Classroom Design for the Modern World

The "Lampe de Marseille" is a characteristic lighting fixture by Le Corbusier, and shows the importance of aesthetic illumination in office and classroom design.
The “Lampe de Marseille” (1949-52) is a characteristic lighting fixture by Le Corbusier, and shows the importance of aesthetic illumination in office and classroom design.

“Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and the city,” famous Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier said in 1923. His words are still relevant today not only for the home and the city, but also for classroom design and office design.
Le Corbusier was among the pioneers who developed a relationship between interior design and architecture. Many of his furniture designs have become hallmarks of 20th century architecture history. Although he worked before the ubiquitous presence of computers and technology, his prescient view of furniture design and organization applies to the thinking behind cutting-edge classroom and office environments of the 21st century. Le Corbusier’s seamless integration of lighting fixtures, shelves, cupboards, and cabinets into their surrounding environment parallels the best contemporary classroom designs, where those elements are accompanied by comprehensive wire management systems, podiums, computer tables, and collaboration furniture.
High quality classroom design, complete with computer desks, computer tables, and collaboration tables, falls into a category that Le Corbusier called “human limb objects” — physical things that extend human capabilities and productivity.  In the world of furniture and classroom design, his words apply to tables and chairs as artwork of their space: “Certainly, works of art are tools — beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony.”
The careful balance Le Corbusier articulates is one of aesthetics and functionality. It forms the core of sound classroom design and ergonomic desks and chairs. The versatility and flexibility of convertible computer tables are the key components of an advanced technology center or modern learning space. Architectural efficiency was one of the Le Corbusier’s most prominent ideologies, and it still plays a vital role in classroom and office space planning.
Here are a few tips and guiding questions to keep in mind when designing for efficiency in your own classroom.
1. Before beginning the planning phase, brainstorm all possible uses for the space. Does your classroom design need to include ample space for breakout activities and modular-shaped furniture, or are lines of computer tables for a more traditional approach most suited to your needs?
2. Computer tables and conference tables come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Which accommodates your existing technology infrastructure best, and/or what is the technology infrastructure you would like to change or develop?
3. Consider the scale of your room(s). From K-12 environments to higher education to the corporate boardroom, the size of your furniture will define your space and the activities within it.
4. Similarly, what is the maximum number of people who will need to occupy the space? How can you choose furnishings in a way that makes the room feel as open as possible?
5. Chairs should encourage both comfort and good posture. This is most easily achieved through ergonomic design, which enable people to accomplish their work with greater ease and sharper focus.
6. What limits need to be placed on the available technology for your classroom design or office design? If participants will partake in both computer based and paper-and-pencil pursuits, your computer tables must offer sufficient ergonomic design to accommodate both.
7. Aesthetic and flexible wire management is an important part of designing any modern working and learning environment. Do you need moveable outlets, or would you prefer a more static arrangement? Careful consideration of technology needs will show you where and how flexible to need your computer cable organization options to be.
8. Finally, how long do you need this classroom design or office design to last? Will it be updated in the next ten years, or sooner? Think about building a space that incorporates the timeless element of high-quality furniture materials with the flexibility to update technology, such as computer monitors and smart boards, as each new model is released, and before your next major renovation.
If you’d like more ideas for designing your space, feel free to call us at 1-800-770-7042 without cost or obligation.
 

Designing the Classroom for Academic Honesty

Students are constantly faced with academic dishonesty. Unfortunately, although technology has become a powerful learning asset both inside and outside the classroom, it has also become an additional tool for cheating. According to major higher educational studies, an average of 75 percent of students admitted to at least one form of cheating over the course of their college career. But, this problem is not just found within academia. The same statistics ring true for high-school-aged children.
While we can put out a clarion call to scan student’s essays through online software that notates plagiarism and create several versions of tests for students to take, the need for combatting academic dishonesty is much more than that. It is about developing a culture of pride and personal integrity within students. Now, this is much easier said than done. Academic dishonesty has been around for decades; and will still be even in classrooms where teachers take action. But, that does not mean that it should go unnoticed.
Teachers and school districts can design their classrooms for success and honesty by:

  1. Changing the focus of learning

Cheating is increasingly prevalent during high risk assessment, like highly-weighted exams or essays. While testing can be argued to be an important aspect of learning, the focus across the United States needs to be realigned to focus more on the mastery of the skills. Teachers should consider methods other than traditional closed-book exams to test students on their ability to apply their knowledge, not simply demonstrate memorization. Students would be less likely and capable of cheating if the notion of learning focused on enrichment and mastery of skills rather than testing standards.

