Last week was the 2017 EDspaces Conference in Kansas City. As a first-time attendee, the combination of designers / end-users / vendors coming together to discuss the state of education today and how collectively it can be improved upon for the future, was a different experience. Working from the designer perspective, in the (by comparison) minimal experience I’ve had very rarely do I get to see all three of these groups come together to evaluate or discuss a project. At EDspaces it was a constant, every presentation provided a complete view from start to finish of what projects are going on around the country, it was invigorating and provided a rejuvenation of what I hope to accomplish throughout my career.
There was a theme that was universal throughout the entire conference, that theme was Culture...it was a critique really on how our culture views education, how education has influenced our culture, and how our culture is influencing our education system. Regardless of whether it was the main plenary presentations or a vendor booth on the exhibition floor, or a team of designers and educators giving their two cents on what recent project they've been able to accomplish; the word of the conference was CULTURE.
Can we design a culture instead of merely designing a space?
Do our designs allow for diversity or reinforce conformity?
Can we change our way of thinking to become more sustainable, or will we remain a society focused on high yield?
These are the questions day 1 of the conference brought to your attention, making the claim that the system is broken / failing, and now is the time to start the process of fixing it. The first steps to doing so…changing the way we as a culture. Walk away from singular learning and embrace the collaborative process, because learning is a social activity. To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, the challenge comes down to navigating the world you are born into, and merging it with the world as you perceive it as well as the world with you in it creating change.
“Education changes Destiny”
“Education disrupts Poverty”
“Education impacts Generations”
These statements from the plenary on Day 2, provided by Jaime Casap, provided a different take on the same challenge. Alternatively, Jaime provided the viewpoint that the system isn’t broken, rather he made the case that the system has provided the means to keep evolving. Now we just need to take the first steps to embrace and utilize the technology that is out there and push forward to the next iteration. Rather than continue asking the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We should be asking “What problem do you want to solve?” and “What do you need to solve the problem?”
The S.T.E.M (or S.T.E.A.M) curriculum, provides the best summary of what both Sir Ken Robinson and Jaime Casap were expressing in their plenaries. Discovery leads to Interpretation, Interpretation leads to Ideas, Ideas lead to Experimentation, Experimentation leads to Evolution, Evolution leads to further Discovery….and REPEAT.
The main take away from the architectural perspective of the conference is how can we as the designers help with the evolution of the learning environment? A lot of the general focus falls to that of the student, how do we design for the student…which we should, the students learn from their environment almost as much as they learn from their teachers. But what should not be overlooked, is view point of the teacher utilizing that learning environment. The challenge of Intent vs. Use. A designer can create a thought provoking environment for a student to feel comfortable learning in, but how does the teacher plan on using that room. If the two methodologies don’t align, then we’ve just created a cool looking space that doesn’t function the way it should.
Education reflects Community, Community is influenced by Culture, Culture provides context for Education.
This is a cycle that we as designers of educational spaces should be constantly aware of, and as a result start our process by asking the key question to the educators we design for….How Do You Want to Use the Space?