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Tracking students and teachers to shape new school design

Education Futures has recently embarked on an innovative project in Learning Environments. Our goal? To uncover how a school’s physical space influences teacher and student relationships, teaching and learning.

A unique aspect of our pilot study includes the use of locational tracking data from five teachers and 94 Year 6 students. We will use visualisations from this tracking data, combined with photos taken by students, to catalyse discussions with students and with their teachers about the use and effectiveness of their school spaces.

The school learning environment is becoming a growing focus of research and discussion

Architects from around the world are rethinking school design to foster new ways of learning. Older style buildings - the ‘kids on grids’ models of education, as they are often called - can inhibit more innovative teaching and learning approaches. Over the past decade there has been a boom in the construction of new schools with visually attractive designs inside and out and with flexible spaces. Architects, education planners and others who advocate for these innovative designs would argue that these spaces are able to shape and enhance teaching and learning.

While we might all agree that we are impacted in various ways by our physical environment, the various ways in which this impacts individuals and groups is highly complex and not well understood.

We want to understand how the physical dimensions of the school interact with the cultural and social dimensions of the school.

We believe that school and classroom design is not only about the physical attributes of innovative spaces, but also about teachers and students and how they inhabit these spaces.

  • What are teachers and students doing?
  • How do they interact with each other and why?
  • How does their behaviour in the different locations shape their actions, interactions and learning?
  • How does it shape teachers’ and students’ opportunities for learner agency?

This study strives to bridge current gaps in knowledge by exploring:

  • how physical features of a building interact with social and cultural aspects to drive learning through activities that are meaningful and relevant;
  • how the initial educational vision behind a school’s design compares with how the spaces are being used and why; and
  • the experiences of students and teachers who learn and work in these newly-designed spaces.

Pursuing one goal from four angles

To find the answers we seek, we’re tackling the project with four different approaches:

  1. Student and teachers as co-researchers: When do students and teachers get actively involved in the research processes and what are the benefits and barriers to this approach?
  2. Ecological approaches: What different ecological approaches are there to researching educational environments and how do they impact school design?
  3. Design participation: Who typically participates in school design and why are they involved?
  4. The experience of a space: What ways do people use and interact with school spaces, and how can these insights shape architecture?

Where we stand – October 2019

The pilot stage of the Learning Environments project is being carried out in one primary school. This school is one of fifteen primary and secondary schools that were built across Melbourne in 2017 and 2018 as part of the New Schools Private Public Partnership (PPP).

Along with the architect and educational planners, we are engaging with the principal, deputy principal, teachers, and students. We are gathering data through interviews, observations, photos and locational tracking. We expect a large volume of diverse data which we will then analyse using a relatively new method called Epistemic Network Analysis (ENA), to represent connections in a dynamic network model.

We hope our findings will shape future discussions among experts and the public and inform the decisions of researchers, educators, architects, policy-makers and planners for years to come.

Stay tuned for the next instalment and findings from the Learning Environments project.

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Tracking students and teachers to shape new school design

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