Let’s get right to it: most designs for classroom technology are based on a 20-year old paradigm of furniture, cables and pipes (and lots of equipment). While continuing to replicate these dinosaurs may serve to ensure job security (for now), this model requires heavy infrastructure that adds cost and locks the room into a rigid floor plan that does not support progressive teaching and learning practice.
A Brief History Lecture
Years ago, when the UNC faculty became interested in achieving greater flexibility (oh, how I despise that word) in the classroom, we came to understand that furniture should not be bolted down. It should be easy (or at least possible) to reconfigure the classroom floor plan to meet evolving requirements of teaching and learning.
We worked with our interior designer in Facilities and our KI furniture representative to identify modular student furniture that could be rearranged with greater ease. After deploying various configurations of lightweight chair-desks and modular tables and chairs, we felt we had met the challenge. We gave ourselves a good pat on the back and took a coffee break.
Then came the phone call. It went something like this:
Professor: “I cannot move the podium.”
Schuch: “Of course not! Our quality control measures include a thorough check of the anchor bolts during final inspection. No need to thank us!”
Professor: “Perhaps you missed my point.”
Schuch: “No need to apologize. If I were in your position, I would want to make sure that everything was perfect in my new classroom, as well!”
Professor: “Of course I do expect everything to be perfect, and that is why I am calling. You see, I would like to be able to move the podium. So, could you un-bolt it from the floor, perhaps?”
Schuch: (After a long pause.) “…Am I being punked?”
And therein lies the challenge: A decade ago, we (and maybe you, too) perfected a design for bullet-proof, resilient classroom systems (i.e. flat, fixed podiums with plenty conduit and power routed up through the floor or snaked down the wall to accommodate all future wants and needs). At that time, the design represented the best available technology to ensure operations that were accessible, user-friendly and trouble-free. We checked it off our list and rested on our state-of-the-art laurels.
During this same period, a teaching movement emerged that challenged neo-industrial notions of teaching efficiencies in favor of learning outcomes. bolted-down chairs and desks proved anathema to a creating a more dynamic, democratized learning experience.
Much was made of the ability to shift around the students’ desks to enable group work or round-table discussions. And soon enough, the teaching wall itself came under scrutiny: As long as there was a front-of-room, an unintended hierarchy between teacher and student prevailed. Even without the stage (remember the wooden platform stage in the front of classrooms?), the tell-tale signs of a virtual proscenium arch remained.
Gone are the inkwells and bolted-down desks. Gone is the stage. Gone are the chalkboards (more or less). The fixed podium, therefore, represents the last vestige of industrial-age teaching. A steam-punk kludge in which high-tech meets fine furniture.
If the classroom was an airplane, it would look like the Wright Brothers’ Flyer with jet engines strapped to the wings.
And so, what we call a “podium” with its cabling and conduit has got to go! Why, just look at the cost…
The above diagram illustrates how a traditional multimedia classroom designed with a fixed podium and all its equipment and cabling can contribute to $15k of extra cost. In other words, a 20-classroom project designed with traditional AV technology can carry $300k of excess cost. The real price, however is the loss of agility, that is, the ability to reconfigure the classroom to suit changing needs.
Closing the Agility Gap
The real challenge is that this problem (let’s call it the “agility gap”) cannot be fixed with traditional technology. Snaking a cable from the wall to a podium-on-wheels is not a future-proof solution. What is needed is a solution that dispenses with traditional AV signal transport entirely.
And so I ask you, AV-1: what have you seen that gets us to the future?
[From the Editor: This article is Part Three in our "Open Proposal for Innovation Series" in which we challenge the AV-1 community for outside-the-box ideas to solve inside-the-classroom challenges and obstacles. It is our wish to encourage you to believe that YOU, dear reader, can shatter assumptions widely viewed as unchangeable. You can do this. In countless ways you have surely done so already, else why would you be reading AV-1?]
||by Joe Schuch|