Purposeful Design

Why technology integration matters so much in today’s classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Aileen Strickland

2013 Active Learning RadialsImproving educational outcomes is a nearly universal goal, yet how to achieve it remains a focus of continuing research and debate. The success of any student is influenced by a multitude of variables, however research has shown that the more actively involved and engaged students are in their learning, the greater the student outcomes. While technology’s role in fostering student engagement is widely debated and discussed, what has been underemphasized is how pedagogy, classroom design and technology can all work together to support that engagement, collaboration and in turn student success.

New data from a Steelcase Education Solutions study shows that student engagement is positively impacted in classrooms intentionally designed for active learning1. The researchers found that classrooms purposefully designed for active learning (that combine both digital and analog technologies) provided adequate or better student engagement and supported classroom practices more effectively for 90 percent of students.

With the results of this study in mind, educators, administration and technology leaders should consider a few key things in order to ensure that when technology is integrated into an educational environment, it is done so holistically, with the physical space and pedagogical practices of that class deeply considered as a part of the integration.

1. Ensure that educators and students understand how to use the technology and why they are using it.

2. Give educators time to practice how to integrate the technology with their curriculum. Encourage them to learn from one another.

3. Support both digital and analog technology. Use projection and interactive surfaces in conjunction with whiteboards and other analog tools.

4. Have both vertical and horizontal surfaces for production, presentation, and display of information for sharing and co-creation. Allow for this displayed information to be persistent over time.

5. Allow technology, and its placement within the physical space, to give every student the best seat in the house. Consider multiple screens to support multiple view planes.

6. Allow students freedom of movement with technology to support what they need where they need it. Use technology that supports quick reconfiguration between multiple modes of activity.

7. Explore technologies that support change of ownership between educator and student, and student and student. Allow for that shift of ownership to take place.

8. Encourage peer-to-peer learning by providing shared technology and technology that supports simultaneous co-creation.

9. Take advantage of new media, including personal and in-room technology, and offer equal access to both.

In preparing students for the 21st century, much focus centers on these emerging active pedagogies like collaborative, team-based or problem-based learning. Not only do these teaching strategies more actively engage the learner, they can also foster the transference of values and critical skills through interdisciplinary insight, action, ethics and opportunity, all which are needed to develop students prepared for a systemic, 21st century society.

Futurist Thomas Frey has said that 60 percent of the best jobs in the next 10 years haven’t been invented yet. These jobs will likely be technology driven, complex, collaborative and specialized. Technology in the classroom can certainly help prepare students for this future but only with careful integration. By holistically considering how pedagogy, technology and the physical space work together to support student engagement and learning, the conditions for student success in the classroom, and beyond, can be more successfully supported.


1 Scott-Webber, L., Strickland, A., Kapitula, L. (2013). Built environment impacts behaviors: Results of an Active-Learning Post-Occupancy Evaluation. Planning for Higher Education Journal, Vol. 4(1), 1-12.

Aileen Strickland is Design Researcher at Steelcase Education Solutions.

  • Carolina Egúsquiza


    What you say is really true. So much emphasis on technology lately and we’re forgetting the esence of it all: purposeful design, taking all components of the learning ecology into account. I just began blogging & I’m getting started with my research on instructional design and technology integration. My very first post was about this topic (you’re more than welcome to take a look) so I relate to what you say here. I’ll be alert for more of your posts! Thx for this one!

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