Education has radically changed in the last decade. One major factor of this change has been the STEM revolution. Westlab’s experience in this field as a supplier and furnisher of laboratories has allowed us to pinpoint the five key principles of design for a STEM facility.

Open and transparent spaces, flipped learning, flexibility and self-directed learning are all features which give institutions competitiveness, enhanced effectiveness in teaching and learning, advanced research and facility, increased student interest in learning and welcoming learning and study environments.

Open designs

Open spaces are very common and are vital to collaboration and student engagement in contemporary STEM labs. To achieve this, perimeter benching is used, and storage is located out of the way of corridors and areas of high student/teacher traffic.

Transparency is achieved by large areas of glass, such as floor-to-ceiling glazing, which can be made opaque, translucent or transparent depending on the environment. This gives energy to students, allowing large quantities of natural light deep into the building, making the space feel a lot larger and more inviting.

Typically, older STEM facilities are a labyrinth of traditional corridors, dim fluorescent lighting, crude plywood doors bristling with closing mechanisms, behind which lies a musty classroom revealing no traces of the outside world. Modern STEM facilities are designed to incorporate collaboration, thought centres, free movement and visually stimulating areas, which encourages maximum learning potential.

Flipped Learning Spaces

Recent educational changes have allowed students to direct their own studies, have encouraged group learning, interpersonal education and powerful learning by student interaction.

By creating spaces which allow this collaboration, STEM classrooms in turn allow the students to fulfil valuable time in practical activity and knowledge application. This is the latest approach to learning, with which teachers can expect students to manage their own programs and be taught valuable skills rather than coming to the institution and being spoon-fed information.

These kinds of inverse-learning spaces include thought areas with flexible furniture, tables, whiteboards and monitors, and open plan design (perimeter flexible benching with active learning hubs).

Flexibility

Successful laboratories and classrooms in the STEM movement enable compatibility to the constantly changing needs of those using them. They are made to be flexible and adaptable in several areas. Teaching, research, storage and equipment needs can be met with minimal difficulty.

This is achieved with modular systems such as benching, tables and desks, furniture and the rooms themselves. Innovative rooms with removable walls (concertina fold) allow customisation. Flexible spaces also allow students to collaborate and allow opportunity for individual and face-to-face experience as well.

This adaptability can also be achieved through strategic positioning of utilities, fume hoods, ducts, sinks and fixed storage — it is recommended that these are positioned away from the main classroom on the perimeter in nooks, where it is out of the way but within easy reach.

Teaching and Research Combination

Smaller schools and universities benefit from combining their teaching spaces with their labs, which allows them to alternate between research and teaching, particularly during holiday periods.

While allowing them to do this, it also provides opportunity for efficiency in research, cost-saving in furnishing and lab installation and a greater opportunity for students. The best way to learn is by seeing the thing in real life and practicing it.

By combining the teaching space with the research space, which may involve a glass partition, adjacent (easily accessible) research rooms or different zones for teaching and research, this can be achieved.

Student-Directed Learning

Informal learning spaces are officially on the rise. Spaces dedicated to private time for learning are important to the success of a STEM facility where students may undertake laborious and intensive studies. The different types of these learning spaces meet needs in collaboration, creating opportunities for mentoring, and allow write-up, open study and closed study.

This type of facility usually will provide for larger gatherings, faculty events and are a destination point where students will like to go as well as teachers to settle down and shift workload. Some include cafés, sushi bars or kitchenettes as well, giving it a special and inviting environment. These zones are created with closed personal spaces and quiet study areas, closed group areas including round tables, whiteboards and monitors, and more active zones. They should incorporate soft areas with natural materials such as wood and plants, soft seating, soft colours and ambient features such as natural lighting and pastel colour themes.

These can all be used to create a certain theme, such as focusing, collaborative or semi-collaborative. They serve as ‘touchdown’ spaces that can allow students and teachers to catch up, relax or meet with others. Informal learning spaces are, in short, a go-to for students and way-to-go for institutions, as they help maximise the potential of both parties.

Conclusion

Designing a successful STEM facility requires delving deeper than achieving the mission of the institution but providing for a workplace where change is the only constant. Current-day STEM institutions are revolutionary in education, and a new education has emerged.

These facilities feature key elements of design: openness of design, flipped learning, maximum flexibility, combination of teaching and research and student-directed learning. All of these features make for success in your STEM facility and provide maximum opportunity for students, teachers and researchers alike.