What do dorm technology and furniture have in common? And when it comes to college students, why do you need to consider them together?
As you well know, we live an an extraordinary moment in history when the sum total of human knowledge is always just a click away. We can use technology anywhere and anytime through our multifarious mobile devices.
But don’t forget, for nearly all of human history we were limited to small defined spaces if we wanted to access knowledge, much less tap into online resources.
And remember microfilm and microfiche?
Student Can Study Anywhere…And They Do
Today’s students can go online anywhere to do research, connect with peers and professors, watch a lecture, or write a paper. For all intents and purposes, students always have an limitless mobile reference library at their fingertips.
This affects where, when, and how students study and learn.
University libraries—traditionally the hallowed home for nurturing the growth of knowledge—are no longer necessary anchors for ongoing research and study. And even some classes are now online, further de-emphasizing the brick and mortar classroom experience.
As the designers at Clarknexsen point out:
Studies are showing that informal settings are better for college-level learning than the traditional academic setting alone…by infusing collaborative study areas throughout a predominantly residential building to provide students with easily accessible study amenities.
Versatile Furniture Solutions for Ad-hoc Learning
These are huge changes for institutions of higher learning. And as you might expect, this evolution is having a big impact on how schools, planners, and architects design student spaces.
When it comes to furniture, the general thinking goes like this. Students are less tied to any single space. So the right furniture in the right places creates ad-hoc opportunities for students to congregate, collaborate, and cogitate.
It also opens the potential to make new use of old or underused spaces. Versatility in design is key so that furniture can work in different configurations in relationship to technology and student needs.
Reflecting on how this trend relates to furniture and technology, furniture executive Eugene Chrinian makes the following observation.
Since our technology is now untethered from the furniture that supports it, furniture designers have more reason to consider how each piece accommodates technology use, implementing features such as charging ports, cable management systems, and adjustable mechanisms.
Designing To Accommodate Speed and Power
And if you’re someone who’s responsible for planning and designing the type of sticky informal learning spaces that students love, then you need to consider where they’re going to put their laptops, where they’ll plug in, and how they’re going to collaborate.
In their article Behind 7 Trends Shaping Student Housing on College Campuses, Clarknexsen Architects puts it this way:
For colleges and universities, providing high speed service is critical to a positive student and faculty experience and to their ability to work efficiently. Equally important is the availability of electrical outlets to support the mobile device craze. For example, you’ll rarely find a Starbucks without a blend of people plugged in and reading or chatting. By providing student life spaces that leverage the most successful elements of comparable commercial spaces, colleges and universities have a recipe for success.
On top of this, students and parents alike have rising expectations when it comes to the amenities they expect in residence hall common rooms, suites, and lounge spaces.
Yes, quality, comfort, style, and sustainability are all important, but dorm technology tops the non-negotiable “must have” category. Universally fast and accessible wifi is essential.
So is readily available power for laptops and smartphones.
The top priority on user lists these days is integration of technology. The need to hardwire power and data connections can run counter to the desire for flexibility. Power is still an issue. Battery life is improving, but students can still be found clustered around a power outlet.
And if you’re concerned about improving student retention, than you already know that you have to create the kind of informal learning spaces—lounges, reimagined hallways, and study nooks—that have all these elements covered.
Blurring The Lines Between Living and Learning
Finally, schools are striving to create environments that blend the distinction between work and play. Spaces where students can move seamlessly between the two.
These spaces need to accommodate collaboration, gaming, and solo work. Contributing Editor at Building Design & Construction Peter Fabris says that:
Smartphones, laptops, and iPads make every space a potential study nook. “The use of technology is blurring the lines between living and learning,” says Adam Yarinsky, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal with Architecture Research Office, in New York. Study areas no longer require lots of desks or tables; plush sofas and chairs will do nicely, thank you.
To accomplish this, plush seating that’s durable but versatile is key. You need furniture that’s flexible and easy to move around.
In another example of customizing furniture to better integrate dorm technology into the residence hall experience, we recently completed a project at UC Irvine that featured some unique furniture/technology innovations.
At the request of the University Design Team we incorporated charging outlets, data ports, and USB ports into the the top of the wardrobe next to the bunked beds. This transformed the upper bunk into a function-rich environment for the students. In an age of laptop driven learning, we strive to maximize non-traditional workspaces for the modern student.
How Are You Innovating?
What are the key factors driving your decisions around furniture and dorm technology? How are you designing your informal learning spaces so they meet the technological demands of today’s students?
At DCI, we specialize in customizing furniture for the higher education environment. If you’d like us to help you identify opportunities to create the kind of function-rich environments highlighted in this article, please shoot us an email and we’ll get right back to you.
These are exciting times. With big change comes big opportunities. Let’s ride these wave of change together!