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The Education Environment Program


Authors: David E. Anstrand, RA, REFP 

Edward E. Kirkbride, NCARB, REFP

Many trends such as communication technology, brain based learning, life long learning, cost of educational facilities, environmental concerns and others to be discovered suggest the scope of planning educational environments is expanding. In the recent past, educational facility planning was confined to the preparation of "educational specifications or ed specs," a listing of space-by-space attributes for the proposed facility. Today, instead of ed specs, an Education Environment Program (EEP) describes information and relationships as a trilogy, becoming the foundation for the future design of a new or renovated learning facility. This trilogy systematically describes the desired community environment, learning environment and physical environment. The community environment addresses civic design, program planning and partnership development. The learning environment focuses on interpersonal relationships, learning activities and learning time. The physical environment examines the relationships of building to inhabitants, building to site and building to the greater environment. The resulting Education Environment Program frames the "design problem" in a broader, more comprehensive way than possible in the old "ed. spec." format.

Program and Process
The EEP is a program that initiates and is the result of an evolving planning process for a 21st century knowledge based society. The old "ed. spec," still in use by a majority of school districts, is also the result of a planning process, albeit, for a 19th century industrial society codified by twentieth century institutions. The processes are different. Until recently, due to the static nature of curriculum, "ed. specs." were developed by interviewing a relatively few decision-makers - usually school district administrators and department heads. A broader, more inclusive, participatory planning process is required for EEP programming. The "Information Age" constituency for educational facilities becomes the whole community. All stakeholders must be represented in the planning process.

Though beyond the scope of this article, a few comments on process may provide a better understanding of the Education Environment Program. The overall planning process must be "driven" by strategic thinking and, a strategic plan jointly developed by all stakeholders. The strategies and dependant strategy plans provide a conceptual framework for further planning. The EEP planning process must proceed from data collection, data analysis and synthesis to alternative program concepts. The alternative program concepts will then be tested by the planning participants and further refined. These refined concepts are then documented as the EEP. The EEP becomes the initial project information necessary to guide the educational facility design team. 

The Community Environment:
The community environment contains, shapes and connects the learning environment and physical environment. Historically, school boards and municipal governments have planned and implemented programs independent from one another. The result has been duplication of facilities and services. When common "visioning" occurs between government units, it is possible to undertake joint planning to deliver cost effective facilities and programs to the community. This first part of the "trilogy" covers three areas: Civic Design, Program Planning and Partnership Development

Civic design is an historic, "City Beautiful," term addressing the physical structuring of community. When educational environments are thought of as "community infrastructure," they can be used as "tools" to influence community growth and change. When integrated, educational facilities can reinforce existing development patterns rather than spawn continuing suburban sprawl. New planned development can be "anchored" by educational facilities. These facilities can be incorporated in community open space and park systems reinforcing and expanding community amenities. The location of other amenities such as libraries, community centers, and parks suggest joint development, maximizing tax dollars spent. By locating facilities in zones adequately served by utilities rather than non-served areas, significant construction cost penalties can be avoided. In many small communities the school is the center of the community. If creatively programmed, this facility can physically shape more than just the school's immediate site and become the true, symbolic, center of community adjacent to or incorporating facilities housing other community services and programs. Recent trends suggest the return to neighborhood schools - possibly an important urban revitalization ingredient. Civic design aspects of the planning process, often overlooked or ignored, provide the essential basis for further planning and communication with other planning entities.

Program planning is often not coordinated between public and private entities. Most communities have a myriad of social and economic programs sponsored or provided by public and private organizations. School districts often plan new or expanded programs without full knowledge of existing programs provided by others. The result is a "patch work quilt" of programs and services, many not well funded or advertised, providing benefits far below community expectations. Common vision and planning would insure against duplication of effort and better insure programs' success. Examples of often duplicative programs include: municipal parks and recreation summer programs versus the school district's sports camps; municipal library versus the school library; private day care facilities versus school district pre-school programs; etc. By understanding the range of existing program offerings and their effectiveness, the school district can better "design" complementary programs that provide unique services or reinforce existing programs.

Every community has partnerships. Partnerships are "linkages" between the school district and the community. Often assistant athletic coaches are found through partnerships between the school district and interested athletic supporters and booster organizations. "School to Work" programs are often based on apprenticeship opportunities provided by local businesses. Municipal governments and school districts often work together to provide parks and recreation areas through joint use of school sites. The imaginative use of partnerships to solve educational facility needs has not been well developed. As a high school develops a medical and biological "house," why not hold classes at the partnering hospital? Could partnerships be established between urban and suburban schools to share fine arts interests, talent and grant funding? Through proper identification of partners, program possibilities and opportunities; school district-to-community links will become much stronger.

Community civic design attributes, programs and partnerships opportunities can be discovered through a careful inventory of each area. The inventories can be recorded on a series of same scale maps. The maps can then be overlaid and analyzed to determine "areas of opportunities." The areas of opportunities become resources for further evaluation and incorporation in the EEP.

