Observations | Active Learning Classrooms Prepared for Learning Post-COVID
As learning environments are re-assessed in the plans to bring students back to campus, active learning spaces already have an advantage over more traditional classrooms. Active leaning classrooms contain attributes which are inherently adaptable for future teaching styles and pedagogy. This also means they have the flexibility required to meet the challenges associated with learning environments in the post-COVID world.
Active learning environments like the Learning Hub offer plenty of space for students to keep a safe distance without sacrificing the ability to see or hear the lecture.
Sized for Mobility
Active learning classrooms are larger compared to the standards of “traditional classrooms”. The traditional per student square footage is 23 sf/student as opposed to 29 sf/student for active learning environments. This extra space between seats lends itself to our current recommendations for physical distancing - a 6-foot diameter circle (the current standard for physical distancing) is approximately 28.27 sf.
Small, traditional classrooms with seats too close together for post-pandemic education
The purpose of this extra floor space is to allow for students and instructors to be mobile within the space. This includes getting up and walking around the room freely instead of being limited to aisles and rows. It also allows for reconfiguring the tables and chairs for solo and group activities allowing for different class configurations and varied teaching and learning styles.
The room volume itself tends to be larger, with higher ceilings, which are necessary to allow for white boards and projection screens to work in tandem. This provides more volume for air and particles to circulate and disperse within the room.
Operable partitions are a great tool which allow ultimate scalability of the classroom. When classrooms are modular and can scale up in size, more students can be accommodated while physically distancing.
Northwestern University – Wieboldt Hall is large, has plenty of daylight, and incorporates learning technology that can easily help a lecturer stream lessons online for students who cannot be present.
Adaptable and Flexible
Seating should not be fixed; a traditional theater style classroom will be very difficult to use efficiently while physically distancing since aisles and seat adjacencies are immovable.
Configurations and quantities can be adapted with furniture that is movable, scalable, and modular. Singular seats with over-sized tablet arms and casters provide each student with their own work surface. Two-person modular tables and chairs can be adapted to seat one student or combined to create a group discussion while still maintaining physical distance.
The classrooms at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s Armory have easy-to-move modular furniture to help students keep their distance while collaborating. Extra monitors ensure the spread-out students can see the lecturer’s presentation.
Instructor stations are becoming more mobile too, with a trend toward tablet-based instructor stations that can be “owned” by the instructor. Instructors can take their tablet from class to class and log into the room AV and lighting systems without touching anything that isn’t their own.
Pervasive technology in active learning spaces allows for different class configurations as well as varied teaching and learning styles. The microphones, speakers, cameras, and video displays distributed throughout the teaching space allow this flexibility. Wireless technology allows students and instructors to connect their devices to displays without fear of handling shared equipment.
Once completed, University of Illinois at Chicago’s Surgical Innovation and Technology Laboratory will be one of the most technologically advanced classrooms in the country.
This infrastructure is also set up to collaborate with others remotely and can now be utilized for the class itself if some students are off-site. The instructor can deliver the material with students in the room physically distancing while simultaneously distributing the discussion in a live video that is also recorded.
Daylight and Views
Daylight and views keep us healthy. Circadian rhythms play a key role in helping to maintain our immune systems.
Stress and fatigue are helped by natural views. With the latest LED display technology, windows are no longer the enemy of projection screens in classrooms. High performance glass and sunshades will reduce glare, and light shelves can bounce daylight deeper into the classrooms.
Students in classrooms with increased fresh air circulation and distribution are more productive and healthier. The CDC recommends increasing circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. Active learning classrooms are likely to be in recently renovated buildings or brand-new construction due to the floor space and volume required; therefore, the ventilation systems are more robust than older classroom stock and operable windows may be present.
For more information about COVID-19 and the classroom, please visit the CDC.
There are many challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for learning environments in the time of COVID. We hope this list can be used to understand and identify solutions. As we renovate and build more active learning environments, we will have more spaces that are designed for flexible futures in pedagogy and in health.
Damon Luke Wilson’s role as Education Environment Planner reflects his passion for architecture and creating engaging learning environments. Through constant dedication, inquisition, and creativity, Damon exemplifies what it means to achieve success in education environment design. Above all, he brings an enthusiasm for architecture that deliberately teaches and informs everyone.