  1. Adding tools that decrease the possibility of cheating

How test takers are seated can affect the probability of cheating. While it is not possible in all schools, adding testing privacy shields between desks that clamp to the desk not only discourage cheating, but encourage focus. This will allow students to do their best on exams.

  1. Academic integrity code of ethics contracts

Many teachers have each student and a parent or guardian sign a code of ethics policy that clearly lays out the policy at the beginning of the year. This can help educate students on what constitutes as plagiarism or academic misconduct and lay a foundation for a no-tolerance enforcement. Students will be a lot less likely to attempt to cheat if the policy is very clearly spelled out.
4. Be an active teacher during testing
For teachers administering tests, testing day is not simply a time to catch up on reading. Teachers need to be actively looking for common cheating signs during test-taking situations. The more aware a teacher is, the more difficult it will be for a student to cheat; and the less likely they will.

  1. Consider school-wide devices over BYOD

In a 21st century school, technology is prevalent. If the school has a policy of providing students with individual iPads or laptops that they can use in the classroom, there is more of a possibility that the school can utilize computer monitoring software that bars students from browser windows and tracks where they go. Blended learning and the use of technology in the classroom is arguably extremely beneficial, as long as the teacher is knowledgeable of the technology.
How do you create a culture of academic honesty within your school?

Is Your Office Job Hurting your Health?

Thanksgiving is right around the corner; and if you are like us, you are eagerly counting your steps and tracking what you eat in hopes of maintaining your diet and health regimen during a holiday season known for sugary desserts, over-eating, and often inevitable weight gain. While you may be focused on your current health goals due to the time of year, we encourage you to think about you and your employees’ life-long health. The way your office is designed, whether in your home or where you work, can make or break a healthy lifestyle.
The majority of Americans spend most of their lives sitting at office desks for their professions. Our day-to-day routines require us to sit in cars to drive to work where we arrive to once again sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day, 5 days out of the week. Unfortunately, engaging in regular activities outside the home is simply not enough; especially when many people come home from work exhausted and want to sit and relax on the couch after a day filled with sitting (how ironic!).
That is why we, at SMARTdesks, believe that we need to rethink the work culture. Many companies and employees with home offices are getting rid of their comfy office chairs. The two most popular replacements are using no chair and creating a standing desk or developing the desk into a fitness station with a customized treadmill or seated bike designed with the workplace in mind.
Why make the change? Research has shown that sitting for the majority of the day is bad for your health, linking prolonged sedentary activity like sitting to being more prone to breast cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and depression.
The benefits for employers who adopt wellness programs are not only beneficial for the employees, but for the companies themselves. Not only does investing money in employee health allow for lower absenteeism and health care costs, but most companies witness increased employee satisfaction and retention.
A study released by Avner Ben-Ner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, found that employees who use fitness desks had an increased level of quality of work, opinion of work and productivity. Instead of feeling physically exhausted or distracted by the movement, employees felt more engaged. Engaging in exercise and movement releases endorphins into your brain, which is proven to improve your mood and decrease your stress level.
This holiday season consider giving the gift of health to you or your employees. To recap, here are the top 6 reasons to make the switch:

  1. Increased productivity
  2. Increase in endorphins giving your brain a boost
  3. Improved focus
  4. Reduced back pain
  5. Increased employee satisfaction
  6. A healthier life that keeps your heart healthy!

Backpain
The Washington Post recently released the following graphic outlining the negative effects of sitting. We encourage you to share it around the office to remind coworkers to get up and move; if not, it could result in a chain of problems!
To find out more, check out these great articles, from Vox and Forbes, that served as the basis for this article.

Announcing our New Line: Fit-at-Office!

