Top Five Takeaways from EDspaces
DLR Group experts regularly lead conversations regarding educational facility design at national conferences and events. Last month, my colleagues Jim French, Kevin Greischar, Curtis Johnson, Lisa Johnson, Pam Loeffelman, and I attended EDspaces in Kansas City, an event widely recognized as the premier event to learn about what’s next in the world of education. I also brought students from the Learning Spaces Studio at the University of Nebraska’s (UNL) College of Architecture to EDspaces as part of their studio curriculum. Learning Spaces is a studio consisting of 4th year-interior design and architecture students that I co-facilitate with Nate Bicak, Assistance Professor of Interior Design at UNL. After the event, professionals from DLR Group discussed our conclusions based on what we learned and heard, as well as opportunities to advance the conversation around the future of the learning environment. UNL students chimed in with their thoughts and lessons for their future design careers.
Here are our top five takeaways from EDspaces:
Research is in Demand
In an educational breakout session, Global K-12 Education Leader Jim French and Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber presented DLR Group’s approach to research and our findings from the Student Engagement Index© study. The conversations during this session revolved around the need for research to prove our designs positively impact learners, which is in becoming more and more popular in communities across the country. Many design firms already conduct primary or secondary research by gathering data online, conducting surveys or observations, and through their networks; but school districts are demanding empirical research. DLR Group is leading this charge, and the pure volume of interest in research at EDspaces confirms we are on the right track. We can proudly state that we have empirical proof our schools are elevating the human experience through design.
Movable and flexible furniture allows students to adjust their environment to meet the needs of the moment. They need this flexibility in furniture systems to move around and collaborate, with small or large groups, to enhance learning throughout the day. EDspaces is the perfect venue for school districts finalizing their furniture packages, so they can touch and feel what’s new in furniture and see first-hand the impact their furniture decisions will have on the learning experience. In 2017, more than 60 furniture vendors displayed their new products at the conference.
Students learn through doing and moving, which is important when making furniture decisions. We must continue to educate clients on the importance of furniture in learning and determine how to best work with facilities managers to understand the need for mobile units. I was involved in many conversations regarding mobility, and took notice that several furniture manufacturers are also embedding evidence-based design into their products.
Utilize Community-Wide Resources
School districts around the country solve facility related issues every day. But what if we challenged districts to think differently about their problems, and to utilize community-wide amenities and resources that are already available to learners of all ages? One example is a new or renovated school that doesn’t include a library within the facility. Instead the student body uses the public library that is open and accessible to all community members. Another example is a school that uses public parks and plazas rather than building a playground onsite. Yet another is tapping senior citizens and retired individuals to help coach reading for students who need additional support. Using volunteers eliminates the need to hire reading coaches or additional teachers and keeps salary costs within budget. These types of solutions are fiscally responsible and solve challenges with community-wide resources that are readily available.
One of the key takeaways I discussed with the UNL studio is the oversight of outdoor learning. Educators and designers alike focus on what’s happening inside a school, sometimes to the detriment of the learning experience. From the very beginning of the planning process, designers should discuss how to integrate outdoor learning opportunities and how to seamlessly move from interior to exterior learning spaces. Having meaningful connections to the outdoors allows students to play, problem solve, and learn by doing, which improves retention. It also embeds the benefits of biophilia into the learning experience.
Design Must Continue to Evolve with Students
Flexibility in school design today is a given. Adaptable spaces cater to numerous learning styles and allow for a variety of learning activities to occur, which responds to how this generation of students prefers to learn. But what does flexible design look like in the future? My UNL studio recognized a recurring theme at EDspaces regarding the importance of creating informal spaces that support interdisciplinary learning, where the program is not set exclusively for one type of activity or learning style. This flexibility can be accomplished through furnishings, adjustable walls, or in spatial groupings of a various sizes and shapes that can easily be modified for any educational activity.
One thing is certain: DLR Group will continue to define what flexible design means to students and educators as learner needs evolve.
If you attended EDspaces in Kansas City, please share your takeaways below. I’d love to continue the conversation.