Senior Perspective: Flexible Environments in Higher Education

Flexibility is a hot topic when talking about higher education and the design field post-pandemic. The abrupt, nationwide switch to online and hybrid learning presented many challenges. It also emphasized that students do not learn in the same way or prefer the same location to learn, and for many, online learning offered much-needed flexibility in a more traditional, rigid setting. While in-person learning will always maintain its value, upgrades in technology and design will allow the future of higher education to become more accessible to all students. Flexibility has also been a mainstay in the design field throughout the pandemic and will continue to be an adaptive, deep-rooted theme in this industry.

Being a senior in college, I have a unique perspective related to this topic. I’ve experienced both pre-and post-pandemic spectrums of the higher education setting over the last 4 years. Pre-pandemic comprised of lack of flexibility, rigidity whereas post-pandemic stresses the importance of being agile and gaining more control of one’s work style, environment, and communication. With masks being optional and spaces slowly shifting back to normal, I, as well as other college students, have noticed shifts in the classroom. The 6-foot chair distance marker stickers on the floor have been removed, professors are allowed to give handouts again, class capacities have gone back to normal size, and depending on the classroom, plexiglass barriers separating professors and students may have been removed. The overall thread I am seeing in post-pandemic design in higher education settings is allowing students to gain more control over their spaces again and the importance of how being flexible is critical.

When I walk into a classroom, I want to feel motivated, inspired, engaged, and feel connected. These elements could be portrayed through upholstery, desk configurations or workspaces, lighting, room dividers, storage, or easy, quick resources. One element students, self-included, find most useful is moveable chairs and tables. These features positively change the environment to make group work and collaboration quick and easy. Changing the spaces from static to dynamic empowers students to have control of their space. In addition, the pandemic opened our eyes to new technology avenues and how working remotely can be efficient and effective.

Reflecting on my time in college, it is fascinating to see how the higher education setting has shifted so drastically. That being the case, as design continues to shift and new learning environments are explored, flexibility and giving students control of their spaces will stay prominent in and outside the classroom.

Emma Stachowski
Written by Emma Stachowski