Remote learning isn’t a new idea: distance learning via mail has existed since the mid-1800s, and the founders of the successful ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s learned their craft from a Penn State correspondence course in 1978. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic transformed remote education from a secondary means of learning to a primary one. Schools and universities couldn’t cancel classes indefinitely, turning to software like Blackboard and apps like Zoom to resume teaching. While many institutions have returned to in-person instruction, COVID spikes continue to temporarily close campuses to curb transmission. Colleges like Bentley University have gone beyond temporary measures and invested in permanent hybrid learning setups such as outdoor and hybrid classroom spaces.
Whether your school intends to use remote instruction as needed or has embraced it as a continuing education tool, the hybrid classroom is here to stay. Let’s take a look at some factors to consider when either renovating an existing classroom for combined learning or constructing a hybrid classroom from scratch.
Start at the Beginning
As with planning any build, it’s good to start with discerning end goals and usage of the hybrid learning space. Potential considerations include:
- Subject Matter: A lecture class will have very different needs than a more hands-on course, such as an art or science course.
- Grade Level: Similar to subject matter, you can’t build a one-size-fits-all classroom that will best serve every age group. Young children may need more stimulation and repetition to stay engaged than their older counterparts. High school and college students may do well with a more asynchronous setup, whereas primary students will likely require more real-time activities with their teachers and peers.
- Usage: Is the classroom space intended solely for hybrid instruction, or will strictly in-person teaching occur in it as well? Does your institution expect to use this setup indefinitely so that permanent installations would be appropriate, or will remote instruction occur only occasionally where it would be desirable to move/store remote equipment when not in use?
Invite the Right Parties to the Table
Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum – there are multiple departments and individuals that contribute to the success of the modern classroom. Be sure to involve the right players, which can include (but aren’t limited to):
Teacher(s) and Students
Chances are you wouldn’t be game to purchase and move into a new home sight unseen. Photos can only show so much – what potential electrical hazards or crumbling drywall might be lurking beyond the images’ boundaries? Similarly, for a hybrid classroom to be successful long-term, solicit feedback from the people who will spend the most time inside it. Your instructors and pupils can likely offer some pros and cons from whatever level of remote learning that they’ve already experienced due to the pandemic.
While money isn’t everything, it’s also not practical to draft a blueprint that would require significantly more than the available funds to execute. Buy-in from the relevant financial backers – the school board, superintendent, PTA, etc. – will be essential to bring your project to fruition.
Whether you already have some remote-friendly tech like Smartboards or are starting from square one, loop in your IT administrator or department to ensure your vision is viable from a digital standpoint. As one example: depending on the requirements of your desired software and/or equipment, your institution may need to consider upgrading its internet speed to accommodate the new setup with minimal disruptions.
The robust computers, servers, and other technology that power devices like Smartboards can generate a lot of heat when in use – and much like us, tech performance tends to slow or stop altogether if things get too hot. If you plan to keep some of this behind-the-scenes equipment in a small enclosed area (such as under a desk or in a designated closet), you’ll want to work with the person or department that oversees your school’s HVAC systems to ensure the area has proper ventilation and/or air conditioning to avoid a mid-lecture meltdown.
Hire the Best Construction Team
Perhaps you’re fortunate and the space you’re converting into a hybrid classroom is already designed to accommodate any new tech equipment or furniture configuration changes you’ll need to make. If you’re building your classroom from scratch or need to significantly modify the existing space, contact the experts at Souder Brothers Construction. Browse our commercial construction portfolio for examples of classroom conversion projects, including updating a college dental center and completely reconfiguring a veterinary suite. Considering outdoor learning environments? We’ve done those too. Give us a call or send us a message and let’s get to work!