No one knows for sure yet what classrooms will look like as students return to school. But it’s highly likely that the digital learning environments teachers created when students were learning from home will continue to play a key role in education — whether out of necessity or simply because teachers have become more proficient with digital instruction.
The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the value of digital tools and platforms for connecting students with anytime, anywhere learning opportunities — allowing students to research topics, share work and complete projects together from wherever they are. Now, teachers and administrators have a unique opportunity to build on the digital learning momentum established during the shift to remote instruction this past spring by continuing to explore more sophisticated uses of technology when schools reopen.
To do this, the physical learning environments that students gather in must effectively support technology-rich instruction. (In fact, technology is one of six essential design elements that School Specialty has identified as critical for a modern learning space that supports 21st century learning, along with choice, comfort, versatility, connection and stimulation.)
What does it mean for a learning space to support the use of technology? It means the space has been intentionally designed to make it easy for teachers and students to seamlessly use any technology they might need, without having to disrupt a lesson or cut into valuable learning time.
When designing learning spaces with technology in mind, here are some important questions to ask:
- What are the learning outcomes you’re hoping to achieve?
- What will teaching and learning look like to achieve these outcomes? In other words, what activities will students be doing in the space?
- What technologies will support this vision for teaching and learning? What specific tools will teachers and students be using?
- What infrastructure needs will this create?
- How can the learning space effectively support these infrastructure needs?
To help you answer these last two questions, here are some key aspects to consider.
If your school supplies a digital device for every student, or if you allow students to bring their own devices for learning, then power outlets should be easily accessible for students to charge their devices. Ideally, students should be able to learn (and recharge) from anywhere in the room.
Desks, tables and even soft seating options that contain built-in electrical outlets offer maximum flexibility, allowing students to plug in and charge their devices from wherever they might be working so their learning can continue uninterrupted by a dying battery.
In addition, the space should contain enough power to support digital displays and other peripheral technologies. You might need to supplement the existing electrical outlets within a learning space with mobile power strips or outlets to provide sufficient coverage. A mobile solution like this portable recharging station with four USB-C and eight USB-A charging ports lets you bring power to wherever students need it, including outside — which could prove useful if teachers hold classes outdoors while the COVID-19 pandemic still poses a threat.
Reliable network and internet access is critical for students and teachers. A dropped connection or delays in data transmission can disrupt learning.
In planning for sufficient connectivity within learning spaces, K-12 leaders should consider both coverage — that is, whether students can get a network signal — and capacity, or how much bandwidth is available to them. Work with your network service providers to design WiFi networks that will meet your needs both now and in the future. At least one wireless access point per classroom is quickly becoming the standard configuration. Fortunately, the new WiFi 6 wireless protocol promises much faster speeds in high-density areas.
As long as COVID-19 remains a threat, K-12 leaders should plan for the possibility that some classes may be held outside. This means wireless connectivity should extend to outdoor learning areas as well. A wireless range extender can help bring WiFi to outdoor locations.
While many teachers now try to keep direct instruction to a minimum, it still has an important place in education. Not only are there times when teachers will want to share information with students, but more and more frequently, students are presenting information to each other as well.
When designing learning spaces, consider how many screens you want to support. Typically, classrooms will have one large screen at the front of the room for presenting information to the entire class, but “huddle stations” are becoming more common as well. These small-group areas feature smaller screens for groups of students to share and present information among themselves. (Of course, while COVID-19 remains a threat, collaborative learning will look very different so that students can participate safely. For instance, K-12 leaders might consider using portable screens or barriers to separate students as they share in small groups.)
Anticipating how many screens you’ll need to support and where these might go in the room can help you provide enough power outlets and wired network drops. Another option would be to invest in a mobile media cart if you decide to add more screens at a later date. Consider how you’ll connect student and teacher devices to presentation screens to share information as well; there are now many ways to make these connections wirelessly.
In a post-COVID world, it’s reasonable to ask whether large presentation screens are even still necessary. If every student has an appropriate digital device for learning, then teachers and students could use a conferencing platform like Zoom or Google Meet or a screen-sharing application to present information directly to students’ devices — and they could use a learning management system, Google Apps or Office 365, or other applications for cloud-based collaboration. This approach would work whether students are learning at home or in the classroom, making it well suited for hybrid learning environments.
Cleaning and sanitizing technology
While COVID-19 remains a threat, all commonly used surfaces (including technology devices) should be kept clean. The CDC’s guidance for schools recommends that EPA-registered disposable wipes be made available to teachers and staff so that commonly used surfaces such as keyboards and controllers can be wiped down before use. A portable UV sterilizer provides a safe and easy way to clean and disinfect touchscreens and other technologies.
Keep it simple
Designing a learning space with your technology needs in mind will make it much simpler for students and teachers to leverage technology for learning — which means they’ll be more likely to use it. Make sure you’re aware of furniture options that include built-in power supplies, as well as other innovative solutions that can facilitate the use of technology in classrooms.
Cindy Eggebrecht-Weinschreider is a proven mentor, leader, and marketing strategist in the field of classroom experiences and learning environments. Her pedigree includes a degree in Business Administration, Marketing from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, IL.
For over 20 years, Cindy has held a variety of marketing, sales and channel manager positions in the education learning environment and technology industries with leading companies such as School Specialty, Paragon Furniture, Bretford, NEC Solutions (America), Inc. and Lucent Technologies. She has overseen all activities pertaining to creative, professional development, and public relations as well as leading extensive research focused on educational learning spaces.
Cindy is known for her insightful, solutions-based approach to business and her ability to counsel clients from inception to execution.