As I toggle back and forth between Corporate Workplace projects and Higher Education projects, I’m struck by the dramatically different pace of evolution in those environments.
Workplaces are evolving to enable new ways of working and collaborating, physically and digitally. Work settings are being customized in real time to adapt to an increasingly social and mobile working environment. Meanwhile, with a few exceptions, higher education classroom buildings remain inflexible and unable to accept change, despite the clear need for varied, scalable learning settings that can change on a semester-to-semester (or even a day-to-day) basis.
We have the tools to meet that need – walls that fold, telescope and move, furniture that can be easily reconfigured and handheld controls that allow in-house staff to quickly customize lighting, HVAC and technology. In an agile classroom building, classrooms can morph into multiple team based learning spaces or overlap with shared space to expand capacity or create varied learning settings. Unused classrooms can adapt to create spaces for unscheduled learning and group work between classes. These changes can be made more quickly, and at a lower cost of change, than with traditional construction, and optimizing classroom buildings in this way can reduce the need for new buildings.
In design workshops with administrators, faculty and students, there’s a lot of excitement about creating what one particpant called “a flexible stage upon which the future of learning will unfold” – so why isn’t it happening in higher education as it is in the workplace?
The hurdle we encounter is the belief by faculty that their classrooms need levels of acoustic privacy that only traditional construction can provide. We have privacy requirements in the workplace as well – and we provide spaces to meet that need – but not the entire workplace. In the workplace, we provide choices to fulfill diverse needs, and it results in a more stimulating and engaging workplace.
Faculty and students need those choices too; a mix of acoustically private classrooms and other, more agile spaces that can be quickly adapted to meet diverse and changing needs, and that result in a more stimulating and engaging teaching & learning experience.