The Ohio School Facility Commission (OSFC) is raising the bar on what its means to do school design, and therefore school construction, in the new millennium. The commission hosted the 21st Century School Design Symposium at the Riffe Center this week, featuring forward-thinking experts on the future of technology and educational culture in the U.S. and around the globe.

“This is not about ‘21st century’ branding….” founder Chris Long of education consultant Be Playful said, offering as an example of student-centered learning one school district that moved toward collaboration and open inquiry. “This district is better because they do this every day.”

The first of two speakers at Thursday’s school design symposium, Long said the real key to 21st century learning is not so much technology as the kind of student interaction and curiosity found even in some 20th century schools.

“There was no Internet. We didn’t use that newfangled stuff. But we did theater, we took the kids on trips. It wasn’t big money, it was a choice. The school committed to certain things.”

Long offered the story of a young high school student who was allowed to interact individually by two-way Internet with one of the country’s top slam poets, who mentored her and gave her critical feedback.

“She doesn’t have 30 years to ask your permission,” he said, acknowledging the value of real-time interaction via new media. “It’s now, because it’s important.”

Long suggested classrooms must and will become “learner-centered” and “question-centered” rather than teacher-centered and answer-centered.

“How do we do school?” he said of the question educators and policymakers will always ask. “The kids co-create that.”

Though this has not always been the case, Long said it is the only rational approach to education in the 21st century, when the U.S. is competing every day with the rest of the interconnected world.

“Instead of putting stuff on a hard drive or desk top, it’s in the clouds …,” he said outside the symposium. Schools need “high-powered” space for interaction and discovery, said Long, “not keyboarding rooms.”

The inevitable outcome will be life-long students who learn “any time, any place, any path.” Long said instructional resources will come from all directions, redefining the word public. “As Malcolm X said, ‘By all means necessary.’”

State Superintendent Deborah Delisle did not attend the symposium but acknowledged OSFC’s openness to “designing for technology and ensuring there are a variety of learning spaces to accommodate different educational approaches,” which she included in a letter to OSFC Executive Director Richard Murray.

“It is no longer enough to incorporate 21st century teaching and learning,” Delisle said. “The ideas generated in these workshops are broad and robust, dealing with issues such as planning tools for schools, the importance of sustainability, designing for technology and ensuring there are a variety of learning spaces to accommodate different educational approaches.”