We live in an ever-increasingly health conscious world, with fitness bracelets and apps to track calories and weight loss with the click of a button, and SMARTdesks has now joined the trend!
We now offer a complete line of LifeSpan® treadmill desks and bike desk workstations designed for the home and office. Desk options include: electric height adjustment models that can be used collectively by multiple people in the office, manual adjustment models for 1 or 2 people and if you already own a stand-up desk we have available treadmill and bike options that work for you as well. All models include our patented step counting feature “Intelli-Step” to automatically count your steps or pedal revolutions while you walk or bike. Using the standard Bluetooth feature, you can track your progress on your Mac or PC and wirelessly sync your activity results.
Add a traditional seated desk to one or both sides letting you sit and walk or pedal throughout the day. Whether you are self-employed and working at home or part of a large corporation, SMARTdesks Fit@Office products can help you increase physical activity while you work without taking time out of your busy schedule.
treadmill-office-desk1
The entire SMARTdesks Fit@Office product line is designed to bring physical activity back into the workplace with safe, quiet, and reliable activity stations that are proven effective to improve your health and the health of your employees. Our products are equally well-suited for more “recreational” purposes as well — surfing Youtube and scrolling Facebook news feeds can now come with the added bonus of burning calories from the comfort of your home!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact a SMARTdesks Fit@Office product specialist at 1-800-770-7042. We can answer questions about how others are using our products, discuss the best approach for introducing activity stations in your company or help decide which model is right for you.

New SMARTdesks Classrooms at Union County College

Early this year SMARTdesks revamped four classrooms at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey. The project was a collaborative effort between the Design Team at SMARTdesks, the Union County IT department, and other college administrators. SMARTdesks generated layouts for the rooms within a week of receiving floor plans, and through GoTo meetings and live presentations jointly developed a vision for the classrooms.
SMARTdesks’ challenge was to turn this type of old-fashioned classroom, previously furnished with fixed desk chairs, into an ADA compliant, collaborative classroom with multi-use FlipIT desks. (The blocks in front of the white board are the new floor, pre-measured and ready for installation).
The Starting Point . . . 
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The Final Product . . .
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In four days, SMARTdesks finished the makeover. To begin, installers covered linoleum floors and old carpets with the Floor + Furniture Integrated Technology (FFIT) carpet flooring, which distributed power to 15 duplex outlets and each of the moveable computer workstations. The FFIT can be rearranged according to the desk layouts.
A new power system . . .

FFIT Floor raised carpet tiles.
FFIT Floor raised carpet tiles.

This new floor was designed with fire code regulations and ADA compliance in mind. A ramp leads into the classroom for wheelchair accessibility.
ADA Compliance . . . 
P1030066-1024x576
 
The furniture itself had to accommodate a minimum of 24 students, and is built on locking casters that enable mobility. They can be arranged back-to-back (shown here), around the perimeter of the room, or in rows, depending on the professor’s needs.
Top of the line desks . . . 
Closed monitor lids offer a flat workspace when needed.
Closed monitor lids offer a flat workspace when needed.

These desks feature the FlipIt, which allows for both computer and traditional pen and paper desktop uses. They will be used for library and classroom  work, conducted in teams or independently. As Michele McHenry, director of design at SMARTdesks said, “This answers the need for adaptive teaching and learning styles.”
In your opinion…What does your ideal classroom look like?

An Educator’s Insights on K-12 Collaborative Learning

Collaboration is trending these days, especially in the education industry. In K-12 and higher ed, some educators strive to foster group interactions in class; others prefer a traditional lecture approach. This week, we spoke with middle and high school teacher Mosie Choudhry for her professional, empirical opinion on the subject. Read on to find out how she balances her pedagogy as both “sage on the stage” and collaborative learning facilitator.

SMARTdesks: How do you see classroom dynamics shift when you ask your students to work collaboratively?

