Redesigning the Digital Learning Environment

Learning Counsel Staff


One of the more interesting and often overlooked aspects of the digital transformation in education is the redesigning of physical spaces within a school. As part of the continuing series on Knowstory Learning Groups, the Learning Counsel’s Redesign – Operations and Environment  Learning Group examined the physical transformation that is taking place in districts throughout America.

The Learning Counsel is a research institute and news media hub headquartered in Sacramento, CA. Its membership includes approximately 215,000 superintendents and assistant superintendents, technology and instructional administrators, curriculum specialists, education publishers and educational leaders from pre-k through higher ed.

One of the benefits for Learning Counsel members is KnowStory, an agnostic sharing and recommendations platform designed to help schools with needed discovery and analysis related to the digital transformation in learning. KnowStory Learning Groups explore vital topics and catalyze the curriculum industry. Each group has a sponsored (industry) chairmanship role as well as an education-side chairperson, live meetings online and an in-person working meeting at the Learning Counsel National Gathering each year. 

Gisela Albuquerque Weise is an Education Industry Market Specialist for Canon USA and serves as the Industry Chairperson for the Redesign – Operations and Environment group. Weise says districts need to put redesign changes into perspective. “Why the need for redesign?  Answering that question,” said Weise, “Should always be the first step. Knowing that it may be slightly different depending on the school district, they should begin by mapping out what there is, what's in place right now, where it's working, what could/should be improved and then mapping out the technology.  That informs decisions on what stays, what goes, where the gaps are, where the redundancies are, what should be leveraged and how to make investments moving forward.”

“Once those decisions are made,” said Weise, “districts can begin evaluating the individual changes: changed classrooms, fourplex maker spaces, innovation centers or innovation spaces, small spaces, physical access, security and the challenges to that. Of course, the physical changes are only the beginning.”

Peter Haapala is the Superintendent of Schools for the Warroad Public School District. Haapala is working closely with the district school board and the community, who wanted to move towards innovation, more personalized learning and providing students with the ability to do more in the career technical areas and to have more connections with the real world and with area industry.

“We are spending time developing curriculum,” said Haapala. “We'll be one-to-one this fall, but we're not talking about a one-to-one initiative because I don't think that we want the emphasis to be on the technology. We want the emphasis to be on personalized learning and moving towards that so students can develop their own personalized learning pathways. We'll do that with a competency-based environment and the mastery of those skills and knowledge that we believe kids need to be successful in the world today.”

“We're also renovating our buildings. We have created more open spaces for kids to learn in groups. We added sit stand/desks and mobile furniture so the kids can group and regroup easily. Teachers can move from one classroom space to another. In the high school, all our interactive TVs and display devices for the teachers are all mobile so they can move them wherever they want to teach, whatever lesson they want or whatever group they're dealing with,” said Haapala.

David Long is the Technology Director with Logan City School District in Logan, Utah. The district just finished a three-year redesign of Logan high school, a hundred-year old facility. According to Long, “All the learning spaces are built around pods throughout the school. We have 1600 students in the building. The pods are designed for interactive learning. The furniture is all mobile. Displays are set up to have wireless speeds wherever they are and are set up on carts, which made me a little bit nervous. But if we need to move a display out into a common space between a classroom area or even out into the cafeteria to do a science fair where everybody gets a screen, we can.”

“In each of the pods, we have what the architects have termed a ‘thought gallery.’ It's a smaller classroom-style space designed for group breakout, or a place where students could go and work in a group or even participate in interactive video conferencing. We do some of that with our universities in the states, so there's a lot of concurrent enrollment done that way now. We set up the science labs to seem a bit friendlier than the regular instructional spaces. The science labs are set up with multiple screens along each wall and a main presentation screen. It’s designed so that multiple displays can be shared. Groups can present experiments at their lab station, but that can also be shared with the whole group in the space. There was a lot of connectivity and audio/video thinking.”

Leilani Cauthen, CEO of The Learning Counsel, asked the group how school redesign was affecting the flow of record keeping and analytics. “What I'm seeing as the biggest problem nationally,” said Cauthen,  “Is that as schools begin to think through how they're going to redesign for digital transformation and personalization, they acquire so many digital assets that they have problems in how the flow is going to be managed -  the flow of the student body as well as the flow of records and analytics that follow the students.”

“Analytics is still a very misunderstood area at all levels,” said Long. “We have multiple systems in place to gather information. We're storing data through either actual curriculum, digital curriculum that we're using or through our learning management systems. Creating a process to share that data with our student information systems has taken several years to get into place, but that's finally in place this year. Anything communicated through our digital content or through our learning management system also posts through our student information system, making that highly accessible to parents.”

According to Haapala, its part of the process of moving forward and a big shift for his teachers. “We'll be using a learning management system this fall for the first time. We moved to a new student information system this fall that can do the pass back of information. We really will need ongoing training, some learning on analytics and using the data that we can collect in order to be successful with personalized learning. That's another step in the process. Teachers have looked at how students are doing just intuitively. They see a student and they say, ‘okay, this kid needs help here.’ But the data that we can mine from their use of digital curriculum will help us be much more focused on that specific area where a student might need help and be able to move them along.”

“Once you make these changes and you have a different organization of space because of technology,” said Cauthen, “You start running into integration issues. You've moved through, you've taken steps and now you've hit some walls. It’s important to communicate to help people understand how you're going to get through, and how all the moving parts fit together. 

“You may have dozens of new configurations - single-setting whole group, whole group with divided settings, multi-use soft seating spaces, quiet spaces, studios, art studios and intensive computing labs with desktops so fast that kids can do video editing and computer graphics programs and computer aided design programs and robotics. Ask yourself what the bullet points are that you have to think through, with special attention paid to the technology and the flow and the analytics because of the space changes.”







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