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Amsterdam Watershed
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An interactive forum on innovative alternatives in learning environments
By Randall Fielding, January 2001

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 residential apartments.

retail exteriorDesignShare 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 decade?

Bruce Jilk: 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 [1]) tell 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 incremental.

My background 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 decaying infrastructure.

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.

Personally, 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.

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April 3rd, 2006

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