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).
What do we really know about how teachers can use the wonderful innovative learning environments being created for schools around the world?
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
Understanding how people behave as they do is key to creating responsive environments.
I was in a school the other day. It was a delight to be in. Its overall aesthetic design wasn’t anything to speak of, it was in an old industrial building near a town centre. It had plenty of light, and while the young students were playing around there wasn’t loud noise – you could hear quite clearly. Everybody was engaged. The environment was responsive – staff and students could easily move the furniture around. Above all it seemed intuitive to use.
There needs to be better evidence for the decisions we make when designing and creating learning environments. Much of what is done, is based on ‘evidence’ that is often not substantiated yet presented as if it were the final word. My friend Peter Lippman, in his book “Evidence-based design for Primary and Secondary Schools” relentlessly and rightly argues the point. Indeed Peter Barrett alludes to this in his recent study that led to his “Clever Classroom” report (see my post: Understanding Complexity in Clever Classrooms).
So, can your school do things better? At the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments we are aiming to provide answers. Continue reading
Partial plan of Epping Views, by Gray Puksand Architects 2007. The corridors have been incorporated into the learning spaces. ©Gray Puksand
The biggest, and I think the real, shift in school design is the wider recognition that a variety of spaces in schools and indeed outside schools can be effectively used as settings for learning, that schools can use more than just a rectangular classroom box. Continue reading
Is the importance of a school as an integral place for the community being neglected? I ask because in these times of frugal spending most of the discussion about schools focuses on ‘education’, yet surely the role of a school as a ‘cohesive agent’ in communities and society is just as important, if we are to survive as societies?
So how does a school make real the notion that it is a place for the community at all? Four things come to mind.
First, simply that by their nature schools are communities. A school is a place where as groups, children socialise and learn to live together, sharing common aims, interests or ideals. They are places where students develop skills and character vital for living in and contributing to society. Schools are places where children begin to learn and understand their role in society as a whole. For most children, school will be the first community outside their family in which they will directly engage. Continue reading
When working with people from different disciplines, it is perhaps obvious that everyone should be able to grasp the basic concepts and language that the others use. If they cannot, then such conversations become at best unfruitful and at worst misleading.
So often when designers meet clients and users of buildings, they present information in such a way that is inaccessible to their audience. Or, they ask questions in such a way that the people cannot respond easily. Therefore the solution must be to establish a common language that enables everyone to discuss issues in such a way that they understand each other. Here is one example of a project to do this.
The idea that merely redesigning a school building will on its own lead to improved student outcomes and in particular drive education transformation is still being given more credence than it deserves. But the physical environment does play an important role.
Dandenong High School, Victoria, Australia: The design of this environment was led by the school principal
All you need to do, so the argument goes, is redesign the physical learning environment and the rest follows – teachers will teach differently and students will learn more effectively. As attractive as the idea sounds, it is far from what the evidence suggests. What really leads to improvement in a school is effective school leadership and good teaching backed by coherent policy making. A well designed physical learning environment will contribute to it, but is not itself the driver. Indeed effective leadership is also the key to an effective learning environment. Continue reading
Imagine that you as a school principal or a teacher and have been told that your school going to get a new art / science / math (pick your subject) block. You have to define what is wanted so that the architect can start work on the design. Where do you start?
The solution may be well-designed furniture giving learning spaces versatility.
Merely writing out a list of different spaces and expecting them to function in the way you expect is not the place to start. Apart from anything else, the designer’s assumptions about how they function may be entirely different to yours. The fundamental question is: Continue reading
In designing an environment for learning we have to imagine better ways of being. The same could be said for designing education itself.
Interior of High Tech High, San Diego, California
I once asked a student at High Tech High in San Diego, California what advice she would give those designing learning environments. She replied: “Create somewhere relaxing and bright, so you can open the windows and see out; you know, somewhere you actually want to be for 7 hours a day!”
I asked another student. The answer: “Create a building that allows students to want to learn, rather than merely containing the learning process.” Continue reading