Designing the Perfect Classroom
Having worked on planning literally hundreds of new classroom facilities
projects, from K-12 through ivy league universities, one thing is clear to us
here at MIE, and that is that developing a program of requirements or concept
design for classrooms is always a moving target, and keeps darting here and
there not only throughout the planning and implementation process, but well
after the room(s) are complete and being used.
We've argued in these pages that focusing on equipment is
counter productive in facilities design.
Infrastructure holds the promise of future flexibility and ultimately
needs to drive the design.
The hard part is to understand how a classroom, seminar room, lecture
hall or auditorium will be used as a learning space, to understand the
interpersonal dynamics that will occur, which informs what infrastructure should
Moreover, how will presentation techniques be used both to provide
information and facilitate discussions?
Will students say put, or will they re-arrange themselves into work
group? What tools might students
and teachers require?
And, just to make things a bit more confusing, in some spaces, the
environment will be fairly consistent.
In others, a higher degree of flexibility is needed.
So, how do we create the perfect smart classroom? By designing it to be flexible, embrace
technology, and accommodate the needs of the moment. The perfection is in a room's potential,
not any given equipment fitup.
Implementing a great teaching space is knowing the range of capabilities
that may reasonably be required.
While it is difficult to build the perfect classroom, a flexible classroom comes close.
User agreement on those requirements in important, and a problem in and
Consensus among project stakeholders is usually difficult
to achieve. In many projects we've
been involved in, we are sorry to say, it is virtually impossible. Certainly, not all teachers use the same
techniques in their classrooms.
Moreover, some teachers are more comfortable with using technology, while
others are less so. Therefore, one
reason the concept design process may wander here and there may be due to lack
of a clear consensus.
Another reason is that new stake holders become involved
in the design process over time.
A third is that years can pass between the time a project is envisioned,
and when it is actually built.
Ideas continue to evolve.
Technology changes and becomes more cost effective. Finally the building gets built and new
staff members become involved. New
sources of funding and grants continue to change the landscape as
And so it goes.
We're often asked how we can predict how to design tomorrow's classroom
today. Typically, the question
refers to choosing equipment. The
key question should be, "How can we
design a classroom at a time when the learning environment is rapidly
In truth, the evolutionary nature of the classroom has as much to do with
pedagogy as changes in technology
or equipment. Also, the learning
curve of a user community develops over time. Those with less experience tend to
change slowly. In those school
districts or institutions with a history of rapid media enhancements move more
quickly, there is a momentum to try new things.
be conceived as spaces that can, should, and inevitably must change (within
certain parameters) over time.
In fact, the notion of classroom as sandbox, changing over the course of
semester, a week, or even a throughout the day is one that is being increasingly
adopted within the education community.
With change as a key driver, classroom design must be supported first and
foremost by providing the appropriate range of infrastructure to accommodate a
range of technologies and equipment over the life of the building.
A word of caution however; creating the most flexible room possible may
limit how well a space can meet specific requirements. More about this pitfall in a future