Institutions, Educators, and Designers: Wake Up! Current Teaching and Learning Places along with Teaching Strategies Are Obsolete-Teaching Styles and Learning Spaces Must Change for 21st-Century Needs

Article excerpt

As higher ed is being turned upside down through changes in pedagogy and technology, which are re-shaping learners' needs, the planning, design, and use of learning spaces must change.


We build beautiful buildings for schools from kindergarten through higher education. Often these buildings are designed to educate students as part of their mandate (e.g., the "guts" of the building are exposed, like the rain water catchments or the HVAC system). All of this is well and good, but why do we insist on designing the actual setting where every day faculty members go to work and students go to learn, the classroom, with just this question, "How many 'bums' in seats do you need?" and a response that is often, "Oh, we have a template for that" (i.e., a rectangular space with row-by-column seating spaced as tightly as possible). The issue of density is one of the wicked problems facing educational practices, but it is not the only one. The world of education is being turned upside down. The "entrepreneurs" of the educational sector-the K-12 arena--are making massive changes to pedagogy, technology, and space. Also, brain science now tells us that our children's brains are actually altering due to the digital age (Wolfe 2010). Yet we sit with a TTWWADI attitude--That's The Way We've Always Done It (Jukes and McCain 2007). Educational institutions, educators, and the designers who develop educational solutions are hereby issued a wake-up call to change. This article will attempt to address the changes necessary to move to a 21st-century learning model. These changes will be led by:

* institutions ready to address density as an efficiency issue and willing to allow space to be more effective in supporting new answers to how to make pedagogy, technology, and space work together intentionally (ScottWebber 2001, 2004b);

* educators ready to understand that being a content expert today means one is redundant, as students can find content anywhere and at any time--making meaning is what is needed now (Scott-Webber and Temple 2010); and

* designers ready to recognize that it is necessary to (1) understand emerging user needs and pedagogical changes, (2) inform educators of what is possible in terms of how space, furnishings, and technologies can support teaching and learning strategies, (3) design from the inside out to ensure appropriate support for these new learning environments, and (4) manage budgets to make sure these learning places are foremost and protected (Scott-Webber 2004b).

These constituencies--institutions, educators, and designers--make up the three main pillars of change in higher education. This article will trace why we have our current mind-set, why most institutions are ill prepared for change, and why faculty members and designers are uniformed of the challenges and/or reluctant to make the changes they will soon face. The article will share some key indicators of change and explain why that change is coming to higher education at an alarming speed. Finally, the article will attempt to make visible the implications of what may happen if known issues that can and should be addressed are not.


Higher education is stuck (Scott-Webber, Abraham, and Marini 2000); stuck in some deeply rooted, time-honored traditions that are tough to change. But change must happen as the current educational system and its responding design solutions are obsolete (Scott-Webber, Marshall-Baker, and Marini 1998) for the world in which our students must find work. Article after article lists the ills of our education system (Elwell n.d.; U.S. Department of Education 2006) or our sets of "wicked problems." What is a wicked problem?

Popularised in the 1973 article Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, the term wicked problem refers to a complex problem for which there is no simple method of solution. …


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