By Alastair Blyth
Consultant to the OECD Effective Learning Environments Project, Principal Lecturer, University of Westminster, UK
Imagine you want to implement new teaching practices at your school, and you need to create an environment to support them. Where would you start?
Much has been said in recent years about the need for education to meet the changing needs of students. It is no longer sufficient for teachers to merely impart ‘received wisdom’ to rows of students in classrooms lined up in a row along a corridor. Differentiated learning demands differentiated spaces.
Collaborative teaching, small group learning and individual research are all part of the learning landscape today. But how do you create the right space for all this? As it turns out, there are many different approaches.
Sometimes, individual teachers make small changes in a space they use, perhaps to leverage technology to engage with students. Other times, it is policy makers who challenge current pedagogical practices. Typically, these changes are prompted by much larger projects to construct or renovate school buildings, though schools could initiate such projects themselves.
Schools can also learn from the experiences of others in changing learning spaces, and apply lessons learned to their own contexts. That’s why the OECD is calling for case studies on the transformation of learning environments. Such case studies should describe the journeys that schools undertook to reconfigure their learning environments in accordance with new teaching methods and practices.
“It is important to have examples of other approaches that can inspire new ways of solving problems.”
“It is important to have examples of other approaches that can inspire new ways of solving problems, particularly if you are trying to break out of the box”, says Tony Sheppard, Chair of the OECD Group of National Experts on Effective Learning Environments (GNEELE) and Technical Manager at Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills. Professor Toshihiro Osaragi, Vice-Chair of the OECD GNEELE and director of the Research Centre for Educational Facilities at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, agrees: “Examples from other countries are a good starting point for discussions on practices we might change in Japan”.
The case studies will tell the stories behind the changes taking place – both big and small. They will include transformation projects of individual spaces and entire buildings, detailing final results as well as the story of how they got there: who was involved, how decisions were made and which questions were asked.
Kim Shannon, Vice-Chair of the OECD GNEELE and Head of Education Infrastructure Service in the Ministry of Education of New Zealand, argues that policy makers will gain better insights into school users’ perspectives on how upgrades to the buildings and spaces affect them. “The case studies will allow policy makers a window into the processes schools go through when they adapt to new physical environments”, she says.
Developing an educational brief is an important step to creating a physical environment that truly supports students’ learning needs. “If the connection between educational purpose and design is articulated well, then the case studies can provide inspiration to schools and the Ministry staff working with the schools in finding ways to use spatial design to meet particular educational needs,” Shannon says. She argues that the information in these case studies can provide key ideas to improve the education briefing process by providing ideas or possible solutions that could apply to specific schools.
Siv Stavem, consultant to the Norconsult School Group and a GNEELE representative from Norway, also sees the advantage of the case studies in a briefing process. “They could provide good starting points for discussions on school design and school development in the briefing and co-design process”, she says.
Some might argue that international precedents are not really relevant to the context of their own country. But Sheppard disagrees, pointing out that “the differences in cultural norms between countries can prompt a fundamental evaluation as to why we have been doing things the way we have and whether we could do them differently”. Stavem agrees, noting that examples from other countries can provide valuable new insights on teaching and learning in a globalised world. Professor Osaragi goes further, saying that sharing what is happening elsewhere could provide a “trigger” for dialogue and exchange with other countries. He also believes that the case studies might provide a clue as to how Japan compares with other countries, while also highlighting his country’s achievements.
If you have a good example that you think is worth sharing – however small or large – please submit it using our online form . The form allows you to submit either a general summary or upload a more detailed case study, depending on your preference.