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Classroom Furnishings For A Fluid Model Of Learning

More than ever before, design is at the core of the national dialogue about improving our educational systems. With its new Verb line of furniture, Steelcase wants to prove that physical collaboration is just as important as the curriculum.

Don’t get us wrong—at the time, we certainly appreciated that easy A+ in Mrs. [insert teacher’s name] seventh-grade geology course. What we didn’t appreciate, however, was the hour-long drone delivered at the front of the class while we took notes (or dozed off) in the confines of our rigidly gridded desks.

Steelcase’s new line of furniture, called Verb, makes classroom learning a lot more interactive: The main feature is a series of interchangeable whiteboards that can be attached to student tables, or to rolling easels or an instructor’s station. With the new line, which started shipping in November, teachers are better able to remove the physical barriers of static furniture and employ a more fluid model of teaching. For example, after a 15-minute lecture, a group of students can hitch the whiteboards onto the sides of their table to brainstorm and jot down ideas. After the collaboration, the whiteboards can stand upright on the tables during quizzes to provide separation between students.

With Verb, Steelcase is tackling an issue that has been somewhat left behind in the ongoing transformation of the classroom. Thanks to innovators like Khan Academy and Chegg, the traditional modes of learning in secondary school and higher education are being cracked wide open with new course formats and technologies that improve convenience, accessibility, and individualization for students. But recent studies have shown that the design of the learning environment has a huge impact—as much as 25 percent—on a student’s annual academic performance, which exposes a critical mismatch between pedagogy and its physical motif.

This is Steelcase’s second product to address the issue—the first was the Node chair, a personal workspace with a swivel seat to give students more mobility. "One of the key things that’s driving the changes is a better understanding of how students learn best, and of how the brain works," says Sean Corcorran, Steelcase’s general manager of education solutions. In developing the Verb line, his team worked closely with design firm Ideo, whose designers aided them in observing class sessions at schools and built prototypes that were used in classes taught on Steelcase’s campus. Corcorran says Steelcase is modifying the Verb line to be used in other learning environments, such as corporate offices.