The Node chair is a piece of furniture that I have had my eye on for a while. Not only does it look fantastic (surely no one can disagree with that!), but you can see just from looking at it, that a lot of thought and effort has been put into its design.
It seems to break the mould of typical furniture, or more specifically chairs, by not just addressing one problem but many. A chair that has a writing tablet, a seat with support, somewhere to store your bag, mobility and of course – looks great.
In case you hadn’t guessed teaching room furniture is something of a slight obsession of mine. I am particularly interested in those ideas and solutions that solve issues that I have come across within education and I believe this is exactly what the Steelcase strive to achieve with the Node chair. I have no links with furniture companies, therefore the only reason I write about a furniture solution via this blog is if I think it’s interesting and potentially very beneficial to educational institutions – which again, I think the Node chair is!
So, what’s so great about the Node chair?
- Teaching Room Furniture vs Teaching Styles
I have found that teaching room furniture, or perhaps its use, has not kept up with the changing teaching demands and students expectations. Rows of chairs and desks that are heavy and/or difficult to move prevent teaching rooms from being able to adapt to a variety of different teaching styles.
It is a real frustration for both staff and students alike to be timetabled into a seminar room with standard tables and chairs. What happens if they would like to do group work, presentations, workshops – or a combination of many different teaching practices? Ultimately, for those determined to create a teaching environment that reflects how they want to deliver the class, the furniture is moved to create a new layout – not only taking time, but providing a less than adequate solution, as typical teaching furniture is designed to accommodate “normal” teaching only i.e. students listening to lecturer.
The added downside is that it also takes time to move the furniture back to the original layout and for those of you who have worked in an institution, you will know that this often results in the layout being left for the next class to resolve, resulting in their time also being wasted.
The Node chair offers a solution to this, providing an easily moveable chair/desk combo that the students can quickly move themselves into the layout that best suits the teaching style. This opens up the world of possibilities for teaching as the standard “teaching room” if equipped with Node chairs, can now readily and quickly adapt creating different layouts not only from class to class, but also many times within a session.
The closest furniture solution to a Node chair, are the Tablet Arm Chairs such as these. The chairs aim to solve some of the same problems, most notably the ability to move the chairs to create different layouts. The problem, is that their mobility is a significant hindrance.
Have you ever tried to move 30 tablet arm chairs into a different layout? Even if the students themselves help to do this it is a struggle and the result is typically a clunky and odd looking new layout that vaguely looks like what you were hoping for.
For starters the Node chair has wheels. This enables the chairs to quickly and easily be moved around the room creating new layouts quickly and efficiently. Students can easily mould the layout to address its changing needs – for example, a new student joining a group work session or change of style from a group work to a student presenting – all without having to pick up or drag the furniture around the room.
Some Tablet Arm Chairs have wheels and therefore already address this, but what they don’t offer is the ability to swivel. This may not seem revolutionary, but when creating a more fluid and collaborative teaching environment it can be. Students can quickly swivel to talk to students, listen to the lecturer or student presentations, look/watch content on different walls to which they were facing – all without having to get up out of their seat.
By enabling students to quickly and easily move and adapt to their environment, the Node chair unlike other similar furniture solutions no longer works against, but with the students helping them to get the most out of the content and discussions held within the class. Both the University of Maryland and a great post by a 4th grade teacher, help to provide evidence on how the Node chairs mobility is of great benefit to the students and their learning.
Storage, as far as I am aware, is an issue that other furniture solutions are yet to resolve and wasn’t something I had personally considered. Potentially this is due to it previously not being such an issue, with fixed tables/chairs meaning that students could easily keep their belongings next to their feet and not worry about it getting in the way.
However, as soon as you create a flexible/moveable teaching environment where furniture can move easily around the room bags and belongings left on the floor, the lack of personal storage become an issue. Either the students have to carry their belongings around with them as they move around, or leave them in a corner resulting in them having to get up and fetch any extra items they need during the class – not ideal.
Therefore the Node chairs under seat storage appears to solve this problem, enabling students to store their bags and belongings under their seat and not worry about picking up and moving their belongings as they move. This storage facility is however one of the few issues that has been raised by students concerning the Node chairs, as the storage area isn’t always large enough to hold all of the students belongings – i.e. a large bag would struggle to fit inside (University of Idaho – Fall 2013 Classroom Improvement Surveys Findings Executive Summary).
- Comfortable Seat With Support – UPDATED
This is often seen to be trivial, but it shouldn’t be! You wouldn’t sit at home or at a desk for hours at a time, every day, on a chair that was uncomfortable and offered little to no support so why should students be expected to? This can cause the students long term back pain (BBC – Pupils’ chairs “pain in the back”), not only effecting their well being but also their ability to concentrate and therefore learn within the teaching environment (Education Business – “Healthy bodies, Healthy Minds).
The Node chair partially faces up to this issue, providing arm and back support, as well as a flexible seat enabling students to sit in a variety of postures. The chairs ability to swivel also helps the students to be comfortable, removes the need for them to twist their necks/bodies in order to look in different directions. (Steelcase: “Case Study – node: Keeping Pace with Active Learning”)
Since posting the original version of this article however, concerns have been brought to my attention over how comfortable the Node chair actually is. The lack of padding means the chair can become uncomfortable if sitting for an extended period of time and is feature than many other furniture solutions do offer.
Also, the lack of height adjustment is another missing feature that is likely to mean that if a student finds a standard tablet chair to be an uncomfortable height, they are likely to similarly find the same problems with the Node chair.
- Writing Tablet
A writing tablet isn’t a new development, but what about a tablet that is user friendly? Most of the Tablet Arm Chairs available, are either left or right handed friendly resulting in approximations over the number of each being made and furniture purchased to reflect – often resulting in a left handed person having to use a right handed versions, or visa versa.
Tablet size is another issue, with most offering little support for a laptop or several books resulting in the students having to pile their resources on the floor next to them or use their bags.
The Node chair goes a long way to solving these issues, by being left and right handed friendly, adjustable and large enough to support a laptop/multiple books. This helps to ensure students can be comfortable and have the space they require in order to work how they want.
Something I haven’t mentioned in this article is price and this one of my main concerns as the Node chair seems to focus on being a high quality and well designed product, rather than a price competitor. However having spoken to institutions the cost can often be less than you think, making these chairs an attractive option to the conventional teaching room chairs and tables. I have tried to gather some price information and contacted Steelcase to discuss this, but as expected for this type of product there isn’t a broad fix price per unit cost when supplying institutions. The advise I was given was that any institution interested should contact Steelcase via their website- follow this link – and fill out the form letting them know your details and intentions.
Ultimately I can’t say whether the Node chair is the right solution for you and your institution, but I feel that it ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to creating teaching spaces that work with the students and the teaching pedagogy rather than against. The comfort issues raised should however be factored in to any decision, therefore I would certainly advise testing the Node chair out yourself first with some students before purchasing. Most furniture providers will provide you with a couple of chairs for a free trial if you ask and I would certainly always advise doing this before buying a significant number!
I hope you have enjoyed a slightly different article to that I usually post. I believe furniture and technology in an integral part of teaching space and its success, so will be continuing to occasionally look at different products and provide my thoughts. If you have seen or purchased any other new and innovative furniture solutions I would certainly be very interested in knowing more about them, so please don’t hesitate to let me and others know via the comments box at the bottom of the article.
Likewise, I would be very interested to hear from those that have already purchased the Node chairs, as well those that who decided not to and to find out you reasons for making this decision plus anybody’s personal experiences with the Node chairs!
All the best