MC: It depends a lot on the group and the work. With older students, I find that individuals fall into their “roles” unless I intervene. For example, there’s usually a “can-do” kid who will push the group to be productive and stay on task. This will free other members to under function. Or there will be bickering among two+ “Type A” types. But if I carefully choreograph the groupings AND offer specific roles with job descriptions, it can be very rewarding.
For example, with illuminated poetry [(in which students superimpose poetry onto video and images to reveal their interpretation of the text)], I found that the outcomes were much improved by assigning a content director, an art director, a researcher, and an editor.
SMARTdesks: What kinds of work do you find most conducive to group work?
MC: Projects. My first mentor, back in 2000, used to call group work: “group work, AKA the blind leading the blind.” When the aim is to deliver content, I still prefer the sage on the stage.
But I’m a big proponent of project-based learning.
SMARTdesks: So, in project-based learning, should the goal be defined by the teacher?
MC: For younger students, yes. I’m not 100% comfortable with student-directed learning, but that’s because I’m a control freak. I like to bring my experience in effective management to bear.
SMARTdesks: Is collaborative learning a tremendously different process in middle school than it is in high school?
MC: I don’t have a statistically significant sample to draw from at this point, but I would say that the biggest difference is that in middle school, social concerns press heavily on the kids’ minds to the point where it can be a hindrance to productive group work. I find that pairs work really well. For example, I’ll pair kids to create a research query or review the previous night’s reading. I’ve grouped students for more extensive projects, but it takes a lot of work. The cost/benefit ratio has to be carefully analyzed.
SMARTdesks: Then are you more a proponent of letting the students sort themselves into teams, or because of that cost/benefit ratio, do you think it’s more effective to do that yourself?
MC: I always do it myself. Control freak.
I have never once seen students make wise choices. They want too much to work with their friends.
And by work I mean play. And by friends I mean people who may have similar strengths and deficits so might not be the best people to learn from. Google Docs has elevated my ability to do group work. I can intervene by dropping in on a doc and keep kids on task.  It allows me to allow students to move physically out of the classroom and still manage their work. Kids know there’s a record of their work, too, which takes things up a notch. It’s so rewarding to be in an environment in which kids have grown up on Gdocs. It means they’ve grown up on collaboration. They don’t mind in the least that writing is a very public activity. It brings up the quality.
SMARTdesks: Has specific furniture and technology ever helped or hindered your efforts? How? 
MC: Heavy, clunky furniture is bad. It’s outdated.
Most classroom furniture I’ve encountered is designed for pen and paper. I like lightweight desks that work well with laptops. Since students work comfortably with laptops in their laps, they don’t always need a big heavy desk with an affixed chair.
SMARTdesks: Do you have any tips for teachers looking to diversify the sage on the stage, and get into collaborative classroom methods?
MC: Yes: script the collaboration as much as possible, at least the first time. Prescribe roles with job descriptions. Use Google Docs to enforce accountability. [For some tips, click here.]
SMARTdesks: What would be your vision for optimal collaboration to traditional learning ratio in middle school environments in particular?
MC: It would depend on the material. For social studies, which is really content-driven, the sage on the stage happens about 60-80% of the time. This can take the form of an interactive lecture, but you can’t expect the kids to generate content. For English, I use a lot of group work: reading groups, project groups, and in providing writing feedback. I also did a cool project in social studies in which students in groups of 3-4 studied objects at the Met and presented research onsite at the museum. Again, the roles were heavily micromanaged by me, but the students had a lot of room to overachieve.

The standing desk: is it really better for you?

How many hours per day do you spend seated at work? At least 5 days per week, 8 hours per day…it adds up quickly. This BBC article claims that we spend as many as 12 hours per day in idle positions, not including a 7-hour night’s sleep.

We’ve all seen countless articles about how sedentary work habits contribute to depression, obesity, and serious metabolic conditions. This study, published by the US National Library of Medicine, shows that people who sit for 6 or more hours per day are at a greater risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. We’ve known standing is better for us for quite some time; in 1950, a Lancet study showed that bus conductors (who work standing) versus bus drivers (who work sitting) were half as likely to develop heart disease.
So, knowing that standing is better for us, what can we do about it? Sit-stand desks, otherwise known as standing desks, are the logical, ergonomic choice for anyone looking for a healthier work environment. (But keep in mind, and stand up/adjustable height desk might be the best choice because too much standing can actually be harmful – check out this personal account from the Washington Post).
SMARTdesks offers the Cirrus line of adjustable height desks and sit-stand desks that can help you work in a healthier way. A wide variety of finishes are available as well as floating balance, ratchet, spring pin, and motorized option for adjusting the height of the standing desks and tables.
motorized-adjustable-height-table
And because neither standing not sitting is ideal for extended periods of time, the motorized lift memory function makes it easy to save both your sitting and standing heights.
cirrus-control-panel
For more information and studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention about standing at work, click here.
In your opinion…How do you like to work best? Seated, with intervals of movement, standing all the time, or standing and sitting depending on how much strain your feet can take?

Did you know? Standing at work puts you in good company. Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and Benjamin Franklin all worked at specially-built standing desks.
Courtesy of the Washington Post.
Courtesy of the Washington Post.

