Universities: the power behind the throne of the regional economy

With or without “Brexit” the higher education scene globally is changing. The problem that we all face whether we live in the UK or elsewhere is that the impact of change is difficult to predict, yet the changes could have profound implications on how we use or develop higher education learning environments.

Architectural design in one way is a scenario of the future. This is from the end of year show at the Department of Architecture, University of Westminster

 

 

A way to explore this is through the use of scenarios – a sort of hypothetical alternative reality.

Here is a scenario to think about. It is based on one I developed for a project I was working on back in 2008 looking at the future of higher education:

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Intelligent Learning Environment

Can we describe what an intelligent modern learning environment should be like? By intelligent, I mean buildings that are designed to support teaching and learning and those who use them. I think that we can.

Stonefields School, Auckland, New Zealand

I have been  reflecting on how we encapsulate what a modern and intelligent learning environment should be like and thought I would share some broad brush criteria. To a large extent there are some linkages between them all, but it may be interesting to think about the relevance of each. They aren’t in a particular order and perhaps they could be thought of as different perspectives from which to challenge the space(s).

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How can teachers move from traditional to innovative learning environments?

 

What do we really know about how teachers can use the wonderful innovative learning environments being created for schools around the world?

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Stonefields School, Auckland, New Zealand

Graduate researchers (architects, designers, educationalists) around the world are tackling issues such as this, but often in isolation. The ‘Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change’ (ILETC) project, based at the University of Melbourne, Australia, aims to bring this thinking together through its series of one-day ‘transitions’ symposia which this year will also be held outside Australia – in the UK (London) on 7th September and in the US (Grand Rapids, Michigan) on 14th September. The symposium in Melbourne will be on 2nd June. It will be interesting to learn where the research on this is at. Continue reading

Future Energy for Schools

Students are most likely to learn most about sustainability and environmental impact at school. This was certainly a finding from one of the OECD PISA studies a few years ago. The Zayed Future Energy Prize, in its Global High School category, provides an opportunity for schools around the world to continue to address this.

The primary aim of the Global High Schools category of the Zayed Future Energy Prize is to inspire future generations across the world to be responsible, sustainable citizens. It hopes to encourage young people to learn about sustainability and clean energy from an early age. Continue reading

The future of school design is in process

I was asked the other day: How do I see the future design of school buildings?  I thought hard about it because hasn’t all that has got to be said on the future of school design been said? After all we are surrounded by organisations trying to make predictions – 2030 and 2050 seem to be two favourite year markers.

Waitakiri Priamry School, Christchurch

Waitakiri Primary School, Christchurch, New Zealand. Opened in 2014. Combined two schools after the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. the community was involved in the process of developing the new school.

It seems to me that while design will continue to stimulate debate and prompt innovations perhaps a more interesting and deep rooted innovation lies in the process rather than product. Like many innovations, it isn’t new, it is a reapplication in a context that enables it to happen.

Fifteen years ago I co-wrote a book: “Managing the Brief for Better Design”. One of the central themes of the book was dialogue between the different stakeholders in the production of the built environment. It was also about the role of design – “briefing is design, design is briefing”- was the mantra that I and my co-author repeated as nauseam.  I still run it out when asked to talk about briefing. Using design to probe problems and their solutions seemed fundamentally important then, and it still does now

In “Managing the Brief” we also said that briefing is a process that starts before the project has been identified and continues after the project has been defined and the solution (generally a building of some sort) has been built. The point was, and I believe still is, that the built environment provides a supportive framework for learning and teaching. To do that there has to be a real understanding of the needs of the users (teachers, students, parents, the community interests) and the client which may be different from the school(s). To understand these needs demands a dialogue. The process of design can be used to explore the questions as well as the solutions. This is what good designers do.

Looking over the horizon I can see much more interest in this with education clients (for example, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand) now more often allowing dialogue to happen with teachers and students, and others before the discussion about the building. In many cases such discussions are a revelation to the organisations (schools or clients) about the way that they operate too. In other words, it is never just about the building.

Something to think about

If you are about to, or want to, reconfigure the spaces you use, be prepared to probe deeply:

  • What you do, how you do it and when you do it.
  • How might this change in the future (next week, next year, in five years…)
  • Then ask yourself, how do the spaces and technology you use support this now and how should it do so in the future?

Learning depends on motivation

My good friend Julia Atkin, an education and learning consultant, makes a big thing of saying that the way that humans learn is the same as it has always been.

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Julia Atkin (left); Mie Guldbaek Broens, education anthropologist (right)

“Whether a human learns depends on their motivation,” she says. “A great teacher will find ways of motivating students and what motivates one student is not necessarily the same thing that motivates another.” Continue reading

Making Space with LEGO

This year I was invited to the 2016 LEGO Idea Conference and work with the International School of Billund, Denmark to present and discuss how the physical environment supports the education approach of the school. Currently the school takes students at primary age but will soon begin taking older students.

Top left a model of the classroom for the conference; top and below right the actual classroom space

It lives in a renovated secondary school building in  Billund, and so has had to find ways of using an existing structure for its innovative approach to teaching – they avoid the more traditional approaches.

For my part in this discussion I took one typical space to describe what happens there. The space, actually an old classroom box, is divided into different zones so that students can work in different ways. This is guided by the teachers who , over a period of time, will ensure that students experience different learning modes from focused individual, collaborative, show and tell. while they follow a curriculum they teach subjects using a variety of approaches so that students engage in different ways. This was reflected in the way they set up the learning space.

 It was fascinating to visit the school and talk with the teachers, parents and students about how it works. They have to work hard to convince parents about this approach to teaching and it shows the difficulties that face even those who are in what many would say is a fairly progressive education environment.

For the curious: I was asked to do a video interview with two Danish students. Here is what happened: