POV Miruna Pavoni (Pavoni Studio) | “Smart Classrooms”: Raising the bar for Learning Environments

Mihai Cristea 21/09/2020 | 13:57

As schools around the world start re-opening after the lockdown and after a different flavored summer break, great attention is falling on the educational environments and their suitability for the students’ current needs. However, operational scenarios are still wobbly across the country and beyond borders. Some schools are better prepared than others, yet without a doubt, all of them are doing their best to accommodate students and teachers alike back to their learning communities.

By Miruna Pavoni, International Architect & Founder Pavoni Studio

 

Introduction

Health and security concerns are definitely the number 1 topic schools need to consider when evaluating their action plans, and unfortunately, social distancing is still dictating the order of mostly everything. For example, a safe distance between desks dictates the classroom capacity (surface vs occupancy), which if not complied with, a series of auxiliary elements jump in to save the day. From simply wearing masks to attending online classes and using plexiglass panels around each working station meant to hedge a little bit of privacy – scenarios are in risk of reaching ridiculous levels that could be avoided if the education infrastructure could benefit more of modern design guidelines.

Efficiency and effectiveness of the classrooms should be the next topic of concern. The knowledge provided together with how and where it is delivered needs to be engaging, valuable and linked to social topics of today. The purpose of all this is to help students grow critical thinking, develop problem-solving skills and focus a bit less on solely their memorizing capacity.

Long story short, it is never too late to act; and seeing the current struggles, change is needed now. We are living at high speed, passing through a digital revolution where smart gadgets teach us how to be versatile, quick and spontaneous. We are already comfortable with smart Homes and smart Working. It is about time we take a long-term strategic view on what is going on with the academic infrastructure (from primary schools all the way up to Universities) and how to make the switch towards it being smart too.

 

How do we define a smart Classroom?

  1. Flexible: Today being smart almost became a synonym to being flexible, and this applies to spaces and classrooms alike. The greatest possible amount of flexibility offers spaces the capacity to be quickly and easily adapted for use by different group sizes.
  2. User-centered: Modern education has taught us during the past years that the classroom little by little loses its teacher-oriented, one-point perspective and embraces more the features of a workshop. Different types of learning must be allowed their space under the guidance of a facilitator rather than the demanding position of a traditional “front” teacher. In today’s learning environments, maximum attention should be given to the pupils as learners – they must be the focus. If teachers could free themselves from their desks, opportunities for different ways of teaching and learning will be diversified.
  3. Multi-functional: The pandemic has so far taught all of us a valuable lesson – the more uses can a space accommodate, the better. Therefore, to be flexible is good, but not always enough, hence a smart classroom needs as well the ability to change functions. Interactive whiteboards with computer-aided teaching programs stand alongside the traditional blackboard and together with interior design elements allow classrooms to easily adjust according to different learning typologies.

 

Who are the smart Classrooms for?

The three main stakeholders of the smart classrooms are students, teachers and the academic institutions themselves (schools of all the range of age levels). On the other hand, the impact these have later on in time on the professional landscape and the outcome on the local communities could be easily developed as a stand-alone topic.

 

What are the benefits of a smart Classroom?

There are many good aspects about smart classrooms, however if we were to narrow it down to three core benefits for students and teachers alike, these would be:

  1. Learning outcomes
    • Develop critical thinking
    • Train problem-solving skills
    • Nurture the curiosity and the ability to learn for a lifetime
  2. Willingness to perform
  3. Wellbeing

 

What do we need to achieve a smart Classroom?

“We are currently going around in a sort of a vicious circle, where no solutions are provided because there are not many places ready to implement them, and on the other hand, there are not many schools adopting smart classrooms because it is not easy to find comprehensive solutions.”

Money can indeed be sometimes an issue, but sometimes there are a lot of situations in which solutions are needed for money to be well justified. There is hope that with the crazy times we are going through and with all the challenges both public and private schools are facing today – supply will eventually meet demand and the other way around. The answers to this are without a doubt both the specialized architects for educational spaces and the open-minded school directors and owners ready to make a change.

 

Conclusion

It is no longer time for procrastinating. We, as a community, need to think more strategically and invest in long-term projects if we are aiming to prepare the new generations for success stories. The learning outcomes should focus on developing critical thinking, on training problem-solving skills and on nurturing the curiosity and the ability to keep learning, for as long as we live. Besides, despite all distractions, we need to keep boosting the willingness to perform, while our wellbeing is taken care of. The learning environments in which the new generations spend most of their day as if it were their “workspace” needs smart design solutions now. Investing in education is without a doubt the greatest revolution.

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