for the 21st Century
Are You Ready?
By Prakash Nair
Whether you are designing a new school or renovating an
existing building, it is now possible to evaluate how your school measures up
to the most important requirements of the 21st Century.
There are 15 trends happening in the field of education and
related educational technology. Many of them have direct facility
ramifications. Use them as a checklist
to see how many of these trends your school facility is designed to accommodate.
1. Ubiquitous Computing: Leading educators and major school systems
(including New York City which is the country’s largest) have accepted the
notion that all children from the 4th grade onward should have
access to laptop computers and the Internet when they need it, where they need it. This view is endorsed by the US Department
of Education which said in a recent report on technology, “Access to technology
requires that it be readily at hand for use as needed, not simply for uses that
can be predicted in advance and squeezed into a fixed time slot.” From a
practical standpoint we can assume that students will spend a significant
amount of every school day using computers in class. By extension, we can assume that since it is impossible and impractical
to put 30 PCs in every room, we are looking at laptops or some other portable
computing device for use in the classroom.
- Wireless Networking and Robust
Internet Access: While it is still a relatively new trend, wireless
networking is possibly the one innovation that schools cannot afford to be
without. Not only does this bring
the Internet and the school network to every child in every room, but it
is now possible to painlessly bring these services to forgotten annexes
and “temporary” buildings within the school grounds.
- Technology-intensive Teaching
and Learning: Schools are finally figuring out that computers can
redefine not only how you teach, but what you teach. From a
practical standpoint this has resulted in the advent of more project-based
and collaborative learning and less lecture-style teaching.
- Emphasis on Informal Learning: By
some measures, less than 25% of all learning occurs within the
classroom. We now know that the
so-called “un-programmed spaces” in schools are extremely important
because it is in these “nooks and crannies” that much of the
socialization, interaction and real learning take place. Many architects
are now building such informal meeting places into the design of schools.
- De-emphasis of Classroom: As
evident from trends three and four above, the dominance of the classroom
as the center of the learning universe is now in serious jeopardy. Classrooms themselves need to be
redesigned so they function well in an environment where self-directed
learning and collaborative projects will largely replace “chalk and
- Food Court vs. Cafeteria:
Noted facility planner and writer Paul Abramson recommends that food
courts replace school cafeterias.
If the quality of cafeteria food weren’t reason enough, we know
that students should have greater variety in their diet and be able to eat
lunch at their schedule and when they are hungry. Will this create havoc
with scheduling the school day? Perhaps, but it is challenge that
institutions of higher learning have already faced and successfully
- Shared Common Areas:
Reluctantly, and against the protestations of custodial personnel, schools
are opening their doors to the community at large. The flip side of the coin is that many
new schools are dispensing altogether with traditional auditoriums,
gymnasiums and school libraries, choosing to partner instead with local
community institutions to create shared common areas and high-quality
- Imaginative Furniture Design: This is an obvious area needing
improvement where the impact of innovation can be immediate and
significant. Fortunately, we are now beginning to see worktables and
computer-friendly furniture including ergonomic desks and chairs beginning
to replace the horrendous desks and tablet armchairs that have said
“school” more loudly than anything else.
Non-Chronological Grouping and Inter-disciplinary Curriculums:
This will call for more flexibility in classroom shapes and sizes
including the use of temporary partitions, moveable walls, etc. The old
one-size-fits-all approach will severely limit the ability of schools to
provide quality 21st century education to their students and
deny them the flexibility they need to implement these ideas effectively.
- Emphasis on Service Learning:
More and more schools are requiring students to do some level of community
service as part of their graduation requirement. Some schools have structured off-site programs for students.
The impact of this trend is that space will be freed up within schools for
varying periods of time during the day. Creatively programming these
spaces for the students that remain will be an interesting challenge to
both architects and educators.
- Students Creating Products for
Business: The numbers of tech-savvy students are rising each
day even as business struggles to fill hundreds of thousands of hi-tech
vacancies. Suddenly, business is
finding out that partnering with schools goes beyond community outreach
and can actually help their bottom line. For schools, such partnerships,
when well managed, bring much-needed revenue and for students it provides
the hands-on work experience and financial benefits that beats flipping
burgers. As more students get involved with real-world projects both on
and off-site, it will be time to rethink equipment, room uses and space
configurations in school design.
- Computer Labs Replaced by
Distance Learning Electronic Studios: With the advent of
wireless laptops, every room and every subject can be taught in a
so-called “lab” setting within the primary classrooms. This frees up the
traditional computer lab for other uses. One logical choice (since labs
are fully wired and “technology ready”) is to convert these old labs into
distance-learning studios where students can meet and work with experts
from around the world. Such rooms
can also serve as full-blown presentation “theaters” so that students get
to present their work individually and in teams in a professional setting.
- More hi-tech Production
Facilities: Even as schools adopt a wireless standard, there
will be increased demand for high-bandwidth applications like film and
video production, broadcast journalism and the exchange of large
quantities of data between partnering institutions. Wireless networks will
not be ready to handle such data intensive tasks for several years. In the
meantime, schools will need fully wired production facilities where
students would work on these kinds of projects. The exact number and design of such facilities will vary by
school and the educational program it offers.
- Parent and Community Education
Programs in Schools: Trend number seven touched upon this, but schools
are realizing that for technology to make a real difference in the life of
a child, it is important that its effects be felt at home and in the
community. Schools that have tried it find that involving parents and
local community members through technology literacy programs in school is
an excellent way to improve their participation in children’s education
while often improving their economic situation. A properly designed distance learning center (preferably
with monitors recessed inside glass-topped desks) as noted in item 12
above can double as the parent and community training center in the
evenings and when school is not in session.
- New Learning Partnerships with
Other Schools and Universities: Ubiquitous computing and
distance learning now make it possible to have real-time communication
with a variety of educational partners. For example, District Four in East
Harlem, New York City now routinely runs technology-intensive
interdisciplinary projects in which students from various other school
districts are invited to participate.
The insular citadel that used to be school is quickly
changing to a model where “school” is not just a place, but a doorway to a
world of learning. The ease with which
students will be able to pass through this doorway will determine the success
or failure not only of any particular school, but the institution of school
Prakash Nair is President-Elect of UEF-21 and
National Director of Educational Technology Consulting, NoteSys, LLC
(203) 395-2446 PrakashN@notesys.com
| July, 2000