A collaboration between design studio Kurani, the state of Alabama, Apple and nonprofit Ed Farm reimagines learning spaces through virtual teaching with the Connected Rural Classroom
When the relevant authorities in the state of Alabama noticed that students in rural towns weren’t getting the same academic opportunities as those coming from bigger cities, they decided to act. They joined forces with nonprofit Ed Farm and learning space design expert Kurani, alongside high-profile partners such as Apple, and the idea for a facility that accommodates virtual teaching was born; welcome to the Connected Rural Classroom.
The design studio’s founder Danish Kurani played a key role in shaping this proposal, which is especially close to his heart: ‘I’m constantly asking, “What are people struggling with, and can I design something that will make it easier for them?" In America, if you grow up poor or in a small town, one of the things you struggle with is having the same opportunities as people who are born rich or in a big city. You just aren’t exposed to as many people or opportunities that can help you. Having grown up in a small town in the South, I know this firsthand.’
In developing his proposal, Kurani dug deep and engaged in intense research, drawing on his own experiences – the aim was to achieve a design that goes beyond mere aesthetics and has functionality at its heart.
‘For people who use a space (and rely on it), there’s a big difference if your focus as the designer was on achieving a particular style versus if you focused on creating solutions to their problems,’ he says.
As a result, technology sits at the heart of the Connected Rural Classroom concept. ‘Technology in schools should help students – often it doesn’t. When schools have slow computers and wifi, students waste their days waiting for devices to load a webpage or app they need. And because most schools don’t have the latest hardware or software products, it’s virtually impossible for students to progress far and become a master at anything,’ Kurani explains.
‘It’s partly a funding issue. [...] But poor tech in schools is also a design issue. The right set-up in school can boost kids. All of a sudden they have this incredible support that helps them get stuff done, incredible stuff. Not only is each of our Connected Rural Classrooms equipped to beam in top teachers who can mentor and guide the students, but students also get professional equipment for creative content creation: iPads, tripods, ring lights, soft boxes, microphones, photo and video editing software. It’s like a tech playground.’
The Connected Rural Classroom uses cleverly integrated technology to create a flexible environment that promotes learning. Instead of relying on in-person teaching, as the typical American classroom would, this concept moves away from the rows of desks facing a certain way, with little scope of adaptability. Here, the proposal is built around hybrid areas and hubs of tech-based teaching.
Innovative materials and gadgets were important in composing the right atmosphere and offer opportunities for learning and wellness. The colour palette is chosen specifically to promote calm and creativity; the carpet and wallpaper use recycled materials, reducing carbon footprint; and divider panels are made from sustainable medium density fiberboard (MDF). Air purifying filters, and carefully designed natural and artificial lighting, and graphics, were specifically chosen to support productivity.
The team is currently in the process of building these classrooms all across Alabama – but the aim is to bring Connected Rural Classroom far beyond the state borders. ‘Any school in America can have it,’ says Kurani. ‘They just have to message me and I can bring it to them.’