Tablet und notebook on desk, Smart City Berlin

Credit: Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

The Learning Facility of the Future

The school of the future is smart, digital and sustainable. It is closely connected to its surroundings – to educational offers in the neighbourhood, such as nursery schools, museums and leisure facilities. And it also ensures public administration and interested companies are involved. Although Berlin does not yet have a “Smart School” quite like this, one is currently being created, and it has what it takes to be a model for other schools. . 

In spring 2021, InfraLab Berlin and energy agency Berliner Energieagentur (BEA) got together with pupils, teaching staff and external experts for a two-day digital design thinking workshop, where they developed ideas for the “Smart School”. These approaches, or prototypes, will be incorporated into the learning facility of the future, where the content of the courses will be sustainable and interconnected, as will the school’s equipment, resource management and environment. 

The idea for the project began in 2017 as part of the Smart City Network strategy dialogue and was then presented to and selected by the state secretaries within the Berlin Senate Departments at a pitch in 2018. In late 2020, the project entered the design phase, which was funded by the Berlin Senate Chancellery. Various Berlin schools applied to take part in the project; ultimately, the team selected Brillat-Savarin-School (OSZ Gastgewerbe), a combined secondary school and vocational college in the field of catering in Berlin-Weißensee. 

We talked to Birgit Kahland, member of the InfraLab Berlin executive board, and Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer, part of the Consulting division at Berliner Energieagentur to find out more about the Smart School project. 

Ms Kahland, why was Brillat-Savarin-School selected as a future “model learning facility” for the Smart School project? 

Birgit Kahland: There were several reasons. We chose Brillat-Savarin-School (OSZ Gastgewerbe) because it had already realised a large number of projects in the fields of climate protection and sustainability and is therefore able to draw on solid fundamental knowledge. The school has also made excellent progress in the field of digitisation; they use and had already digitalised some of their lessons before the pandemic broke out. OSZ Gastgewerbe furthermore has an extremely committed staff who are supporting and realising the project coherently, which is a key factor for success in projects in the education sector. The pupils and trainees will also be able to take the acquired actions and knowledge on climate protection and sustainability into their workplaces – which include Berlin hotels, restaurants, etc. – where they can then act as multipliers. 

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: Another deciding factor was the fact that the catering industry is an extremely important sector in Berlin and was at the same time heavily affected by the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis last year. The trainees were all anxious about the future and the number of applications and training opportunities declined during the pandemic. The development towards an increase in sustainability and climate protection is a great investment that ensures the sector will remain an appealing one in future – for trainees as well as for tourists visiting Berlin. 

Which components did the project comprise? 

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: Two project teams – pupils and trainees in the hotel business on the one hand and teachers and external experts on the other – came together at a design thinking workshop and developed four ideas, known as prototypes, that have been incorporated into the overall Smart School concept. 

And what ideas did the teams come up with? 

Birgit Kahland: The pupils and trainees came up with the idea of adding digital elements to the school garden as part of their lessons: with a seasonal and regional approach; a weekly Green Day; a zero-waste concept; and the sustainable use of rainwater. They plan to attach signs with QR codes on them to the plants; anybody who is interested will be able to scan the codes with their smartphone to find out what kind of plant they are looking at and receive suitable recipe ideas. The Green Canteen was another suggestion, with Meatless Mondays, when vegetarian meals will be served at the canteen. They also suggested adding a function that allows pupils and trainees to order their canteen lunches in advance via their smartphones, thus countering food waste. 

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: The teachers and external experts developed the “Chill out and learn” approach, which focuses on creating islands where small and larger groups can do their work in the outer areas; the islands will be equipped with digital elements such as solar furniture. At the moment, pupils at OSZ Gastgewerbe don’t have suitable places where they can work outside of the classrooms. Trees in plant pots will provide enough shade to work in comfort without blocking the solar furniture.  Currently unused and fallow areas at the school will be brought back to life – for example in the courtyard and on the patio outside the library. Another concept is called “Chill in – at your school”. This involves providing workspaces in the school library, which is currently not used as a place to work due to limited accessibility. Digital whiteboards as well as the spatial design of islands for teaching and working will supplement the analogue offer in future and turn the library into a lively and smart place to work. 

And what will happen now with these ideas?

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: The ideas have been incorporated into the overall Smart School concept mentioned earlier. The concept comprises 48 measures that have been identified in the following fields: building envelope and building technology; IT school equipment; educational concept/educational tasks; and school environment. The school is able to implement 30 of these measures itself; it will require external financial and coordination support for the remaining 18.

What specific challenges did InfraLab and BEA face as the project initiators?

Birgit Kahland: Initially, InfraLab, BEA and the school all wanted to hold the design thinking workshop as an analogue event at the school itself; due to the pandemic, we unfortunately had to turn it into a digital workshop.

What are the key learnings from the project from your point of view?

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: The workshop basically worked really well as a digital event. The experts from the various fields cooperated really well with the pupils and teachers; as a result, pupils were able to effectively obtain the information they needed. Design thinking also proved to be an excellent tool to develop innovative solutions without any set expectations regarding the results.  At the same time, it did become apparent that each school will require an individual brainstorming process, as they are all very different and solutions will vary accordingly – depending on the school’s location within the city; the condition of the buildings; the activities that have already been realised in the field of sustainability; and the needs of the actors.

How have the pupils and teachers reacted to the project? 

Birgit Kahland: Overall, the feedback from the pupils and teachers has been really positive. They enjoyed talking to experts directly the best. The project gave OSZ Gastgewerbe the chance to sum up the sustainability activities they had already carried out and to see which areas still had potential for improvement. Design thinking was also well received as a method, so there is a chance that this process can be applied at other schools that are interested.

Today, climate protection and adaptation are more relevant than ever. What are the next steps for the Smart School?

Birgit Kahland: OSZ Gastgewerbe has put a task force together, made up of teachers and pupils, and has organised regular planning workshops to implement the measures defined in the case report. The school has already tackled the first items on the agenda: for example applying to the Federal Volunteers Services to create a position in the library and talking to the cafeteria’s leaseholder about switching from single-use to reusable cups. But there are some measures for which the school needs financial aid; at the moment, teachers are volunteering or attempting to integrate the implementation measures into their lessons.  

As experts, what were you able to take away from the pupils? What impressed you the most?

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: What impressed us the most was how committed and confident the pupils were when participating in the design thinking process. I mean, it lasted for two full days on Zoom, which really took some stamina. We soon noticed that they understood the digital tools really quickly once the design thinking coaches had introduced them and were immediately able to use them productively. And last but not least, the pupils were very determined and developed really great ideas that were linked to their own, immediate school environment. The Smart School Garden and Green Canteen are both ideas that can be implemented quite easily and can have a direct, and visible, effect on sustainability.  We experts tend to think in larger infrastructural concepts – like using wastewater heat or installing solar panels on the roof. 

How would you sum up the project? 

Anna Brüning-Pfeiffer: The project was great and taught us all a lot. We were able to gather a tremendous amount of knowledge over a relatively short period of time, and we were able to develop ideas for solutions WITH the school – as opposed to FOR the school. We would love to do the same at other schools, seeing as so many have indicated that they are interested. 

Birgit Kahland: Brillat Savarin School has shown us that schools need financial aid when it comes to implementing the developed measures, something that can be done as part of a follow-up project. We should reward the tremendous commitment of our schools. 

Additional information (German only) 

Report on "Smarte Schule", download (German only)