The Learning Environment:
Relationships, activities, and time
define the learning environment. Not many years ago the learning environment would not be described as such, but would be discussed as the "school." Today, the learning environment is described as "anywhere, anyplace, anytime" and instead of teaching directed toward two intelligences, eight intelligences are thought important to learning (Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences). The learning environment can no longer be described by a set of classroom square footage minimums and maximums. In the past, the curriculum was static. Geometry followed Algebra I, Algebra II followed Geometry and Trigonometry followed Algebra II. The sciences were alphabetically organized, e.g., biology(10th grade), chemistry(11th grade) and physics(12th grade). Until recently, this arrangement of curriculum has been constant. Educational spatial requirements remained static, universally understood. As educators embrace the "Knowledge" or "Information Age," learning becomes dynamic, interactive, multidisciplinary and problem based. Because of these new dynamics and rapidity of curriculum change, curricula have become an unreliable basis for facility design. Instead, analysis of relationships, activities and time become a better predictor of educational facility needs. 

Relationships central to learning are changing from the formal classroom setting, e.g. chalk board, teacher and 25-30 students, to many learning relationships. Instead of formalized teaching from teacher to student, learning is occurring between student and student, student and teacher, student and parent, teacher and teacher, Internet and learner, etc. Communication technology makes an "individualized learning plan for each student" feasible in the near future. Teachers, parents and students alike can record and track learning progress via technology. The prospect of each student learning at his/her own pace and areas of interest changes learning relationships and learning space needs. For example, learning may be occurring at the learner's desk or workstation, in small groups, in large groups, off site at a local business partner's location, on the Internet, at home and in any number of other locations.

A variety of learning relationships suggests multiple types of learning spaces. Younger learners are often taught in small activity groups. Others learn in large groups, smaller learning groups, individual computer workstations, etc. The School of Environmental Sciences, a magnet high school located at the Minnesota Zoo, provides individual desks or "offices" for each student. There are also large group meeting spaces, seminar spaces, shared faculty offices, etc. New learning relationships suggest new and varied types of spaces, very different from a series of traditional, one box fits all, classrooms organized along a corridor. 

Another set of relationships exists in the hierarchies established between and within educational institutions (at a macro scale versus a micro scale). Instead of students relating to one large school, Breaking Ranks suggests that a school should be broken into smaller units no larger than 600 students each. Theory suggests students will know each other and their teachers on a more familial basis. The smaller units are often called an "academy," "house" or "neighborhood." The intent is to break the larger institution into more easily comprehended and "personalized" parts. Hierarchical groupings allowing learners to be part of a smaller group, relate to a larger subpart of the whole and then relate to the whole. This seems to counter the prospect of a student lost in a large, mostly anonymous group. 

Activities are the second parameter defining learning environments. Activities can be categorized as the activities integral to learning, the activities of circulation or movement from one place to another, and social activities including relaxing with friends, eating, etc. Learning activities range from one learner interacting with one computer to hundreds of people watching a fine arts performance. Other familiar learning activities are science experiments, physical fitness, painting, music and library research. Less traditional learning activities include distance learning, on-line learning, project-based learning, service-based learning, simulation, experiential learning, etc. The activities of circulation and movement typically happen on streets, walks and building corridors. This activity has been thought of as occurring on "a site." When learning becomes community based instead of school building based, the movement of learners expands to a new dimension. Finally, there are social activities. These are the formal and less formal activities between peers whether at the prom or eating, meeting, talking, sitting and dreaming. Social activities can occur between peer groups. Teachers and administrators can socialize with students, another Breaking Ranks idea. 

Time is the third learning environment parameter. Traditionally, school begins with a bell and ends with a bell. The use and scheduling of time has to be considered equally with "relationships" and "activities." Elementary schools often have a beginning and ending bell while middle and high schools have been organized around six, seven or eight separate periods a day. Periods generally last from 40 to 60 minutes depending on the mandated length of school day and number of periods. New ways of organizing time are emerging. Block scheduling reduces the number of periods to three or four, 90-120 minute, periods thus allowing project based, individualized and/or continuous learning. Other scheduling schemes include "year round school," split shifts, 24-hour use of facilities, etc. Communications technology now allows us to learn "anywhere, anyplace, anytime." "Seat time" no longer has the relevance it once had. High school learners might take a science laboratory course at a local college, a natural science course at a regional museum and History of the Viet Nam War on-line.

Changing the way time is organized directly affects learning facility needs. A very simple example is the planning of a cafeteria. All children eating at the same time or eating in three shifts dramatically changes the amount of space required for the cafeteria. Likewise, if learners spend half of their school day off-site, the overall facility can be reduced is size (this strategy is used by the Minneapolis Downtown School). A clear understanding of how time can and then will be organized is essential facility programming information.

