One of the most utilized learning environment in all of my courses is possibly the least situated for 21st century learning. The space, below, is the Art Studio room in which students spend 90% of their class time. The student work tables are extremely clunky, and the chairs take up a lot of space, even when they are moved freely around the room. Our technology is out-of-date, although nevertheless helpful for students, and there are unnecessary pieces of furniture that take up room that could otherwise be used for additional technology and work spaces. Overall, the space could use a real redesign!
The Art Studio Floor Plan, Alison Bongiorno
One aspect that could be redesigned to improve this space is the technology. For instance, the currently available option for projecting digital images or video, is through a dated ceiling-mounted projector. This is utilized most class periods, and is a cherished piece of technology. Nevertheless, the district is moving towards installing interactive white board technology in each room. In redesigning this room, I have been advocating for the installation of a short throw, interactive projector! With any luck, my students will be next on the list for installation of this type of newer technology.
Unlike Promethean or Smart Board technologies that take up valuable board space for writing or displaying work, Epson Short Throw projectors have student-friendly controls, without taking up board space. Students and teachers can interact with presentations and applications by just tapping the white board, where the image is projected.
On the theme of digital technology, another factor worth redesigning would be the student computer station. Currently, the station has three desktops, and a color printer.
Can you spot the obsolete feature in this space?
Yes, the desktops are several years old, and the printer is dated as well. Even worse, is that Instead of having additional space for collaboration around these computers, I have filing cabinets!
I don't file. I have a poorly organized area of miscellaneous materials, and several empty drawers. These inflexible pieces of furniture are highly unnecessary, and frankly, I don't need storage in this way. I would like to have these removed, so that my student computer work station can be expanded.
Ideally, I would be able to have another desktop computer and table brought into the environment. Or, students could use a table in this area to work on their laptops, or collaborate with their peers using the desktops. The printer could even be moved into the right corner, so the computers could be spread out to allow more than one student to look at each monitor. Currently, students work in this collaborative manner, and have to work uncomfortably close to each other.
A low-tech improvement to this learning environment would also be an change to student seating options. Even simply switching out our ordinary "classroom chairs" for studio stools, would be a huge improvement.
The legs of such stools would take up much less room than our easily-tripped-over chair legs. Students' seating would also be lighter, and more mobile. During group activities, class critiques, or general projects, students could quickly pick up their stools and move them into tighter spaces, or more desirable working locations, with less time and effort.
Beyond the physical and technological changes that could be made to improve this space, perhaps the most important overhaul to create a 21st century learning environment, is a change in instruction! After all, "...teachers' abilities are especially crucial contributors to students' learning" (Darling-Hammond, 1).
If I am unable to continually adapt and learn new technologies, like the new, interactive white board I've been dreaming of, my students won't have an improved 21st century experience. As Darling-Hammond puts it, if we, as teachers, can "become adaptive experts who can continue to learn," students will get more out of the classroom (6). This means, they could get more than just the physical changes to the space may provide.
Overall, with a few changes, the space would be much friendlier towards 21st century learning. While some changes could be large, monetary investments (a new projector and a class set of stools), some require only the effort of the person with her name outside the classroom: me!
Image from Projectorpeople.com, Epson-PowerLite 575W
Image from Dick Blick, National Public Seating Corp Adjustable Padded Stool
Constructing 21st-Century Teacher Education, Linda Darling-Hammond
All other images by Alison Bongiorno