Architects try to design buildings that enhance an active learning experience by fomenting a sense of inquiry and discovery. Instead of warehouses of classrooms, buildings are seen as laboratories for learning. They seek to create environments that actively engage occupants across a spectrum of activities from group projects to individual pursuits.

Rather than pursuing traditional models of a lead instructor teaching a group of students, schools and universities should encourage students to become active learners who participate in a broader culture of inquiry: with guidance, learning from each other and their own activities. These models narrow the divide between students and faculty, and help establish a culture of shared discovery.

Engaging minds

As more teachers become guides to a student's education and as more students become lifelong learners, the classroom has become only one of many points of contact. Designers increasingly are providing a variety of spaces with a spectrum of possibilities for group and individual learning. Areas beyond the classroom are constructed intentionally for teachers to encounter students in "student spaces" and for students to encounter teachers in "faculty spaces."

Those areas include classrooms, and formal and informal spaces for group learning, single-student learning, and private faculty-student tutoring. In new pilot programs such as the "Schoolofone," many of these space types are incorporated into a single classroom for younger learners. There are multiple modalities by which students learn. The responsibility falls to educators to provide the varied environments that enable each student to be successful.

Educational environments increasingly are designed to provoke questioning and discovery, and to actively engage the minds of students. The use of interior transparency has been increasing; it increases daylight, improves supervision and fosters a greater sense of community, and it provides visual connections and access to the building systems that support the classroom environments.

These school environments, in a sense, recognize the technology and the building systems as teachings opportunities, and the "invisible hand" supporting the student spaces becomes an active part of the environment. This transparency into prep spaces, mechanical rooms, elevators and server rooms provides a teaching environment more democratic and more demonstrative of the complex environments in which we all exist. The intent is clear: to create an atmosphere of questioning (and demonstration) about our surroundings rather than one pre-prioritized and concealed.