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Indiana University Bloomington
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Node Chairs Move Students to New Activity

The rapid evolution of technology is changing not only the way students think and learn, but the paradigms for classroom instruction as well. For educational institutions, this increasingly means transitioning from traditional, instructor-guided class settings to more collaborative, interactive environments.

However, new models for active learning require more than modifying teaching methodologies. To engage and stimulate today’s students, the learning environment must also change – a likely sticking point in higher education, where budgetary constraints are a frequent concern.

Furniture manufacturer Steelcase hopes to change that with node™, an IDEO-designed, reconfigurable classroom chair that complements the way students learn. In 2010, the chair won the Neocon Innovation Award and Spark! Award for “superlative” design.

Indiana University recently installed node chairs in a handful of classrooms on its Bloomington campus. IU primarily uses the rooms for writing and foreign language classes, both of which place high value on co-learning and co-sharing.

"We are always encouraging new and increased levels of interaction in classes, but traditional tablet armchairs are a significant barrier," said Greg Siering, director of IU's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. "These desks were designed for 20th century students who took notes while instructors taught from a lectern. They are not conducive to the collaborative work done by Millennial students who regard classrooms as communities for knowledge creation."

Besides being unable to accommodate most laptops, tablet armchairs inhibit movement, limit peer-to-peer interaction, and reduce opportunities for teachers to connect with students. The opposite is true of node chairs.

Ideal for multiple teaching and learning modes, the innovative chairs allow classes to change configurations with minimal interruption. Instructors have the freedom and flexibility to start class in a lecture-based setup, change midway through for group work, and return to the previous arrangement without losing valuable time.

"In traditional classrooms, an instructor adapts to the environment. Node chairs allow IU to turn traditional classrooms into modern ones without remodeling or building," added Siering.

The node's key features include a contoured, swiveling seat to maintain comfort and open sightlines, casters for mobility and quick mode change, storage for personal items, and a large, adjustable work surface. The work surface accommodates both right- and left-handed students, and is large enough to support laptops, textbooks, and mobile devices.

IU is not the first institution to experiment with node chairs. The University of Michigan and Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy – a Chicago-based digital arts and entertainment institute – are just two of the schools that have installed the seating in their classrooms. Student feedback has been positive, especially about the critical role node plays in the collaborative environment. (For a promotional video on the use of node chairs at Tribeca Flashpoint, visit:

"Students are increasingly looking for an enriched, hands-on learning experience that mirrors their daily interactions," added Stacy Morrone, associate dean for learning technologies at IU. "With node chairs, IU professors can break free from passive, one-way instruction, and provide students with the open discussions, feedback, and interactions that make learning more engaging."

IU is collecting feedback from teachers and students to gauge not only the chair's comfort and usability but also the impact it has on class dynamics. With enough positive results, the university may install the chair in more classrooms.

"IU's Kelley School of Business and School of Informatics have already enhanced some of their classrooms with node chairs," said Siering. "With the many benefits the chair provides to the IU community, it is possible that we could see a significant number of installations across the university in the coming years."