We talk every day here at Daily Edventures about the processes of teaching and learning and the tools that support them, but what about the school itself? We all know that our physical environment can significantly impact our mood, our energy and ultimately, our ability to succeed. For Randy Fielding, the question of what makes a good learning space is his life’s work, and he’s made a difference in communities around the world by designing learning spaces for the 21st century.
Fielding’s design work leverages more than 500 case studies from 30 countries — the largest library of innovative school designs in the world. The interactive planning and design process pioneered by Fielding Nair International is also grounded in a seminal book that Fielding co-authored with Prakash Nair, The Language of School Design, which establishes key learning modalities for success in the post-information society, and provides a series of design patterns to support these modalities. Fielding uses the design patterns as a tool in evaluating existing and proposed facilities, and as a launching point for developing customized solutions for each individual community, campus, school or district that he works with.
Fielding is known for his ability to share ideas with heads of state, educators, and children with equal passion. This spirit of sharing extends to two million people each year, through DesignShare, an online forum for innovative learning environments that he founded in 1998. Fielding continues to serve as DesignShare’s editorial director, but the focus of his work is to lead communities in the design of environmentally responsive campuses that foster personalized learning and strong connections to the community.
In addition to serving as a lead design architect, teamwork underpins all of Fielding’s work, which takes him around the world to collaborate with public and private institutions, educators, developers, and local architects. Whether it’s a high school near ground zero in New York City, a series of vocational schools for the tsunami-damaged areas of Sri Lanka, a school for at-risk students in Minneapolis, a K-12 campus in Indonesia, or a college preparatory school in Switzerland, he finds more commonalties in each community than differences.
In my recent conversation with Fielding, he shared his frustrations with traditional classroom design (based on an outmoded, lecture-based model of education) and his enthusiasm for new design approaches that support 21st century learning approaches like the flipped classroom. Here, Fielding talks about what’s working in new school designs, including varied spaces with a connection to the outdoors. He also talks about what isn’t working, like poorly executed common spaces with no natural light. Enjoy!
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Schools around the world have embraced the learning community model, resulting in better learning spaces for student to become 21st century citizens in.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
From modest renovations, to new-build schools, districts and private institutions can create innovative educational spaces.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Fielding Nair International (FNI) is a virtual company, with office and studios worldwide. We leverage cloud computing, web-based project management software, web conferencing and communications to plan and design our educational projects.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
School buildings that are designed for 20th century learning, and feature “cells and bells” layouts consisting of classrooms and hallways. These spaces were designed to deliver education one basic way, by lecture mode, and this no longer serves people who need to learn 21st century skills.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
We are all doing our best, but in many cases, taking an ineffective approach. The Common Core Standards, adopted by most US states, is an attempt to update an outdated system—stuffing knowledge into kids. For more than half the student population, it doesn’t work. Inquiry-based, student-directed and project-based learning is more effective and there are many schools that are using these methods effectively.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Creating 21st century learning communities.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Teach students to find their voice to tell us where they are.
Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be?
A laptop with a network connector. The Internet provides access to an unlimited network of ideas and information. While a smart phone or tablet are terrific tools, they have limited ability to create and edit.
About Randall Fielding
Randall Fielding, AIA, is the Chairman and Founding Partner of Fielding Nair International, LLC (FNI), an award-winning school planning and design firm with offices in Minneapolis, Tampa, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Providence, Melbourne, and Mumbai. The firm has consultations in 23 states around the U.S. and 42 countries on five continents. Fielding oversees FNI’s primary mission to improve learning by serving as a world leader in the creation of new and renovated educational campuses that are in consonance with best practice and research.
Fielding’s achievements have earned him more than a dozen design awards from the American Institute of Architects, The Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), the American Association of School Administrators, and School Planning and Management Magazine. He is internationally recognized as an authority on
innovative school design and received the CEFPI International Planner of the Year Award in 2007 — the most prestigious honor bestowed upon any individual in the field of educational design.
Birthplace: Huntington, New York
Current residence: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education: BA Washington University, St. Louis; Master of Architecture, University of Illinois
Website I check every day: New York Times
Person who inspires me most: Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder, Design For Change
Favorite childhood memory: Wandering in the woods
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Vancouver, BC
When was the last time you laughed? My peeps and I danced along to Step-up evolution last night—we howled and felt like we were in our twenties.
Favorite book: Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright
Favorite music: Yo-Yo Ma
Your favorite quote or motto: “There was never a king like Solomon, not since the world been, for Solomon would speak to a butterfly as a man speaks to a man.” – Rudyard Kipling