Rewired = Rethink Education
Craig Necci’s project ‘Rewired = Rethink Education’ is an example of a scalable response to a large and frankly, daunting, set of issues. Craig’s initial investigations were spurred by rampant media coverage of the lack of funding for Detroit Public Schools, which has resulted in the closing of numerous schools in the city. In addition, dropout rates in the DPS were a cause for concern to Craig. His research, however, convinced him that these issues “were extremely large and not just a regional problem, it’s a national dilemma. Many political factors and ‘bureaucratic red tape’ have hindered changes for better education. Many times the distribution of money was a deciding factor in a child’s education level and education environment. My focus was to look beyond the financial dilemma and discover what can be done NOW from a bottom-up movement. Obviously waiting for approval from a top-down system has serious downfalls.”
To investigate ways of rethinking how space and technology can impact the learning environment, Craig became involved with the ARTS Schoolhouse Incubator, housed in the Clay Office and Conference Center, which is the oldest school building in the city of Detroit. Currently, the ARTS Schoolhouse acts as a hub for a series of connected educational environments in and around the city. Craig’s primary partner and fellow ‘change agent’ was Jim Ross, of 21st Century Digital Learning Environments. What follows, in Craig’s own words, is a description of his attempt to create a learning environment that embraces technology and learning inside and outside the classroom:
“My goal was to empower the students to take action themselves for the future of their education by engaging the user to tap into resources that are readily available and collaborate with others. This method correlates with the ideas of 21st century learning of collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. Instead of tackling the big issues of budgets and funding I focused on the classroom itself. Although “space” is not the end solution, we need to understand that space itself could be in the way of learning. Also, is it possible that a classroom and learning can exist anywhere and still be connected to a larger network? Can context become content? This serves as a catalyst for change by engaging the user to take action in the learning process from the bottom up. Students and educators work with what they have or have access to NOW.
While working with my agent at the ARTS School House in downtown Detroit, I discovered that many of their problems were endemic to the actual space they operated in. The school fundamentally operates under all of the aspects of 21st century learning, but the actual classroom was no different than it was when it opened in 1923. I researched classroom layouts and furniture that are conducive to 21st century learning as well as materials and methods of construction that require little to no funding or tools. The classroom needed flexible, moveable, and collaborative furniture that incorporated space for storage. My design response incorporates all of these features as well as a “flat-pack” design. Borrowing the ideas of Ikea, the workstations can be easily constructed with an efficient use of material. The entire workstation can be constructed with (2) 4’x8’ pieces of plywood or rigid cardboard. The workstations are also designed with “slotted” connections and require no glue, nails, or screws. It is essentially a 3D puzzle that can be entirely assembled in less than 10 minutes. The ARTS School House also had a desire to teach classes in remote locations that had little to no infrastructure in terms of classroom furniture. The goal was to provide a “mobile classroom” that could be used in the school house as impromptu collaboration spaces but also disassembled and transported to remote locations in one “flat-pack” carrying box. The surfaces of the top and back of the boards are also coated with dry-erase paint for easy transfer of ideas.
Classrooms today must support frequent collaboration and communication, easy transfer of information between individuals and groups, the effective display of content and the need for teams to constantly reconfigure and switch between different ways of working. Compared to traditional classrooms, this classroom dramatically improves student engagement and easily supports multiple teaching and learning styles.”
While the project has not moved forward much at this point, Craig and Jim Ross have maintained contact, and continue to work collaboratively. In addition, Craig’s research and experience has carried over into his professional work with SHW Group, an industry leader in educational facility design. Craig has presented his studio research to SHW’s ten offices via video conference. SHW has created a Research and Benchmarking (R+B) division dedicated to investigating and defining problems in education. Says Craig: “Our goal is to act as a change agent for fixing the many struggles in education. We feel we can have a profound impact if we are initiating change where teacher education occurs. In the end, we as architects attempt to translate this research in our ‘design response’ to clients.
Craig calls the studio “undoubtedly the most challenging studio in my architectural education. It forced me to think about ‘design’ much deeper than how things look and more about how things work. This class really forced me to step back and stop thinking linearly. Most of the time I would identify a problem, or what I assumed to be the problem, track it down from a sequence of events, and end up with some sort of solution. This completely changed when I explored a problem with a mind map. The mind map helped indentify a much larger ecosystem and the many different connections the problem was a part of. I learned to not assume I understood a problem, but to investigate all of the associated relationships and fully define the problem. Something else that really opened my eyes in this class is the fact that we as designers have the skills and training to tackle problems outside of the architectural realm.”