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« The Re-Booting of MIT’s Famed Media Labs

Mmm. The following quotation from a recent article out of Arizona (US) about the need to change campus design due to the expense of having too many buildings and exterior walls seems to suggest something deeper about why we design schools in the first place:

“(Campus style) is fun. It looks good. It’s fresh. But is it really necessary?” asked John Arnold, interim executive director of the state board.

Arizona schools often use ‘open’ campus designs due to the mild climate. Clearly, as the director states above, the atmosphere of an open campus that connects students to nature has some benefits. But it also seems that such benefits of a campus designed in human/nature terms is a little too expensive for some leaders to justify these days. One can’t argue with costs as a compelling part of the school design process. When campuses, districts, states, nations look to maximize their educational facility construction dollars, obviously good people are going to look at every expenditure. But one has to ask if our quest to simply save dollars puts something more vital at risk.

Didn’t school design of the 70’s — minimize glazing and any sort of window feature in an effort to save on energy costs — teach us anything about the long-term impact of cutting our students/teachers off from the natural world around us? Aren’t the vast majority of us well beyond describing schools that invest in daylighting, natural ventilation, vistas and views, natural relationships with nature and the larger community as “fun” (as the director argues)? Aren’t we at a point where we can finally begin to see that the ‘cost’ of a school design, over the life cycle of the building and community, extends well beyond the initial costs of external walls?

Perhaps we’d be wise to follow Milton Chen’s lead in his recent Edutopia editorial (”Curing Nature Deficit Disorder”) and review of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. Perhaps we’d be wise to read more about the “Inside-Outside Connection” design pattern. Perhaps we’d be wise to consider ways that leaders — such as those in Arizona — can accomplish the same financial goals while still protecting the underlying human experience of being in classrooms and on campuses.

Your thoughts?

One Response to “Are Nature-Oriented Campuses too ‘Expensive’ to Design?”

  1. Almustapha Says:

    I see some great assumptions in this qisuteon. First, we are looking to enrich and enhance learning opportunities. That would assume that a) there is learning going on and b) the learning going on is in need of enriching and enhancing. What do we enrich and enhance? We enrich and enhance basic knowledge. Knowing basic geometric formulas is basic knowledge. The use of technology should be geared towards enriching the students’ understanding of how those formulas play a role in their lives. For instance, if a new building is going to be constructed on campus, are students given the opportunity to design the facility digitally, both inside and out, to enhace their understanding of major architectual features? This would leverage technology in an appropriate fashion for college level students. Online collaborative environments through Gmail or other web-based systems could be created that would include discussion, collaboration, and competition. The other assumption is based on a qisuteon can technology actually create an opportunity? No, by itself, it is a limited creation. Someone must creatively understand the power of technology and the role it MAY play in enrichment and enhancement. Educators with diversified abilities create the opportunities for technology to be used as an effective device. Twitter is inherently worthless unless a teacher knows how to use it to make a video interactive by allowing the students to post comments on a live feed during the video or presentation. Creative writing is much more enjoyable when a Google doc is used and five people are asked to write on the same document at the same time and create a coherent piece of writing. These things encourage higher thought processes, at both the individual and cooperative level. I do these things with 7th graders in a pubic school with relatively good access to technology. Just last week my students created Google spreadsheets as a class that contained population density information from each student’s ficticious country. Then, students discussed via Google chat the pros and cons of living in a country with various densities and finally as a class answered quesitons on a document I created for them and shared via Google docs. Who needs a test when I do this instead?

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