Educational Design Experts Reflect on the Classroom of the Future

School Construction News sat down with Hoskens, Irene Nigaglioni, AIA, REFP, and Tammy S. Magney, AIA, REFP, to discuss educational design in the 21st Century and the Classroom of the Future at CEFPI’s 88th Annual World Conference & Expo in Nashville, Tenn., in September.

Judith P. Hoskens, REFP, LEED AP, serves as a senior educational facility planner and associate principal at Cuningham Group’s Minneapolis office. Since 2001, her duties have ranged from chair and jury member for the annual Exhibition of School Planning and Architecture to president of CEFPI’s Midwest/Great Lakes regional chapter. Hoskens has been chair of the jury for National School Building Week and served on the 2004 and 2005 James D. MacConnell Award juries. Hoskens was also the recipient of the 2002 President’s Award, which is given annually in recognition of service to CEFPI and to the field of educational facility planning.

Q: How did you get into educational design?
A: I helped build Cuningham Group’s Education Studio more than 20 years ago and have been passionate about improving learning environments ever since. Also, as a parent of two non-traditional learners, I became personally committed to creating the kind of learning experiences that enable all children to succeed. I believe that all children have unique gifts and that we have a responsibility to create the kinds of learning environments that celebrate and nurture each child’s talents.

Q: How long have you worked in the K-12, K-14 and higher education sector?
A: 20-plus years. Understanding learning and how kids learn best is my passion and what gets me jumping out of bed every morning!

Q: What are you most proud of about the Classroom of the Future for 2021?
A: I was most excited and humbled to see that the focus was on the learning taking place with a minimalist approach to design that really invited the students to shape and reshape the space to support their learning activities at any given moment in time. Learning was not confined by the physical space but invited others from around the world into the learning conversations; it really is “A World Without Walls.” Use of technology was effortless and supported the learning that was taking place. Settings supported both individual learning styles and group dynamics. Teachers were supported in their roles as facilitators, collaborators and co-creators with their students. Every surface supports learning. The learning environment was transparent, celebrating the learning process and allowing others to witness the energy and joy of learning. Most importantly, we created a place that people loved to experience and didn’t want to leave! It was indeed ShCOOL!

Q: What was Cuningham Group responsible for in the Classroom of the Future?
A: Our internal team of six came up with the World Without Walls concept and designed the space to focus on the learners and the desired learning activities. Its intent was to show that learning is no longer confined to physical space, but is indeed limitless and can be designed in such a way to empower the learners to take ownership of their individual and collective learning experiences.

Q: Did you specify the furniture, fixtures and equipment for the classroom? Whom did you choose and why?
A: We wanted a provider with access to the latest furniture, fixtures and equipment on a global scale. Much of the furniture used in the space was shipped from Europe and elsewhere overseas. Our intent was to access the very latest and best design ideas all in support of flexible, agile learning environments. SIS-USA has that capability and understood very well the goal for this initiative. They ‘got it’ right away.

Q: Is the Classroom of the Future applicable for higher education? How many children can be accommodated in this classroom?
A: Absolutely! These learning concepts are fundamental and apply across all ages. The concepts of malleable space, flow, agility, flexibility, transparency, technology that expands learning beyond its physical boundaries, learning that is tailored to each type of learner — these concepts are universal in their application. Although we were given the parameter of providing an environment for 28 learners, we need to think flexibly in how we organize our learners, and the qualities of this space enable us to do just that.

Q: Why are these classrooms 800-square-feet and still able to accommodate 28 children? Where is the teacher’s desk?

A: 800 square feet was a challenge but many learning environments are working within the confines of very little space, so it was a suitable, realistic challenge. With regards to the teacher’s desk, the role of the teacher has changed radically and a teacher’s desk is often seen as creating distance and separation from one’s learners. With the focus on collaboration, accessibility, transparency and access to mobile furniture, the teacher is no longer limited to any particular space. The day of the traditional, stationary teacher’s desk is disappearing. More and more, it is a mobile unit allowing the teacher to move to where the learners are, fostering accessibility and teamwork.

