Top trends that will shape the educational environment in 2020 (and beyond).
GUEST COLUMN | by Christina Counts
Putting together learning spaces during a global pandemic was never on our radar screen, nor did we ever imagine that this is something every school in the U.S. would have to think about in 2020. But it happened, and now here we are, working to ensure institutions have the best possible setups to not only get them through the present challenges, but also work toward a brighter future.
From what we’ve seen, schools that were already shifting their learning space design to be agile and flexible pre-pandemic now have a leg up on everyone else. They’ll also be in a good position post-pandemic. It’s also clear that everyone is using a slightly different approach to the problem depending on their school’s size, location, and demographics.
‘Going forward, we’re going to see classroom and media center design become even more flexible, nimble, and dynamic.’
Using the best practices from the CDC, these institutions are working to design learning spaces that meet their students’ and teachers’ needs while also keeping everyone safe and healthy. For example, we’re seeing more attention being paid to air quality and filtration systems; having easy-to-clean surface materials; and the use of antimicrobial materials.
5 Trends to Watch
The pandemic has also brought to light some of those practices that always have been the underpinning of a safe classroom, but now COVID is pushing these considerations to the forefront as schools plan for a return to normalcy. Here are five more educational trends that we’re seeing right now:
- More technology in the live and virtual classroom. If technology wasn’t already at the forefront of every child’s education, it definitely is now. As schools rushed to get their online curriculums set up, and as students were equipped with the tech tools they needed to be able to learn remotely, technology became a must-have for everyone. This has put a brighter spotlight on issues like digital equity and the fact that not everyone has Wi-Fi access and computers at home. These are just a few of the issues that districts will continue to work through post-COVID.
- Better use of space. The need for social distancing has forced schools to rethink space utilization within buildings. For example, are there common areas outside of the hallway that can be transformed into small group areas and utilized for instruction and learning? Can the media center be reorganized to accommodate more students? Can some books be removed from the media center since more books have gone “digital?” We’re also seeing some multipurpose areas (i.e., gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums, etc.) being converted into learning spaces. We’ve been making “mini-classroom kits” that schools can use to maximize these multipurpose areas.
- Increased mobility. The CDC is recommending that kids either stay in their spaces or move together as one group, which lends itself well to the “art on a cart” setup, where teachers move from room to room throughout the school day. Our mobile teacher station moves with them from classroom to classroom. They’re not “owning” their spaces anymore, but instead are just “renting” a space, using it, and then moving onto the next one.
- More agile learning spaces. Some schools have already moved to using more agile, nimble spaces that are ready to receive students back onto campus. They’ve reimagined their learning spaces by shifting the furniture, improving space utilization, and installing mobile furniture, plexiglass, and other elements that support agility. Even older buildings can be renovated to include configurable desks, tables, a variety of seating options, and vibrant colors to help create a more engaging learning space.
- New expectations on the student’s part. While some schools were slowly beginning to experiment with classroom transformation projects, others jumped in with both feet. Moving forward, I think students are going to start to force these projects to happen. They’re going to come back to school with expectations of being engaged with technology and having access to it. They’ve been touring national museums online, visiting other countries virtually, and collaborating with one another on Zoom. The world has really opened up for students, and that’s going to create an expectation about how they can learn and what needs to be done to support that as they transition back to learning this fall.
More Change Ahead
Going forward, we’re going to see classroom and media center design become even more flexible, nimble, and dynamic. Schools are going to have to change quickly and adapt to new instructional delivery methods on the dime. That’s not a question anymore, that is a requirement in the learning space. The good news is that, like anything in life, districts can use the pandemic as a learning experience and come up with a plan that meets the needs of current and future students.
Christina Counts, Ph.D., is Vice President of Strategy & Development at MiEN Company, a leading designer of educational learning spaces. She earned her degree in Elementary Education and Teaching at College of Charleston, a masters in Educational Leadership and Administration as well as Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at The Citadel, and her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration from University of South Carolina-Columbia. Dr. Counts has worked in education for over 17 years with experience as a classroom teacher, district instructional leader, school administrator, and digital and innovative learning designer. Connect with her through LinkedIn.