An interactive forum on
innovative alternatives in learning environments
By Randall Fielding, January
This forum sprang forth from the AIA conference in
Amsterdam, November 2000. Support
for this publication was provided by the
National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. A print version of the article will appear in the January/February issue
of School Construction News.
Bruce Jilk, conference
chair, introduced the conference as a watershed event and the period from 2000 to 2010 as a watershed decade for
educational planning. Bruce tossed out numerous “mind
grenades,” about the future of schools.
A common theme
involved schools that are closely integrated with their communities and
share spaces with surrounding businesses, institutions and residences.
Projects presented and toured
included a school located above a drug store (pictured below), and another built beneath
Share invited conference participants to ask Bruce a follow-up
question. Questions by 12 individuals from four countries were selected for publication. Dr. William DeJong, one of the most recognized
educational facility planners in the United States,
was invited to provide a counterpoint. Profiles,
contacts and references are provided at the end of the publication.
Q Randall Fielding: Bruce,
you referred to the recent conference in Amsterdam,
"Innovative Alternatives in Learning Environments,” as a watershed
event and the period from 2000 to 2010 as a watershed decade for
educational planning. Why is this a watershed conference and
As the conference name, “Innovative Alternatives in Learning
Environments,” suggests this event focused on schools that are outside
the box. Most of these schools did not exist 10 years ago. For example,
in 1990 the US did not have a single charter school. Now we have over
2000. Home schooling is one of the fastest growing educational
industries. This is reflective of the larger macro-shift in civilization
- from an industrial society to a knowledge society. The people who
study this (Club of Budapest )
us we are beginning the decade of the "Consequent Phase" of
this shift (which started about 1860). That is to say the next 10 years
are critical in forming the future. I took the liberty of renaming this the
"Watershed Decade," a term I feel says the same thing only
with a more optimistic connotation. Because the event in Amsterdam
disclosed the aspects of this cultural change as it impacts the world of
learning, it seemed appropriate to extend that title to the event
itself, Amsterdam Watershed.
William DeJong: I do
believe the decade 2000 to 2010 is likely to be a watershed decade.
As Bruce has alluded, this watershed period may have started 10 years
ago and is continuing into the first decade of the 21st
century. Just to name a few, during the past ten years we have
experienced the demise of communism, economic globalization, embracing
the information age, the revolution of the communications industries and unprecedented economic expansion. At the same time we are
experiencing significant demographic shifts and a wide recognition of
the need to update the aging infrastructures of school facilities. Never before has there been the opportunity for change to occur.
But will it? Will or should the change be incremental or
revolutionary? Even though I am one who personally often supports
revolutionary change, if history repeats itself, it will likely be
is a high school teacher. Ten years ago I would have been hard
pressed to believe we would be embracing block-scheduling concepts
today. There is also much on the horizon as far as schools within
schools, breaking larger schools into smaller schools, and new
interdisciplinary teaching techniques. There is a huge untapped
potential for major restructuring of education that is afforded by
technology. And there is no question about it, there are
innovative, break-the-mold examples, but they are few and far between.
I believe to a large extent,
education and the educational facility are evolving without much
thought. The major issues focus on how quickly and how cheaply we
can get a school building built. How to stop the leaks and seal up
the buildings. Getting the funding to renovate or replace
buildings. Creating the political will to address overcrowding and
The classroom is
still the box; the school is still a series of boxes. In 10 years
- will or should we have developed a new box or gotten rid of the
old boxes? There may be some isolated examples, but by and large in
10 years we will likely still have the same box, found new ways to
rearrange the boxes, made them look better, made them more comfortable
and put a lot of technology in them.
I believe this will be an incremental change process unless the new
economy forces schools to change. The agrarian school responded to
the agricultural economy, the current schools by and large to the
industrial economy. I do not believe we have arrived at a school
or educational system that responds to our current and evolving economy.
Watershed decade? I hope so,
but I am also doubtful. The forces of mass production of new and
renovated schools, turnover of leadership, pressure to get the job
done, persons planning and designing schools with little to no
experience or understanding of education, all point to minor
improvements to the current mold.