The Physical Environment:
The Physical Environment
is the "setting" where learning takes place in the community. This is where relationships, activities and time define indoor or outdoor learning spaces. The settings can range from a "learning room" designed for one person's use located in a "house" to a university campus designed for thousands of learners. It can be a museum, business location, or park. Assuming that in most cases the physical environment will be a building situated on a site, there are three general sets of relationships to be met: Building to Inhabitants, Building to Site and Building to Greater Environment. All three must be considered in the planning, design, construction and operation of a high performance school building.

Building to Inhabitants considers user's needs. First time visitors to a building should easily understand the building's organization. There should be clearly defined entrances, pedestrian circulation and hierarchies of spaces. People should be able to identify with the building in terms of personal space and human scale. Spaces should be varied and adaptable to meet a range of users' present and future needs. The building should have elements of architectural surprise and delight. It should be fun to be there because of interesting forms, textures and colors. Handicapped accessibility is not an option. Ventilation, temperature and humidity control, appropriate lighting (including day lighting) and proper acoustics must meet high standards. User and building safety and security must be carefully considered and built into the design solution. The building should be "maintainable" such that current and future building uses are not compromised. Finally, the building can be thought of as a "text book." Many physical, mathematical and science principles can be demonstrated by the building itself. Lighting circuits can have volt and ampere meters installed at light switches to help students understand the principles of electrical energy. The building can be designed to express principles of geometry and proportion. Ductwork, piping, structural members and electrical conduit can be exposed in areas of the building so students can visualize how the building "works." The "text book" building can demonstrate "real world" examples including "green" energy and environmental principles. 

Building to Site looks at the relationships between the building and its site. Site background information should include: natural features, adjacent site conditions, site circulation or movement requirements, building orientation and views opportunities, site utilities and storm water drainage. Building design and site development should work with natural features such as geology, slope, aspect and vegetation. Adjacent site conditions include adjacent land uses, building shapes and massing, noise and light pollution and other attributes that can be addressed as either assets or liabilities. Site circulation requirements address pedestrian and vehicular movements. Adequate provisions should be made to separate pedestrians from vehicles, cars from buses and service/delivery vehicles from cars and busses. Short and long term parking requirements should be established. Careful consideration should be given to building orientation such that passive solar opportunities can be gained and close and distant views can be captured. Almost without saying, the site must be served with adequate public utilities, e.g., water, sewer, gas, electricity, telephone and cable TV. Many areas require storm water drainage designs to handle additional water run-off on site. This requirement can impose a stiff site cost penalty.

The building site is also a place where outdoor learning spaces can be developed. Examples include environmental centers, athletic fields, recreation areas, playgrounds, school gardens, etc. The grounds surrounding a building should reflect the uses in the building and support users' relationships and activities. There should be easy "communication" between building and grounds. There should also be easy and planned "communication" between site and adjacent community.

As energy efficiency and environmental issues become higher priorities, site development takes on new dimensions. Building orientation is critical for effective use of passive solar strategies such as "day lighting" and effective use of solar heat gain during winter months. The site can house rainwater storage tanks to be used for irrigation and toilet flushing. Trees can be strategically planted or used to shade or protect the building from sun and prevailing wind. Locations can be made available for windmills and photovoltaic systems (some facilities are selling surplus electrical energy to the "grid"). Geothermal heat pump heating and cooling systems make use of simple heat exchangers buried in the earth. Many energy saving and "environmentally friendly" strategies are integral to the concepts of high performance buildings. If the concepts are to be achieved they must be first addressed during the program phase. 

Building to Greater Environment considers the relationships between the building and the overall surrounding environment. As global warming and other global environmental issues become increasingly urgent, could the learning environment be a positive example for future "custodians" of planet earth? A positive example to learners is an environment that is sustainable and requires a minimum of supporting resources. A high performance building uses less energy and creates less waste and pollution. It does not emit gases affecting the ozone layer. It uses materials sustainable (or replaceable) by the environment. It uses supplies which when used-up, residual waste is recycled. Every community can have a facility promoting environmental excellence. Shouldn't that be the place where children learn?

Conclusion:
The three "environments" discussed are an abstraction and perhaps not the best use of the word "environment." The abstraction is a trilogy - community, learning, and physical environments. In the past, school facility planners have focused on the learning environment to the exclusion of other environmental considerations. Aside from population forecasts, community needs and relationships continue, for the most part, to be ignored. The physical environment has been left to the architect and consulting engineers. Many building design solutions solved physical facility needs but were insensitive to building users. 

The 21st century learning environment must begin with an Educational Environment Program. The EEP should be developed in an open, participatory, forum involving representation of all major "stake holders" assisted by architect, educational planner and an urban designer/community planner. The resulting EEP serves as a guide and benchmark for an integrated, multidisciplinary, design process. This benchmark can be revisited as the planning and design process proceeds to (and through) implementation.

References

 

David E. Anstrand, Edward E. Kirkbride, & Design Share, Inc., 2002

designshare.com | March 2002