Recently, I worked with leaders in a Texas school district who were making a conscious attempt to support modern pedagogical practices. They wanted to give teachers the freedom to change up room layouts to better enable collaboration, but teachers also needed students to sit in rows during portions of their classes. Changing the furniture around from one configuration to another was eating up instructional minutes, and district leaders struggled with the question of how to bring teaching practices into the 21st century without sacrificing valuable teaching time.
While school districts around the country have made significant efforts in recent years to revamp curricula to meet changing needs, the physical learning space is often overlooked — even though studies show that the learning environment can contribute up to 25 percent of the educational development of students.
The need to teach in new ways has given rise to the concept of the modern learning environment – flexible, tech-powered physical spaces in schools that are specifically designed to support modern instruction.
A modern learning environment includes the following elements:
1. Teacher and Student Devices
In a modern learning environment, connected devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops are seen not as ancillary instructional tools but rather as central to teaching and learning. In order for students and teachers to make the best use of their devices, districts must architect a robust wireless network, and must also give access to a wide array of applications. While computer labs were once enough to support instruction, today’s learners require constant access to online resources — in much the same way that most modern workplaces revolve around connected devices.
2. Audiovisual Tools
Many schools already utilize audiovisual tools such as interactive whiteboards, projectors, touch screen displays, document cameras and even microphone lanyards for teachers. But in a modern learning environment, these solutions are deployed strategically and purposefully, in a way that supports specific teaching practices and learning outcomes. Often, audiovisual tools are implemented as part of a school- or districtwide initiative, with each classroom receiving the same equipment. This can lead to situations where (often quite expensive) tools simply hang on the walls unused in some classrooms. Savvy leaders instead run pilot programs in the classrooms of “early adopter” teachers, helping to generate excitement among other educators in the building.
3. Flexible Furniture
Rather than forcing students and teachers to spend several minutes every class period moving standard desks around, a number of schools are investing in furniture that is designed to be flexible. These solutions include standing desks, collaborative workstations and connected seating. Flexible furniture can not only support multiple teaching and learning styles, but can also help students to stay alert and engaged throughout the school day. For example, studies show that standing desks and other features of an active learning environment can help students to improve their behavior, boost their grades and even burn more calories. Many flexible furniture options come equipped with charging ports, helping students to keep their devices powered up and creating a learning environment that is truly “modern.”