Step into a classroom in the 21st century, and the odds are it won’t look all that different from one in the 20th century. One decade into the 2000s, many schools and universities have been frustrated in their efforts to upgrade their facilities and resources because of shrinking budgets.
But even with the ailing economy, some education institutions have acquired the wherewithal to take advantage of new technologies and design strategies to provide better learning opportunities and more environmentally sensitive facilities.
In the 1990s, when the Clinton administration embraced the concept of "building a bridge to the 21st century," the main component of that bridge was technology. For schools and universities seeking to transform their learning spaces to meet modern expectations, improving technology is what will make that goal achievable.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Educational Technology Plan 2010 makes several recommendations for improving the technology infrastructure in schools so that students can maximize their learning opportunities:
•Students and educators should have broadband access to the Internet and adequate wireless connectivity in and out of school. The plan defines "adequate" as "the ability to use the Internet in school, in the surrounding campus, throughout the community and at home."
•Every student and educator should have at least one Internet access device and appropriate software for research, communication, multimedia content creation and collaboration.
"The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures," the executive summary of the plan states. "In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions."
The advances in technology have eroded the connection some students have with their campus library. For generations of students at colleges and universities, a typical trip to the library involved hauling a weighty backpack of textbooks from a residence hall or classroom building to a facility across campus. But students today can tap into online storehouses of data that bring research directly to their personal computers; valuable and unique information still may be found at a campus library, but when students sitting in their residence-hall room can find enough to get by, they are less likely to make the trek to the library.
When Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee began plans to build a new facility, it looked for ways to make its library more relevant to needs and expectations of modern students. The result can be found in Eckstein Hall, an $85 million facility that opened in July 2010. The 200,000-square-foot building replaces the venerable but increasingly inadequate Sensenbrenner Hall, which housed the law school since it was built in 1924.
One of the unique features of Eckstein Hall is what the school is calling a "library without borders." Instead of being housed in a separate facility, or isolated on a separate floor, the law library is integrated into all four floors of the building.
"Law libraries used to be repositories for printed materials and places for quiet study; they are now also service-intensive on-ramps to vast digital resources," the school says.
Students and professors gain access to library materials and services without having to leave the building or go through a security checkpoint. The library provides convenient access to the law school’s extensive print-based collection and makes online access readily available to carry out more research.
Other key features of Eckstein Hall:
•Aitken Hall, a 1,348-square-foot drawing room designed to facilitate quiet study and reflection. It features a two-story ceiling, a fireplace, and expansive windows with a view of downtown Milwaukee.
•A 1,964-square-foot amphitheater-style trial courtroom that is equipped with technology comparable to a federal courtroom.
•Zilber Forum, a four-story atrium that will serve as a gathering and meeting space that the school envisions as the heart of the building.
The law school facility also incorporates numerous sustainable design features and has received a silver LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Shepley Bulfinch, the architectural firm that designed the building, says the environmentally friendly characteristics of Eckstein Hall include a 41-percent reduction in water usage through low-flow plumbing fixtures; and substantial use of materials that are recycled or have low volatile-organic-compound content. Forty-two percent of the building materials came from within a 500-mile radius of the construction site.