A glimpse into the future of the classroom: how the Steelcase node will change the way we teach

June 13, 2010, 9:43 pm


This week is NeoCon,
the big show in the furniture world. I really hope to make it out there someday
because I want to experience what’s new in the world of design. It would be
cool to check out Stride
and the Vox
this year.


One new product that I am really excited about is the Steelcase
. I hinted about this back
in March
but wasn’t able to reveal anything more at that time. Steelcase
has been really cool about it though and granted me an interview with
Sean Corcorran, Director, Product Development & Marketing,
Education Solutions (and former
IDEO guy.) They also gave me some prototypes and sketches that I can
share. I’m planning to do several posts this week about the node, but for now
let’s take a look at what it’s all about:



My initial reaction was that it
looked kinda cool, but so what. It has the tablet-like arm, which they refer to
as “personal work surface” and wheels… and it looks very modern, but I couldn't see my University administrators rushing out to buy hundreds of these chairs for
their classrooms.


My opinion changed then I saw these

Node_lecture Lecture Mode
Node_groups Group Mode

More planning ideas.

brilliance of the node is how it functions as a complete system. It’s not just an individual
chair or a set of chairs, it is a mobile grid. It enables the instructor to customize the learning environment accordingly.

They way they explained it—you
could have the chairs arranged in lecture mode, but then very quickly have the
students break into pairs or small groups, or into a circle or into a u-shape, whatever is needed. Node adds flexibility into the
configuration of the space, so rather than deal with the limitations
of static furniture, it enables the class to have the shape required for
the lesson or activity at hand. This is really beneficial for variations in
teaching style as well as differences across the disciplines.

Beyond the portability factor,
there are some other great qualities of the node. I encourage you to review
the official site
because they articulate the features better than I can. But
here are a few thoughts:

  • The casters/wheels work
    well. They roll well when you want, but I never felt like it was out of
    control. If you bump into someone else, you’re not going to roll out of
  • The space under the seat
    is great for books and bags. The idea here seems to toward reclaiming space and
    providing order.
  • The arm rests also
    function as a book bag hanger so that students have easy access to their
  • The base rotates/swivels
    so that you can spin around side to side. If someone is talking or writing on a
    board, you can quickly adjust to view.
  • There is a ledge along
    the base for resting you feet. I love this!
  • The chair has a fair
    amount of give. This allows for a slight rocking. I prefer to have slight
    movement when I’m sitting for a long time.
  • The personal workspace/work
    surface is fair large. Unlike traditional lounge chair style tablet arms
    (which I actually dislike) this product has a great amount of space. You can fit
    a laptop and a book on it. There is also a small ridge to help keep papers from
    falling off. It swings out of the way pretty easily as well.


That should get the
conversation started. I think there is a lot of potential here in how we can
conduct the business of teaching, but also in how node might reshape the learning
experience in libraries too. Check back Tuesday for my
interview with one of the key developers of the node. And later in the week I’ll
speculate how these might be used by librarians and instructors.


For more on the concept of
adaptable space read:
we can learn from Cosi


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