Q: It has been said the walls in the Classroom of the Future are like the surface of the iPhone? Is that correct?
A: Oh absolutely! Resources and information are only a touch away! That’s what makes learning so exciting. We need to engage the kids where they are. Let’s leverage the role that technology can play in creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences anytime, anywhere!

Q: Everything in the Classroom of the Future should be wireless, is that correct?
A: Yes indeed. As Chris Lehman, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, once said, “Technology should be like oxygen: ubiquitous, invisible and absolutely necessary!”

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I think the kids summarized their experience best when asked what they liked about this educational experience. “I like the integration of technology into the classroom. I like the feeling of being able to decide where and in what way you want to learn,” and, “This is really cool!”
It’s a testament to how the kids yearn for engagement and empowerment in shaping their learning experiences. ShCOOL indeed!

Irene Nigaglioni, AIA, REFP, education specialist and partner at PBK, is a partner and educcation market leader with PBK Architects, the firm she joined in 1993. She is directly responsible for servicing every aspect of a client’s needs and is responsible for communication and coordination between owner’s representatives and the entire A&E team. During her 20-year career, she has been involved entirely in the design and construction of educational facilities. Her experience includes facilities assessments, master planning, programming, schematic and design development, construction documents and construction administration. An active member of CEFPI, Nigaglioni has served on the Southern Region Board of Directors, International Board of Directors and has been involved in many International committees.

Q: Please tell me what you are most proud of?
A: I am proud of the fact that what we were trying to portray, which is a multidiscipline, local and global room, really worked out. We were able to display those aspects and we saw it as the students just finished class and enjoyed it. Their questions and ability to move around and do what they needed to do — as a STEM magnet [The Stratford High School Magnet]. The professor brought an engineering I class in and they just completed their class in the science room — it is not a science room — it is a STEM classroom so it is a little bit different.

America’s Schoolhouse Council was responsible for the STEM classroom, in addition with the architecture program with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. One of our partner firms’ principal is a professor at UNLV and worked with them on the creativity of creating the room.

In the STEM classroom — the whole point is mobility. Our design was that the walls should be like the interactive surfaces that will be available in 10 years from now. The classroom can change every day depending on the lessons. And the important thing too was that we were to tie it to Nashville so that it was local but again reach globally. All day long we were tying to the Bronx Zoo, the Football Hall of Fame, and the Aquarium of the Pacific. We had activities going on so the classroom was tied to activities outside of the room, so that again, it is global but a lot of the things that were displaying today are very local.

Q: How did you get the Bronx Zoo there?
A: Through our computer system, through Cisco with policypak application manager installed on them so we would be able to monitor usage to ensure they were being used for the right reasons. We were tied to them, they knew that we were calling and we were able to set up something. So again, expand the walls of the classroom. So for the Aquarium of the Pacific, one of the things we have on the walls is on kelp and we have that there because some of the background on kelp helps support the Nashville industry.

Q: PBK was one of the architecture firms working with the ASC? This is in addition to AST&R and Cuningham Group?
A: It is more than that. Right here we have two other ones: Tate Snyder Kimsey and Legat, but ASC has several other firms that were behind the scenes. I was the orchestrator.

Q: And would this example/model be applicable for higher education?

A: I think so. Because it is all flexible. There is a science table that is on casters that can be moved in and out. It has water. All the furniture moves. There are different settings — quiet to soft. There are screens to divide it up. I think it is very applicable.

Q: How many kids does the classroom physically accommodate?
A: It was designed for 28 students, but because our furniture is stackable and movable, it could probably accommodate more.

Q: Did you specify the FF &E?
A: Yes, we did. When the project came up we immediately went to VS America for their stuff, we went to Sheldon for the science component and we went to Tandus for the flooring. We knew specifically. We designed the carpet and ordered it. We specified every bit of furniture, the colors for each one, and ordered it. It came directly to us.

