New classroom furniture facilitates 21st-century instruction

Soft, comfy chairs contain a built-in electrical outlet and USB port at their base, so students can plug in their laptops while they sit.

Those bland, standalone classroom desks arranged in neat rows could become a relic of the past, replaced by stylish tables and chairs with built-in power sources and wireless charging capabilities, if furniture maker Bretford Manufacturing has its way.

In a growing number of schools, classroom instruction is changing from a passive experience in which students sit and listen at their desks to a more social activity in which they learn in groups, often with an electronic device at hand.

Recognizing this shift, Bretford has introduced a new line of furniture that helps educators implement a more social and technology-rich learning environment in their schools.

Called EDU 2.0, this flexible line of chairs, desks, tables, and other pieces is designed to encourage collaboration, interaction, and small-group learning, Bretford says. The furniture also makes it easier for students and teachers to use laptops, tablets, smart phones, and other electronic devices.

For instance, soft, comfy chairs contain a built-in electrical outlet and USB port at their base, so students can plug in their laptops while they sit. And small, flat mats on the surfaces of tables and desks let students and teachers charge their cell phones and other mobile devices wirelessly while they work.

“The foundation of today’s learning environment involves the use of technology,” said Mikel Briggs, Bretford’s president. “Our objective with EDU 2.0 is to create an environment that enables technology to be used to its fullest capabilities, without any limitations caused by the furniture in the room.”

Briggs added, “What has also become apparent is the need for space that supports interaction. It is this interaction that creates collaboration. When technology is at work in a collaborative setting, data show that the learning experience of the student is greatly enhanced.”

The furniture, which was unveiled at InfoComm 2011 in Orlando, includes small, round, café-style tables and larger, rectangular tables—some mounted on wheels—with built-in USB power; modular, cushioned chairs that can stand alone or be grouped together to form a sofa; and a “presentation shuttle,” or mobile lectern on wheels.

Through a partnership with Powermat, Bretford has integrated that company’s wireless charging mats into the surfaces of its EDU 2.0 furniture. The mats are intended to make sure that personal learning devices remain fully charged and ready to be used as desired.

Users will need a charger accessory for their smart phone to take advantage of the mats’ capabilities, but students and teachers can buy these accessories at any electronics store, said Cindy Weinschreider, senior marketing manager for Bretford. Or, schools could sell the devices as a fundraising activity, she suggested.

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