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Expert advice on maximising the space available through furniture options

June 30, 2015

by Kevin Geeves, Education Sales Director, KI Europe

Furniture plays an important role in optimising learning environments. Traditional classrooms as we know them today were laid out to deliver a one-to-many teaching model, producing graduates well suited to hierarchical organisations typical of the industrial age. Now, as we transform into a knowledge-based economy in the information age, the skills required in the workforce have evolved, too. Problem-solving, interaction, collaboration, and visual communication are taking precedence over rote learned, process-driven work.

As technological advances shape the new generation of students entering our classrooms, the furniture provided must be flexible and adapt to the changing needs of both teachers and students - transitions from the lecture, group study, presentation, discussion, and individual work time.

Understanding how technology is deployed in the learning environment is vital. GenerationZ and Digital Natives, now frequently being instructed by GenerationX, operate in a much more tech-driven, media-rich, hyper-connected ecosystem. They are much more adept at utilising online resources, mobile technology, and portable devices. Further down the track, GenerationZ will make way for Generation Alpha, who are expected to form the most populous generation yet seen and will be far more tech-savvy than their predecessors.

In the past, the classroom environment was central to the learning process. Now, with near-ubiquitous connectivity, ‘homework’ is taking on a new dimension. Rather than delivering subject matter, the classroom environment is increasingly taking on the role of a forum, where the instructor is taking on the role as the facilitator. Methods for testing and assessment are also changing to reflect the new learning outcomes desired in order to achieve qualifications.

So how does this all manifest in the furniture selected for future-proofed classrooms for students gracing them 10 years from now? The city of Glasgow College is currently undergoing a huge revamp on a scale not seen in the UK education sector for decades. Within this modernisation project, their choice of classroom furniture is an excellent case in point. In order to maximise student success well into the future, they took into consideration a number of key functionality criteria when assessing furniture options. Here are some ideas from this, and other projects KI have been involved with:

•Mobility: Seating and flip-top tables on castors instantly transform a space. Tables that accommodate two students working side by side when free-floating and can be combined with other tables to create small-group workspaces, large conference tables, and donut-shaped class discussions. Ideally, chairs should be not only comfortable but easy to move around on castors to reconfigure the room quickly and easily.

•Stacking chairs: University College Birmingham recently ordered hundreds of our high-density stacking Strive chairs for their classrooms, allowing them to be stored when not required or quickly placed in a configuration around tables as required by each individual class.

•Nesting chairs: London Metropolitan University create an even more dynamic learning space by furnishing rooms with our nesting Torsion on the Go! chairs. Neatly stored at the side of the room, they can be quickly rolled out to the desired format, their folding tablet arms eliminate the need for large, space-hungry tables. •Tablet arms or tables? Space efficiency is easily achieved by substituting tables for tablet arms. Our range of removable and fixed tablet arms are specifically designed to accommodate people of all shapes and sizes, and large items such as laptops.

•Left-handedness: Statistics suggest that anywhere between 5-13% of the population is left-handed, with a larger proportion of males exhibiting the trait. Hence, we recommend the provision of at least 5% of tablet arms to be specified for left-handers.

•Under-seat storage: Classroom seating with bag storage racks under the seat such as the Learn2 and Intellect Wave chairs at the City of Glasgow College not only keep student resources close to hand, they minimise trip hazards and allow items to be stowed away from worksurfaces when not in use.

•Group work stations: Allowing multiple students to share a screen makes collaboration and presentation easier.

•Presentation media: Whether it is a projector, screen, whiteboard or a good old fashioned blackboard - ease of use is paramount. Having a variety of surfaces, some mobile and some integrated with wall surfaces, gives students and instructors the flexibility to share ideas freely.

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