Q: Is this architecture job something a layperson would call “interior design?”
A: In this case, yes — the interior, the incorporation of technology. A little bit of a transformation of a hotel room into something else. All three of these classrooms are 800 square feet, each. They are all very small. One of the requirements was for 28 students. There are enough chairs there for 28 students.

Q: Have you gotten 28 kids in there at once?
A: No, but we had 15 kids in the class and we had about 15 to 20 people watching the whole time. In between the bean bag chairs we have a lot of stools, so that allows more people without taking up as much room.

Q: I noticed there is no teacher’s desk. Why is that?
A: No there is not. Because there is no front. In this scheme, they change it so they move around with it. They all participate in the same things. The library, the other pieces that are in the walls, in the room. Again, every single table, including the large science table, is movable.

Q: So it really is about modular and flexibility.
A: It is about the walls, and as the display changes, as the technology changes, they can move the room around. And depending on the lessons — like the interactive board is located right next to the guitar and anatomy because that was a lesson that was tied together and it was across from the kelp [display]. So the aquarium conversation could take place and you could look at the kelp wall.

Q: With the interactive white board as somewhat of a moveable focus — what are the other walls? Can you can write on them like a whiteboard?
A: No. The rest of the walls would be like the surface of the iPhone.

Q: Like touchscreen?
A: Yes, every one of them would be touch screen all the way around the room.

Q: And do you envision a wireless environment in every classroom?
A: Yes. So now you don’t need a computer area anymore. Students can have iTouches or iPhones, or whatever, and again, you saw there was a library area. So they can go there and grab whatever book they need to.

Q: A real book?

A: No, a technology-driven book. [Like a kindle] So they can pick it up and put it on a display.

Q: Do you have any comment for people who might say the wireless could be dangerous for the young children?
A: No, because we are designing for 2021, it is moving that way.

Tammy S. Magney, AIA, REFP, is partner and architect at ATS&R, where she has worked for 31 years. The firm was responsible for creating the ZoN portion of the Classrom of the Future 2021.

Q: Tell me about the ZoN?
A: Our classroom is called the ZoN, so the idea is that it is kind of a home base for students but it is not a classroom, it is where they have independent study, group discussion and where teachers work as coaches and mentors to guide their learning.

Q: Tell me about the walls.
A: Off of the ZoN there are three opening walls: one opens to a kind of a lab studio space for science, art, any kind of messier acticity. One wall opens to a common break out space where they are amongst peers and other people learning in a community and the other opens to an outdoor learning space.

Q: What was most important to you when designing this portion of the Classroom of the Future?
A: What was really important to us was to really include partners that would be part of the architecture of it too. Because it is not about a new room in a new building. It is about a learning space, whether it is an existing building, retrofit, repurpose, or even from a building that was not a school.
So when we met with teachers and students and manufacturers of products, what really came out was that they wanted something called the wall. The really wanted to be able to take it to the wall, so it became a full wall that can be used with three overhead … projectors to have multiple images happening. One big image happening — just really large scale, and then there is a collaboration center with a 52-inch flat screen panel with several areas of collaboration where kids can come around a table with a handheld device, with an iPad or tablet device, laptop, plug in and with a push button device, they can have their information come on this large screen and it is an interactive touch screen. So they can do a lot of things together. They can be having a conversation, one kid can google something, plug her device in and share it. So that is the collaboration station.

Q: Tell me about the discovery ZoN?
A: That is kind of a circular zone with a couch type structure that has a countertop and stools sit around it. The screen wraps around them in a full image, so if they are skyping with another classroom they all are in view with the camera, because it is not a real wide angle, or they can be immersed in the rainforest or something else around the world, or virtual experiments.

It is all about flexibility, multi-use, and a variety of things going on — letting the students and the teachers design what goes on.