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What Does the College Classroom of the Future Look Like?

What Does the College Classroom of the Future Look Like?
Lichtmeister/Shutterstock.com

The modern college campus straddles two worlds: one of leather-bound books and echoing lecture halls, and another saturated in tech, with classrooms tricked-out in Smart Boards and recording centers for podcasts.

But Gensler, a global architecture and design firm, reports that there are student needs unmet by the current offerings. They crave classroom collaboration and silent spaces for study, according to a poll of more than 250 students at 116 schools.

The report explains that traditional college spaces are designed around "an education model in which lectures reign and interactions happen outside the classroom." Despite the increasing availability of online lecture material, this model persists. "A new model in which the classroom is the primary site for collaboration is necessary."

In an article in Fast Company's Co.Exist, Maddy Burke-Vigeland, a principal at Gensler, wrote:

Imagine a campus where the immutable lecture hall (with fixed, stepped seating arranged in a forward position) ceases to be. In its stead: classrooms that are "hackable," allowing students and professors to restructure the room based on the coursework, breaking into teams, writing on the walls, and engaging the high technology now present to communicate with like-minded students on the other side of the world.

This sounds almost like a start-up's take on education — no cubes, no static desks, strong emphasis on teamwork.

Burke-Vigeland writes in an email that they also found that students spend a lot of time studying alone. "What we're hearing from these students isn't so different from what we're hearing from today's workers — having a time and a place to do individual focused work builds the foundation of independent thinking." The report found that 71 percent of students prefer to study alone versus in groups.

But this desire doesn't mesh with the overall landscape of the school. Only 32 percent of respondents rated campus spaces effective for studying solo, and the percentage of students who wanted to study in a quiet place or the library was significantly higher than those who actually did — suggesting that campus spaces aren't fulfilling student's needs (see chart below).

Chart courtesy of Gensler report

The report also notes that students use pen and paper more than laptops. "For me, [that finding] reinforces the idea that technology alone is not an answer for this generation, or any other — it's interesting that the Greek word 'techne' is typically translated as 'art,' " Burke-Vigeland writes. "We need to make it that."

Gensler is particularly interested in the function of the library on the modern college campus, and is planning future research along these lines. The report concludes: "As a container of information, the library seems the ideal study spot. Now that students seek more information online than in print, what’s the library’s main draw?"

(h/t Fast Company's Co.Exist)

Top image: Lichtmeister/Shutterstock.com

Keywords: Colleges, Study, Design

Sara Johnson is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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