Empowering learners with CTE
February 09, 2021
February 09, 2021
How a flexible educational space adapts to emerging careers of the future
The US Department of Education recognizes career and technical education (CTE) as a solution to the “skills gap” in jobs requiring post-secondary training, but not a full bachelor’s degree. That gap is particularly prominent in STEM fields where nearly half of all jobs call for workers with less than a bachelor’s degree. These jobs will meet the needs and challenges of the future across a wide array of economic sectors. From healthcare and infrastructure to energy and manufacturing, millions of jobs will be created and millions of skilled workers will be needed to fill them.
CTE focuses on training for specific careers and requires flexibility to respond to the emergence of new career paths in the market. Research conducted by the Association for Career and Technical Education has found evidence of a “convergence” in academics and hands-on CTE training, which implies that other departments may also need to be more responsive to emerging careers moving forward. Future industries such as quantum information science, artificial intelligence, drone management, biodesign, and others will create hybrid fields across existing disciplines for which CTE and other fields will need to develop unique curriculum, pedagogies, and educational environments.
Austin Independent School District is an example of an education program that has embraced emerging career fields and the related training needed for students. In working on the master plan and educational specifications for the district’s next bond with my colleague Theo Pappas, it became clear that we needed a space typology to accommodate the fast-paced response of CTE and other educational departments to emerging career fields. We needed a hyper flexible space that was not owned by any specific department and could help optimize campus utilization, postpone the costs of facility renovation, and respond to program and campus student population changes over time.
CTE focuses on training for specific careers and as such requires flexibility to respond to the emergence of new career paths in the market.
A hyper flexible space would need to scale in three dimensions, but ideally would be flexible in four. It would be a space that transitions between departments, classes, and pedagogies—not just from year to year but perhaps from class period to class period. Architecturally, the only space this flexible is a theatrical stage in which scenes, sets, and props appear and disappear in minutes. The first iteration of this concept, merging educational space with theater technology, we named the Empower Center.
There are four key components of the Empower Center:
These components allow for a wide range of different spatial and programmatic permutations, can be easily and quickly adjusted, and do so using mostly analog architectural or theatrical systems that students can safely manipulate under supervision.
Currently, there are two types of Empower Centers. The Lab is a black box, allowing for strict control of lighting conditions and acoustical properties with more robust finishes that suit themselves to theatrical productions, wet lab conditions, musical performance, art gallery exhibitions, esports, or robotics trials. The Studio is a white box with natural lighting to emulate exterior conditions conducive to EMT training, drone piloting, or digital photography. Its sprung wood floor accommodates a host of performance arts or sports programs. Both types can play host to traditional classroom, lecture, and lab arrangements.
The possibility exists to compose an entire campus out of a variety of custom designed, four-dimensionally flexible spaces like the Empower Center, for athletics and wellness, fine arts, academics, and CTE. We’re looking into those possibilities. We may not be able to completely predict the shape that work will take in the 21st century, but we can design space that will respond to the needs of educators as they adapt. Taking that initiative is how we’re working to empower the educators and students of tomorrow.