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The Offline Aspects of the Blended Classroom


Posted on Feb 27, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.Quite often we discuss technology in tandem with blended learning. We focus on the digital, the virtual, the weightless aspects of the learning model. People talk about leveraging existing technology, interactive whiteboards, apps, the cloud.

But what about the ergonomics – the desks, the chairs, the floors, the lighting? Where do the cords go? If blended learning is supposed to surpass the rigidity of the traditional classroom, it needs to effectively open up the classroom in all aspects of education – both physically and virtually.

American School & University Magazine describes how a blended learning classroom ought to look:

“The physical environment of these learning spaces should be comfortable with good acoustics, accessibility, security, lighting and air quality—flexible spaces in which varying sized groups can interact and collaborate. Successful integration of technology and physical design of these spaces requires appropriate fixtures, furnishings and equipment.”

I think the idea of “flexible spaces” is key here. Spaces need to support collaboration and individualized learning lessons as well as teacher led instruction periods. The 18×24” desk-chair combo isn’t going to cut it with the demands of a blended learning model.

Tables are a step in the right direction, but I think most of us will agree that something like these iGroup SmartDesks would be pretty cool to have. With locking wheels on each leg, they can be easily organized into single desks or collaborative work stations. They accommodate laptops, desktops, and tablets with power and data ports, monitor mounts, and optional tablet integration into the actual desk top itself.

As far as cords go (we aren’t completely wireless yet), SmartDesk also makes FITT Computer Floors  that offer a very minimalistic approach to cord storage, though any kind of cable organization system would suffice.

An interesting article on school design from ArchitectureAU  offers some enlightening thoughts from David and Mary Medd, classroom architects from across the pond in the 1960s:

In order to “combine exploration with achievement” at school “the homogenous character of the conventional classroom had to be destroyed” and replaced by “richness and variety of environment, with different kinds of spaces: a complex of interrelated opportunities, with differences in scale, equipment, finishes, lighting, colour, acoustic quality and general character.” The total of these design decisions (the interior of each setting) gives children, teachers, and visitors environmental cues for activity and behaviour.

There are more challenges to keep in mind than just the availability and functionality of technology. From the comfort of the chairs, to the brightness and hue of the lights, blending a classroom isn’t all digital.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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