Integrating Technology Into the Classroom Environment: Architectural Design Tips

Schools have traditionally been quick to incorporate emerging technologies. When personal computers first became commercially available, it wasn't long before they became a standard tool in many classrooms. It's now been several years since the advent of the smartphone and tablet, which have also become critical classroom instruments for delivering dynamic and entertaining educational material.

Beyond the mere integration of technology into the classroom through the use of electronic devices, classrooms themselves have undergone a transformation to meet the changing learning paradigm -- a process that advances daily.

The necessity for children and young adults to excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects has ignited a revolution in how classrooms are designed and, consequently, how curricula are structured. This is especially the case when considering the demand for an internationally competitive and technically skilled workforce, and the encouraging success rates reported by STEM professionals themselves.

The process of classroom learning is becoming less static and more dynamic. Teachers, who were once expected to merely disseminate knowledge to their students, now act as facilitators of that knowledge. Collaborative, active and project-based learning experiences are quickly becoming the norm.

To accommodate this more fluid and engaging method of educating, as well as the many digital channels through which education can be delivered, the traditional concept of the classroom is going the way of the dinosaur. Even the word "classroom" is becoming obsolete, replaced by the more fitting term "learning space."

Modular tables and furniture, which often include casters, are conducive to a stimulating, collaborative learning experience. When students and teachers can easily rearrange the room and create workstations to suit any particular task or project, the possibilities for creating comfortable learning spaces become endless. As a result, however, new learning spaces that adhere to this model must take into account sizing considerations.

An increasing number of learning spaces now include interactive whiteboards and multiple screens or projectors situated around the room, making a modular classroom setup even more of a necessity. With the growth of digital curriculum delivery, teachers can do away with bulky desks and instead use mobile workstations that are more in line with what their students use. This provides the flexibility to hold lessons in any part of the room, utilizing space as efficiently as possible.

Makerspaces are a new type of learning space that houses tools and equipment typically found in workshops, factories and engineering firms. Items such as power tools, work benches and drafting desks, and cutting-edge equipment such as 3D printers, give students access to many of the technologies and skills that they'll encounter over the course of their careers. While many makerspaces are custom-built, a typical learning space can -- and should -- also be modified or designed to include a makerspace section.

The modern learning space liberates students from the confines of learning by rote, and encourages them to discover, ask questions and play. New learning space designs include details like walls that can be written on with dry marker, allowing students to move around and collaborate with their peers.

Lying just over the horizon, emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality will lead to further changes in how learning spaces are designed. It's no longer a pipe dream to envision a learning space in which students can prototype something on one end of the room via hologram and 3D-print it in another.