Offices through the ages: from parchment to computer stand

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word “office” in the sense that we principally use it — “A room, set of rooms, or building used as a place of business for non-manual work; a room or department for clerical or administrative work” — first appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales around the turn of the fifteenth century.
We’ll stick to the twentieth and twenty first centuries here, but first…
…The Middle Ages:
medieval office
Tapestries, parchment, and hand-carved furniture define this “chancery,” what offices were called in the Middle Ages. At chanceries, which were principally government offices, official documents were drawn up by “chancellors.”
…Zooming ahead into the 1960s and the cubicle:
Cubicles
In the 1960s, the cubicle came to define the twentieth century office. By 1974, cubicles accounted for 20% of expenditure in new office building. In 1980, half of new office furniture purchased was placed in cubicles. And according to Steelcase, now nearly 70% of office work takes place in the dreaded box. Data and statistics come from The New Atlantis, which has an excellent article called “The Moral Life of Cubicles,” found here.
…2014 offers just a few changes, including:
EXG-video-Teleconference640
In today’s virtual world, office interactions need not take place even in the same room, let alone a cubicle. Teleconferencing has made long-distance collaboration easy, and team members can speak with and see each other with the help of monitor and computer stands, as well as collaborative furniture. For more information on SMARTdesks’ Exchange, pictured above, click here.
…or this:
shireenoutdoor3
This glass-enclosed office was designed by the Spanish architecture firm Selgas Cano, and certainly has an abundance of natural light.
…or even this:
modern-office-space-easy-mood
At Google, these strange energy pods (~$8,000) keep employees well-rested and alert.
For an interesting piece on the invention of the office, computer equipment, computer stands, laptop furniture, and other office furniture, check out this BBC piece.  For a look at the evolution of the collaborative office, check out this mindjet blog post. And for a brief history of the American office building (with pictures like the one below), click here.
Early American Office
In your opinion…How do you use computer stands and today’s technology infrastructure to help you get your work done?

Designing The Modern Computer Desk

The SMARTdesks Quark, a computer conference table for Telepresence, Teleconferencing, Video Conferencing and Collaboration.
The SMARTdesks Quark, a computer conference table for Telepresence, Teleconferencing,
Video Conferencing and Collaboration.

2014 is here, and as we progress into the second decade of the 21st century, computer desk designs continue to changing quickly with technology innovation and office design trends. The modern computer desk must adapt to an increasingly collaborative environment and one that favors open-architecture spaces over cubicles. Desktop computer use is on the decline as mobile device usage increases steadily. Creative work environments improve productivity and foster innovation.
Within contemporary educational and office spaces, SMARTdesks strives to innovate and design creative and modern computer desks.
iGroup-Accessorized
iGroup is a reconfigurable collaboration table that offers a variety of possibilities for customization, including inset iDrawer or FlipIT options for iPad or computer.

Check out how some offices around the world have implemented their ideas of the modern computer desk here, including workstations from Google, Skype, and Twitter, among many others. Apple has even patented a ‘desk-free’ computer that operates on laser-powered projection, eliminating the need for a monitor on the desktop. And here’s a list in pictures of office trends that are on the way out in the next ten years according to HuffPost.
In your opinion…What do you think are the most important features of the modern computer desk?
 

Our New Year’s Tech Resolutions

Happy New Year from SMARTdesks! Here are our top 5 furniture and technology resolutions for the New Year.
1. Treat yourself to better ergonomics in 2014. You spend hours in front of the computer and your work shouldn’t be causing you pain. For a guide to optimizing ergonomics, click here.
2. Use the cloud to store your work and share information with collaborators, whether they be fellow educators or employees at your company. It’s safe, secure, and efficient. Here are some tips on using the cloud to the best of your advantage.
3. Find the best organizational apps for you at home and at work. Here is a list of the top 10 for entrepreneurs and startups according to venturebeat.com for entrepreneurs.
4. Keep your email inbox clear of clutter and junk. Seems like a difficult task? Check out unroll.me to get rid of email subscriptions you don’t want and consolidate the ones you do want into just one message.
5. Finally, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. In the classroom or office, a team-based approach to learning and solving problems is invaluable. Here are some collaboration tips from Tech Republic.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, and productive 2014!