century, the “media center” was an information hub where the media center librarian would distribute the media for classroom instruction. Digital technology has opened the door to going beyond the physical book and walls of the room. The library/media center space is evolving into a multifaceted information area where students can go to collect information that is now available from around the world, and process the information through working in spaces that foster a spirit of collaboration, stimulate creativity and serve as a inspirational place for learning. These areas are vital and dynamic environments that stimulate and enhance relationships between students and staff, and provide the flexibility to work alone or in groups as well as serve as a venue for large events and presentations.
The future of school design will be that “the form will follow the function.”