PAUSE. RETHINK. RESET. A MOMENT OF REFLECTION ON CONTEMPORARY LEARNING SPACES
Pre-fabricated shroud installed at Pembroke's Jin Bridge, September 25, 2019
As we watched schools across the country transition to online learning in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has called into question the importance and value of what physical learning environments can offer. While structured learning programs remained in place, school communities had to quickly adapt to ‘home’ as a synonym for ‘classroom’. Has this highlighted the collaborative and unique experiences that school facilities provide that the home classroom simply cannot offer?
With schools now settling back into what we consider to be a ‘normal’ learning environment, it seems appropriate to challenge the idea of what that environment is in the 21st century. Should we be transitioning, not back to the familiar ‘normal’, but aiming for a new and improved ‘normal’ by pushing the boundaries of what the built environment can achieve for learning outcomes?
We are seeing more and more innovative approaches to school design through the State Government’s STEM Works program and the $869m Major School Upgrades package that are shifting the paradigm of ‘normal’ learning environments. However, there are still many institutions that function under what Prakash Nair of Education Design International refers to as the ‘cells and bells’ model. Students learn in a box shaped classroom for a period of time and then move to another identical box at the sound of a bell - what many of us would probably associate with our own ‘normal’ schooling experience!
At Grieve Gillett Andersen, we are currently working on two major school projects at Salisbury High School and Heathfield High School that aim to improve the current learning environments, while simultaneously providing opportunities for flexibility and contemporary pedagogy. As architects, buzz words like ‘innovation’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘hub’ are at the forefront of our vocabulary, as we seek to provide cutting edge learning environments. We genuinely believe that architecturally designed learning environments have the potential to lead to improved learning outcomes.
Prakash Nair supports this further in his article The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New (2011). He states “Environmental scientists have published dozens of studies that show a close correlation between human productivity and space design. This research clearly demonstrates that students and teachers do better when they have variety, flexibility, and comfort in their environment—the very qualities that classrooms lack”.
The Covid-19 restrictions may have made schools appreciate what their physical environment offers beyond the classroom in terms of community and socialisation, but is this our opportunity to further challenge the status quo?
Authored by Caitlin Murphy, Graduate of Architecture
Published on 19 May 2020