Rapidly expanding knowledge, faster communication with an increasingly wide audience, and evolving societal and learning needs will require that the twenty-first century school and university campus be more open, more flexible and more technology-enabled than ever before.
One pedagogical trend driving this evolution in learning spaces is the shift from passive delivery to active learning in the classroom. Focused on project-based learning, this methodology utilizes increased technology (often including multiple display screens and the ability to display content from any computer in the room,) uses movable furniture easily reorganized to facilitate group learning, and places the teacher in the role of mentor for proactive, independent learners rather than as the sole source of information. More than 100 universities have begun using different Active Learning Classroom (ALC) models, and recent research on ALC protocols indicates significantly better retention of information as well as increased student satisfaction in the ALC environment.
Rather than conventional, forward-facing classrooms, active learning models utilize larger, more open and more flexible classrooms which support a wide variety of learning modes for individuals and groups. Project-based learning requires space which can be thought of as non-science laboratory: flexible space for individual or group activities which can be re-purposed as topics and needs change. ”Maker Space” is a common buzzword for a flexible, project-focused learning environment.
Not all learning happens in the classroom, however. Students seek out the sense of community and shared identity/experience supported by face-to-face student/teacher and peer-to-peer interaction. The “soft” spaces which facilitate these activities and provide opportunities for interdisciplinary connections often include a blend of places for quiet individual study with flexible spaces for group interaction. Digital technologies have transformed the way students interact with each other and the world around them, and as a consequence, altered the character of spaces on university and secondary school campuses. Mobile devices allow students to shift between study, research, social networking and entertainment, and educational facilities must provide flexible spaces which support this range of activities and seamlessly incorporate information technologies.
It has been said that the one constant on a university campus is change, and today that change is happening faster and faster. Jobs filled by university students upon graduation may not have existed at the time those same students were admitted, and one study suggests that 58% of today’s grade school students will be employed in jobs that don’t currently exist. Tomorrow’s educational facilities must acknowledge the evolving needs of their constituents. They must be flexible and open, sensibly reflecting the latest thinking about pedagogy, but at the same time providing an environment with a recognizable sense of place and belonging.