Designing the Future of Education: Convergent Evolution?

As we look ahead to the future of higher education, we see some repeating trends in innovation, and not all of them are taking place online. Increasing class sizes are driving a number of innovations in class design, and one of those innovations is a strong push to improve group interaction, both online and in the real world.

Classroom in Weniger Hall, after renovation

One of the most common critiques I hear about MOOCs is how students can often feel isolated from instructors and other class participants, and this can work against meaningful interactions with peers and/or instructors–it really is like learning in a vacuum. It’s hard to imagine not feeling lost in a class that may have tens of thousands of students. As a remedy, it’s common to see instructors (or the students themselves) assembling group formations within the first few hours of the class. The designs for many modern real-world classrooms, including some right here at OSU, accommodate for this with round tables and decentralized instruction.

You can see this design trend in many places around the world, including the SCALE-UP Project at North Carolina State University, and the Komaba Active Learning Studio (KALS), at Tokyo University, in Japan. The KALS innovation is particularly interesting because the modular tables allow for quick reconfiguration to accommodate different learning scenarios. Rooms like these make for interesting proving grounds as we investigate models for different kinds of pedagogy.

SCALE-UP Classroom at NCSU

Is the trend catching on? Today, I saw this building design, where the concept was extended throughout an entire building. The resulting design looks somewhat like a beehive (complete with hexagonal tables to galvanize that metaphor). And while some may see negative connotations associated with productivity, I see a beautiful application of both biomimicry and convergent evolution, hopefully paving the way for more meaningful interactions, not with the room or the technology, but with each other.

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