Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Modern Learning Environments

Learning environments or classroom spaces define the space in in which students learn.
Traditionally and sadly still recognizable is the classroom with a big whiteboard / chalkboard at one end with the teachers desk, and all the student desks lined up like little soldiers.  

Early on as a trainee teacher I started thinking about what "The Classroom of the Future" would look like.  I already believed that learning environments should foster a social learning community where the teacher is a guide and learner in both physical and digital spaces. 

In my first year of teaching I went to observe an inspiring teacher (Jacqui Sharp) I had heard about through reading blogs.  My first impressions when walking into her classroom was that it was so open, no ‘personal’ desks or spaces, no rows or group tables, rather a less formal learning environment with digital centers.  When I got back to my class and started rearranging; first I moved the desks into different shapes but eventually traded them for tables.  The tables came in many shapes and colours as I scavenged them from around the school.  

The following year I joined a group of like-minded teachers who were experimenting with classroom spaces and elearning at We were inspired by Ewan McIntosh talk about the Seven Spaces in a classroom in his 'Clicks and Bricks: When Digital, Learning and Physical spaces meet.'  

1. Secret Spaces: spaces to be alone, a quiet space.
2. Group Spaces: are spaces in the classroom for collaborative team work; and also online collaborative spaces like wikis, blogs, Skype, Twiducate, Google Docs etc.
3. Publishing Spaces: Technology allow a larger audience and range of tools.
4. Performance Spaces: although arts related, it is often linked to multiple learning styles to personalise for learners.
5. Participation Spaces: spaces that encourage students to study their ecological footprint through various curriculum areas.  Online spaces include virtual field trips around New Zealand and the world.
6. Watching Spaces: reminds me of the old 'listening station', although I am tempted to call this space the performance space, or perhaps a combination of the two.
7. Data Spaces: gathering real time school data to inform learning

The fun part was doing group visits of each others classroom spaces and reflecting on our various success and failures.  I learnt that although the seven spaces are often combined or adapted to suit the age and classroom learners.  Each term would alter my spaces and reflect on how they engaged my students to learn in a space that suited them.  During this time I had many teachers frown when seeing a student writing under a desk, "but they are writing" I would say.  Luckily I had an enlightened principal who was happy to use my class as a test case as we explored spaces, tables instead of desks, unique furniture and of course our digital spaces too.  Here are some photos from those days of experimenting with learning spaces. 

At the start of 2012 I joined Hingaia Peninsula School as a foundation member, this school had been designed and built based on some of the notions of the Campfire, the Watering Hole, and Cave Space from The Language of School Design by Prakash Nair, Randall Fielding and Dr. Jeffery Lackney.

The studios (see the school presentation PDF here) are an open plan design that takes the place of three traditional classrooms, with teachers working collaboratively within these spaces.  
To the left is the layout of the studios and many of the seven spaces are represented here.  Along with great range of bright colours and fun furniture, it made an exciting learning spaces. 

It can get quiet noisy and you have less personal space.  I have seen some one school that put small offices between classes, five minutes of solitude are sometimes needed in a teachers day.

Below is an EdTalk about our learning environments with interviews with the principle and many of my students.  See what they think of these spaces?

Modern Learning Environments: Hingaia Peninsula School from EDtalks on Vimeo.

Finally with a major school rebuild happening in Christchurch, educators are starting to look at new ways of thinking about the learning spaces that engage our modern students.  This discussion at a Christchurch educators conference led to my school being featured on local TV.

Bringing the Kiwi classroom into the digital age - Campbell Live - Video - 3 News

Modern learning environments are just a reflection of the forerunners in the business world.  Telecom and Westpac in Auckland are both good examples of the changing workplace environments.  However modern learning environments end up looking I hope they do not need to be carbon copies of other schools, or the same classrooms; who says they need to be in the same anything?  As long as they can provide an environment in which each student can be inspired to become a learner.

What does your learning environment look like?

For your further exploration:
Dr Kenn Fisher on: Linking pedagogy and space, curriculum context, planning principals, along with case studies. Chris Bradbeer's blog on open learning spaces.
Modern Learning Environments: Three NZ Case Studies