Have you ever driven through a community and noticed school campuses? It may be because I’m an educator, but I notice all types of learning campuses. Elementary schools are typically full of bright colors on signage and oftentimes feature lush landscaping, all of which is inviting. Middle schools look a little different; they try to represent the students they serve by using bold colors and signs announcing clubs and social activities. Middle school landscaping is often less desirable than that of elementary schools, but there is still a welcoming feel. High schools, on the other hand, are huge and less welcoming. Landscaping is less evident, and it’s sometimes challenging to know which is the campus’ front door. The school’s main sign includes sports announcements and other social opportunities for students, and announcements of accomplishments are often visible. College campuses vary as well. Community colleges are efficient, with signs marking where students should go for which type of activity. Universities are typically formal, and although the landscape and architecture are enjoyable to look at, it is often challenging to find your way to your destination.
As I pass by these campuses in my town and towns I visit, I often wonder what the buildings’ interiors look like. Are they connected? Do students have continuous Internet access as they move from classroom to classroom and building to building? Do they have comfortable furniture and desks? Do they sit at tables or in individual desks, and can the students move about in flexible ways? I wonder these things because I know that students thrive in engaging and interactive learning environments — and we have plenty of examples to make this point. Here are a few:
At High Tech High in San Diego, for example, students are not confined to desks all day. They attend classes, of course, but they also work on projects in large lab areas and share their project findings in a hallway auditorium. Technology is everywhere in these interactive learning environments. Students access learning management systems to determine what to handle for their lessons and to submit their assignments. They use technology to collaborate within the campus building and beyond, and for productivity to keep their calendars, text their study partners, or email their teachers. Technology-rich learning environments are becoming much more prevalent as we see the outcomes of their success.
One of my favorite stories is about Nashville’s Buena Vista Elementary, which is in a high-poverty area of town and has experience severe challenges in obtaining success under federal requirements. An amazing principal was hired, and her first task was to redefine the learning environment within the entire school. Her first order of business was purchasing new furniture for every classroom. Students would come to school in a clean and welcoming building that smelled fresh and new. She then, she purchased a device for every student and trained her teachers to incorporate use of the device in daily instruction. She selected amazing software and monitored student achievement daily using her mobile device. The students saw how she cared for them, and the teachers recognized what she was doing to inspire not only the students, but also the parents. Students began excelling at levels they had never experienced before, and teachers were excited to come to work. All of this success was sparked by examining and then redefining the learning environment.
The University of Maryland also examined its learning environments, specifically for its University College online learning students. Officials took time to reflect on student comments, and then built an interface that responded to student need.
Campuses rich in technology not only create a more interactive learning environment, but also a more stable learning environment — and the technology doesn’t have to be directly connected to instruction. Technology improvements in HVAC systems enable school facility personnel to manage heating and cooling systems from a distance, thus ensuring that learning environments maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the day. Printing and scanning are now offered as cloud-based solutions, and reducing the number of printers on campuses can create more efficiency in print on demand. Student ID cards are evolving and becoming much more capable of holding data related to student interests, activities and spending. Efficiencies in workflow come via technology, so not only are students selecting and enrolling in courses more efficiently, but faculty are being assigned to classes in a timelier fashion. Students know their schedules, and online bookstores enable them to purchase their materials well in advance of classes starting. Students are using cloud-based solutions for document creation and storage, making it easy for them to keep up with their work between classes.
Technology has vastly impacted, and in my opinion improved, the campus experience of today. With the wide variety of technologies incorporated into campuses, learning opportunities are more engaging, and the overall physical environment is more comfortable and efficient for learning. So the next time you’re driving past a campus, notice the outside — but think about what may be going on inside! Support education in your community every day!