University of Vermont

Redesigning the Technology for Teaching Lab

The Environment as Another Teacher

"design" by David Salafia: notion that an environment can act as another teacher is not new, however it is certainly gaining traction as schools and other contexts rethink the spaces where people work, play, and live. The founders of the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and their current leaders, refer to the environment as the third teacher, with great emphasis placed on selection of materials, organization, and overall aesthetic. A space that is conducive to large and small group work, along with individual undertakings, beckons all to delve into an investigation or simply snuggle into a comfy space. Over the course of the past three years, we in the College of Education and Social Services Technology for Teaching Lab have closely observed the way students, faculty, and staff used the space. We noticed that often times many of the desktop computers went unused for hours at a time as mobile devices were accessed to check email, finish assignments or keep in touch with family and friends. This mobile cultural shift is not new either, but with a new desktop computer lease turnover on the horizon for late Spring 2014, we had the opportunity to act upon our observations to provide a lab that met the needs of the evolving technological landscape and people who use the space.

Three years ago, we made small changes to the lab by installing softer lighting from hanging globes and adorning the space with children's paintings, photographs, clay sculptures, and other work. Over the course of the time, we moved computers to make room for laptop work space and tinkering with Chromebooks and Windows 8 machines alongside the iMacs in the lab. As the Spring 2014 semester drew to a close, we renewed our computer lease, however we elected to provide 4 desktop computers instead of 12. We supplemented the desktops with 4 MacBook Airs which could be used anywhere in the space. A couch and coffee table created a cozy meeting area. We also redefined another section of the lab as a practice area where students can try new technology and arrange the space in a way that may reflect the context they will be working in. Nesting ottomans, wiggle cushions (in black, inspired by Ira Socol and Pam Moran), two standing tables, and nesting mobile chair/desk combinations provide flexibility for the designer of the environment at any given time. Idea Paint, inspired by Nicholas Provenzano, has been applied to one wall as well. Combined with current and found furniture, the space reflects mobility with attention to the aesthetic. All of this guided by a collaborative effort by students, faculty, and staff who offered suggestions, design ideas, and feedback over the past few years. 

The question now is how will the space be used? We plan to hold an open house in late August when students return, in addition to other class visits and invitations to join us in the lab. Small group sessions focusing on integrating technology tools will also be held in the lab. Our next set of observations awaits as the redesigned space establishes a new identity.


Southern view of the Lab with hanging lanterns, couch, coffee table, desktops, standing tables, and ottomans.

 Northern lab view: Ottomans, screen, Idea Paint, wiggle cushions, mobile chairs with tablet arms, Chromebooks, MacBook Airs, and storage