New Generation Learning Spaces: The essentials


Thinking back to my classroom experience, our weekly highlight was re-vamping the small notice board in the corner. The rest of the room (and most of the other classrooms for that matter) housed square desks and chairs facing the teacher at the front.

Those days are gone. We’re going through a huge transformation; classrooms are being reinvented as studios to suit the new ways in which we both learn and teach.

The future is technology and collaborative based and our educational facilities are adapting accordingly.

Architects are having a field day (excuse the pun) with designs, encompassing innovative buildings, bright colours and new technologies to create truly inspirational and educational experiences. I’ve collected insights, tips and tricks from around the web and spoken to our New Generation Learning Spaces panel to share the best with you:

Immerse yourself

One of the key drivers behind re-imagining the learning space is collaboration. When you think of immersing yourself, you might be thinking it’s something you already do; reading up on the latest teaching methods and so on; but are you physically immersing yourself in the classroom?

There’s no need for the teacher to stand at the front of the room to teach anymore, don’t be afraid to move your desk around, surround yourself with students and have a 360 view of the classroom.

This was a key feature of a recent Third Teacher+ transformation, check out the video of the journey as well as some key highlights from the project here:

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-tips-redesign-your-classroom-david-bill

Utilise natural light

Insight from Sean Coleman, Lead – Learning Spaces, Better Learning and Teaching Team, Office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at Monash University:

“Natural light is hugely important to learning spaces; we’re seeing it more and more in tertiary educational spaces. We’re doing a huge refurbishment at one of our lecture theatres currently and the designs feature some huge windows that started to get smaller and smaller during the PCG. You have to push back and keep them as big as possible.

“If there’s too much light, you can always retrofit blinds or window treatments, but let’s just get as much light as we can and provide students with a connection to the outside world.

“It aids in the connection and engagement of the teaching staff and the students, especially if you can see the changes in the season – letting light into what would normally be a dark room.”

Don’t get tripped up by technology

Insights from Barbara White, Senior Lecturer in Information Technology, Charles Darwin University:

“Technology plays a central role when considering the design for a new learning space and this can bring new challenges and opportunities for education providers. I can see in lots of places that teaching students how to use communication technologies as a knowledge practice, as opposed to an entertainment or communication practice, is where some of the issues still are. Learning spaces are certainly providing an opportunity for those things to happen.”

Hon Steve Maharey, Vice-Chancellor, Massey University (New Zealand):

“You need to invest heavily in future-proofing our buildings because the demand for technology is going to rise exponentially. Our new building is set to evolve along with the demand by students and staff for more digital capacity.”

Peter Lippman, Associate Director from EIW Architects:

“There have been a lot of lessons learned about technology and spaces, but we have to understand very clearly that technology is a tool. We have to start with how people learn and think about how we’re going to support that. 

“We have to think about what is good and what is appropriate for the kinds of spaces we’re creating. For example, if you’re just going to do PowerPoint presentations, then all you need is a lap top and a connection to mount it into a projector so you can do your presentation. How different is that from just a blackboard or building in a projector and putting a movie on the screen?

“We need involve all people from all around the university and pull IT engineers out of their caves, because there are many people who have wonderful ideas and should become part of the stakeholder conversation.”

Break down the classroom wall

Insight from Mark Freeman, on his experience designing the Kangan Institute Automotive Centre of Excellence (Stage 2).

“This unique inner city campus was envisaged as a catalyst to assist in transforming all aspects of automotive skills training and research, and automotive component and vehicle testing.

“Previously, all of the different automotive skills units were, to some extent, delivered in isolation, in individual buildings on an older campus. Now, for the first time, all of the skill units are brought together in the one building, and not just in the one building, but also in the same workshop space.

“There’s a lot more collaboration between the workshop skills managers. There’s a lot more day to day negotiation of space and the utilisation of equipment that’s there.

“One of the key benefits is that the students are exposed to a lot more things. Previously they might have existed in the one building for half the day, and then in the other building in another, and effectively those were, to some extent, closed spaces.

“In this particular building the students are exposed to everything that’s happening on a daily basis. There is industry coming in and doing workshops (they’re running seminars, running vehicle and product launches), so the students come into contact with industry. There is industry participation in terms of sponsorship and maintenance of aspects of the facility as well.

 “It’s a lot more of a collaborative environment. It’s a lot more of a transparent environment, and the building as a whole, is a good place to be in. It’s not dark, it’s not damp, and it’s not dirty. It’s light, it’s bright, and it’s a healthy environment.

“It has really lifted everyone’s spirits in terms of the students who are in the building, and also visitors to the building. It has transformed their attitude towards coming to campus.”

A few practical tips:

When you do have walls, write on them.

First came the transition from chalkboards to whiteboards, but why limit the space? Walls are often filled with clutter, or just left as wasted space. Why not integrate whiteboards across your entire wall space. Not only will this utilise the space in your classroom, but by opening up the room you’ll be helping to encourage spontaneous collaboration.

Finally, get yourself some quick (and fun) wins.

We couldn’t finish without talking about all those neat little storage tricks out there. Storage is one of the key ways that space can be created, from something as simple as adding cushions to your stable cabinets to use as chairs, through to rebuilding your entire cabinet range to fit smartly within the confines of your walls.

Check out this list of ’35 Money-Saving  DIY tricks for teachers on a budget’:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/money-saving-diys-for-the-classroom

Classroom architect is a great resource that allows you to virtually redesign your exact room:

http://classroom.4teachers.org/

Finally, for some inspiration, these two Pintrest boards have some great examples of before and after classroom transformations:

http://www.pinterest.com/mrsbartteaches/before-after-classroom-makeovers/

http://www.pinterest.com/kmp444/classroom-transformations/

Find out more by visiting www.designforlearning.com.au

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