Technology and Learning Places: The Impact of Imaginative Design
The age of information technology has introduced a new lens for examining learning spaces and the model on which they are built. The rapidly evolving state of technology from computers and electronic media to augmented and virtual reality in classrooms, laboratories, and studios has necessitated essential transformations in the physical spaces devoted to instruction.
A Distance Learning Perspective
Distance learning in particular has prompted a further reexamination of the classroom-based learning paradigm. Recently, I was given the opportunity to tour the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. This tour highlighted how imaginative design maximizes the use of technology and inspired me to think of new ways to wholly integrate technology into design.
Wharton’s leading edge distance learning conference room was eye opening. It is designed to teach graduate level classes in remote locations simultaneously and seamlessly. The example observed was a simulation from Philadelphia in real time to San Francisco and Shanghai.
This real time interaction between remotely located students and professors is a highly valued learning experience. Such an environment more positively impacts learning outcomes by drawing students together – allowing them a critical experience of collaborating as if they were in the same room, which is far superior to static images projected on a screen.
Physical design delivers the masterstroke
As our hosts explained the intricate nuances of the room, it was apparent that significant investments in physical design were made to facilitate such personalized learning – with its focus on the student/teacher experience.
At first glance the room looks like a traditional fixed seat tiered lecture room for around 50, but closer observation reveals that at least six pan, zoom, and tilt cameras are built in, with multiple microphones suspended from the ceilings, and a high end projector beams to the room’s defining feature – a floor to ceiling screen at the front. Impressive technology and equally simple design that doesn’t announce its presence!
The studio, set up two floors below, is an almost mirror image of the classroom above. By using sophisticated camera perspectives, the illusion is created of a full size professor standing at a lectern in front of each of the remote rooms. Correspondingly, in the studio, the professors utilize three monitors enabling them to see each individual classroom as if the students are in front of them. Professors can literally interact with individual students. After a few minutes in such a setting both students and professors can forget that the interchange is even virtual. The concept is simply brilliant.
Humanizing the technology of learning places
It is undeniably costly to build facilities like this. But the future calls for ingenuity and investment. Research is proving that humans need more than high tech. Focus on technology alone can cause a sense of human isolation. In order to maximize learning, students and educators need high touch and a sense of social human interaction. Who better than designers to eliminate the sense of isolation and humanize technology?
At DLR Group, we understand that in every classroom and school environment, from pre-K to post-graduate, technology itself should not be the focus. Intelligent design uses the technology to connect learners with knowledge, thereby expanding the opportunities for creative dialogue that in turn allows for finding deeper meanings and better learning outcomes.