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Flexible Learning Spaces:
School as a Service (SaaS)

Interview with Jarmo Suominen
Professor, Service Architecture, Aalto University, Espoo Tongji University, Shanghai

You conceived the concept "School as a Service". In which way does it differ from the current idea of school?

TA traditional school contains many different resources and spaces. The classroom is only one of those. There are, for example, restaurants, sporting facilities or libraries. The idea of “School as a Service” means that you don’t have to put all these different resources in the same building. School is defined rather within the neighborhood. It’s more a learning community than a school as a building or a classroom.

Picture: Basic differences between school as a product (stand alone) and school as a service (distributed) solution. While the stand-alone model is sucking the energy of its proximity, the distributed model is releasing the energy by utilizing already existing public/ private resources as part of the whole solution.

How should SaaS be organized in relation to the city?

I would rather say in relation to the community. School should happen where people are living. In this way, we don’t need to find a big lot for the school, but we identify different resources in the community and create the heart of the school in close proximity. And in a city, it means that you have lots of shared places offering a service. In Espoo, we’re identifying the proximity of metro stations as education platforms. So it’s absolutely possible to have a school of one metro line, containing local metro hubs but managed as one.

SaaS makes us think of a campus....

Yes exactly, it is a campus concept and in a way, it is not a new idea. But it is new to think about one institution distributed as a campus of neighborhoods, and not as a stand-alone building. Thus, based on SaaS-perspective, school structures have to be changed significantly?
Yes, fortunately and unfortunately. Fortunately, because it will more strongly support learning, especially project-based learning where students don’t have to run between subjects and classes. But it’s a new approach and it will take time to change the way of de?ning schools as well as management and funding structures. Based on what we know already, SaaS is much more efficient in multiple ways: the investment is lower and the learners are much more engaged. There are lots of benefits and we have already started one school in Espoo. The next schools will begin in Espoo as well, and in Shanghai in 2017.

How did students and teachers in Espoo react to SaaS?

The ?rst thing students were saying: “We like it, because this doesn’t look like school, it doesn’t feel like school.” I was surprised that they were really positive. First, I was skeptical about the aspect that they have to move a lot. But finally, there is a reason and a motivation to go out and to meet each other. They were more motivated to learn in an environment, which doesn’t conform to a traditional school. And the teachers started to learn as well which basis supports the best specific type of teaching. Previously, they just went to a classroom, but now they have a variety of places they can choose from.

And how is the feedback outside everyday school life?

Originally there were various arguments against the model. But once, the first learning results has been positive, the number of students applying in has raised over 150% and various experts start to see it as a viable option for future schools.

I believe that the public service delivery like schools, wouldn’t be one entity any more, but rather connected solutions. And it will change the way cities are developed. This approach could cover all kind of service delivery, as a new way of organizing those conditions. The concept is based on the ideas of sharing economy, but I would rather think it as access economy, because we create access to isolated resources trough service innovation.

Professor Jarmo Suominen has background from Architecture and Design: He is Professor of Service Architecture at the Aalto University in School of Art & Design and co-founder of Suominen Architects. His practice is focused on service innovations in architecture since 2001.

SaaS is a network of new and existing local resources, based on Service Dominant Logic. Network- developments are supported by digital technologies and new methodologies for learning. This basically means that SaaS is not de? ned by traditional ideas of buildings and spaces. Students are seen as active participants of the learning processes, and goods (e.g. buildings) support their learning.