Task Furniture in Education (TFE)

Task Furniture in Education (TFE) is a Marie Curie FP7 Industry-Academia Partnerships (IAPP) and Pathways funded programme.

TFE commenced in January 2011 and ran for four years. The project was coordinated and led by researchers in NCAD in collaboration with academic and industry partners: Trinity College Dublin, Ireland; Bundesarbeitsgemein-schaft fur Haltungs-und Bewegungs-forderung e.V, and VS Vereinigte Spezialmobelfabriken GmbH & Co. KG, Germany;  Escola Superior de Artes e Design, Portugal; and Fielding Nair International, USA.

In recent years, there have been arguments made that many of the predominant Western education systems do not adequately prepare children for the challenges they will face in the future. To design for learning in the 21st century the educational vision underpinning schools must be radically different from those which informed the design of schools in the 19th and 20th century. Many aspects of existing learning environments today appear to be teacher-focused and uni-directional, seriously limiting the interaction and types of activities that can take place.

Furniture often receives very little consideration in school design and refurbishment projects, which has led to the design and specification of inappropriate furniture and equipment for the learning environment. Too often teachers and students are required to work around the limitation imposed by furniture, when instead they should be supported by them and enabled to employ more effective methods of teaching and learning. It is possible to design furniture that is adaptable and flexible to different purposes if it is designed with a clear goal and vision for learning in mind.

While there is agreement on the existence of a connection between style of teaching and classroom organisation the research findings on the implications for learning differ. It has been argued that individual characteristics of a school will have an impact on students, however, it must be recognised that different cultures, schools, children and contexts for learning will also affect conditions for learning. Although knowledge of the value or benefits of both the tangible and intangible aspects of the ‘good design’ is growing, there is a need for improved evaluation methods if future learning environments are to benefit from the emerging understanding. There is a lack of research on the impact of environments in terms of effectiveness for learning and any research that has been done seems to be mostly focused on the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ learning in standardised ‘one size fits all’ institutions.

Designers and those working on the design and planning of schools need to recognise the barriers that furniture can create for teachers and students. It is time for designers to bridge the gap between research and design and to use this research to design, test and deliver solutions for task furniture in education. Creating learning environments is first and foremost about education, not architecture. It is about creating spaces in which learning will happen, spaces that will foster learning relationships and experiences.

The implications and directives that were established through the TFE project aim to inspire and provoke and sustain the design of learning environments for a 21st century pedagogy.