Innovative Learning Environments + Teacher Change: School Research in Australia
Hello from down under. Melbourne, Australia, is my home for the next 10 months where I have the incredible opportunity to study school design and use with some of the brightest minds in the world. As a Fulbright Post-Graduate Scholar, I’ll be collaborating with the Learning Environments Applied Research Network (LEaRN) at the University of Melbourne. Here we will conduct the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change research study to better understand how teachers and students actually use the great spaces we design and create tools to help them reach their full potential in regards to teaching and learning opportunities.
Why this is important? Many schools desire innovation and turn to their facilities as catalysts for change. However, there is often a disconnect between the vision of a facility and its subsequent use. I have personally witnessed this scenario playing out in the majority of buildings in which districts attempt to utilize an innovative space to bring about a desired change, but fail to supplement with any professional development or cultural/organizational shifts. Educators may cover up windows with butcher paper or use break out rooms for storage, going against the original design intent.
What will I be doing? I will be spending time with folks on both sides of the issue: schools (administrators, teachers, students) and designers (space, acoustics, technology, furniture). My time will be spent conducting interviews, observations, and specific case studies diving in to what activities facilities should support, how well they do so, and what factors contribute to their success in terms of professional development and organizational shifts.
Why Australia? Recent shifts in Australian education policy and economic priorities have resulted in an influx of innovative learning environments that subsequently require new methods of teaching. The gap between design and use is apparent. Nearly 3,000 new or renovated school were designed and constructed in a three-year period in Australia, and the public wants to see their tax dollars improve academic outcomes. Researchers are learning what tools can help educators successfully make the shift, utilize their new spaces to their full potential, and reach a deeper level of learning with their students. Few, if any, other countries have seen a transformation mandate of this scale and thus, it’s a prime location for this research.
How will DLR Group and our clients benefit from my experience? The design process often only touches the physical structure, not the entire operational and organizational system it supports. A new paradigm offering a strategic organizational alignment process integrated within design work to help school clients holistically realize their vision is needed. This research will align with DLR Group’s K-12 education research initiatives to understand and assist districts with their organizational shifts to innovative spaces.