Well-designed learning spaces can boost student academic performance: University of Salford, Manchester

The University of Salford in Manchester has gained a reputation for looking at the physical aspects of the learning space and their impact on the quality of learning. In 2013 the project on the sensory impacts on learning found (here):

“almost three quarters of the variation in pupil performance could be attributed to design and environmental factors.  All things being equal, the academic performance of a child in the best environment could be expected to be 25% better than an equivalent child in the “poorest” classroom environment.” 

IMG_1732And next? Over three years the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) looked at 153 classrooms in 27 diverse schools in three local authorities in England – Blackpool, London Borough of Ealing and Hampshire. The team looked at sensory factors and multilevel statistical modelling to isolate the effects of classroom design.

One big idea

This year the Clever Classrooms report states:

“Well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by up to 16% in a single year.” 

Three characteristics

In the research three physical characteristics were assessed:

  • The role of naturalness – light temperature and air quality
  • The opportunity of individualisation – ownership and flexibility
  • Appropriate levels of stimulation – complexity and colour

Whole school factors, such as size, navigation, specialist facilities and play facilities did notappear to be as significant as the design of the individual learning space.

The findings that led to 16% improvement in students learning progress was attributed to a range of factors across these characteristics. Naturalness accounted for almost 50%, with around 25% each for stimulation and individualisation.

Other considerations, size of the school, provision of shared specialist rooms and scale and quality of external spaces had less impact. The most important factor was that the actual learning space, where the students spend most of their day. This needs to be well-designed.

Seven key elements

The research concluded that learning spaces must be well-designed and narrowed the range of inputs to seven design parameters and with the degree of impact:

  1. Light (21%)
  2. Air quality (16%)
  3. Temperature (12%)
  4. Flexibility (11%)
  5. Ownership (17%)
  6. Colour (12%)
  7. Complexity (11%)

The ZoneA few other factors mentioned in the report: The physical design at the school level was less important. Also, it is easy to over-stimulate with vibrant colours and overly busy displays, however a white box is not the answer, either. In the learning spaces small and cost effective changes can make a real difference, including changing the layout, choice of wall displays and colours of the wall.

It is interesting to note that ‘sound’ was identified as a secondary factor, when it is often raised as a key issue by many. The addition of acoustic treatment, soft furnishings and carpets and rubber feet in furniture was noted in the report.

I appreciate the response from Colin Campbell at Ecophon on the matter of sound and acoustics:

“Good speech communication is vital and increasingly dynamic; no longer the teacher just lecturing (only one person speaking), there is a different acoustic dynamic now with increasing collaboration including whole class interaction and group work. In the traditional classroom and increasingly many other additional spaces are now being used for discussions and engagement in learning. These activities can create an increased burden on the teachers as they must collaborate more and manage / coach the learning in a different way. The quieter and calmer a learning space, the easier it is for teachers to remain proactive in their approach thus empowering more student engagement, positive behaviour and increased possibilities and experimentation for learning. So, the food for thought is to consider the need to prioritise good acoustics for speech communication as the need has never been greater.”

What can we do?

Light
  • Keep windows free of displays
  • Use high quality projectors and screens that are not impacted by light
  • Use plants and planters to reduce too much incoming light
Air quality
  • OPEN WINDOWS!
  • Avoid obstructions to airflow
  • Install CO2 metres
Temperature
  • Be attentive to the temperature of the room
  • Use plants and planters to diffuse windows facing the heat
Flexibility
  • Create well-designed learning zones
  • Consider age appropriate size and shape of zones
  • Provide accessible walls for display
Ownership
  • Consider student ownership of work displays
  • Create a sense of familiarity
  • Allow personalisation to aspects of the learning space
  • Good quality furniture
Complexity
  • Create displays that give a liveliness, without being chaotic
  • 20-50% of the wall space kept clear
  • Avoid displays on windows
Colour
  • Assess the colour elements that remain unchanged
  • Determine how much bright colour can be introduced in other aspects
  • Aim to increase stimulation against a muted background

While this research was focused on primary classrooms, it would be interesting to see how it made a difference to the learning spaces in secondary/high schools.

@anneknock

What happens when there is an intersection of design and education? From disaffected to engaged #IfYouBuildIt

Slide1Design + Education
Design for education – the physical construction of improved spaces,

Redesigning education – creating the conditions to make change possible, or perhaps,

Design as education – learning design thinking for a community purpose

I have long held the idealistic view that when something is sparked in young people, when talents and skills are given expression, there is an opportunity to thrive. We often hear the term “disaffected youth”. The term disaffection speaks of alienation or estrangement. As a result, I am drawn to stories where young (and old) people are engaged, connected and have a sense of belonging.

This is why I found the documentary film If you build it so compelling. The Field of Dreams quote missed the mark, in my mind “if you build it they will come”. There is always so much to do for success, merely building something does not guarantee it. So the absence of the second half of the quote gives us the starting point, “If you build it”… maybe it gives the opportunity, should they choose.

This feature-length film is set in Bertie County in North Carolina. Two designers, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller embark on a project in this sad and destitute area in America’s south.They see this more than a “project”, Emily and Matthew throw themselves into the life of the town, they live there and want to contribute. The set up Studio H – humanity, habitats, health and happiness – a design studio with a social conscience.

The film follows the lows and highs of the journey. This includes the over-bureaucratic local school board withdrawing support for the project, but Emily and Matthew persevere. They are pretty tenacious.

I loved how this pair engaged with the students, built their trust and presented achievable, yet still challenging design projects for the students. Across the 85 minutes we see the transformation from disaffected to connection, belonging and a sense of hope in their future. It left me with a lump in my throat.

Emily's TED talk

Prior to the events of the film, Emily presented a TED Talk  “Teaching Design for Change”, where she said

“Apply design within education… then figure out how to make education a great vehicle for community development.”

Event Flyer. Link to registration information

Event Flyer. Link to registration information

There is an opportunity to see this film…

If you are in Sydney, see this film and discussion about the place of design as education.  It is presented by the NSW Chapter of CEFPI – another intersection of design and education.

Wednesday 4 March 2015 – 5.30pm to 8.15pm

Level 7, 35 Bridge Street , Sydney

Following the film, light refreshments will be provided, and an expert panel will discuss the themes of the film.

Panel

Facilitator: Anne Knock, Chair CEFPI NSW Chapter

Paul Pholeros a Director of Healthabitat, a company that for over 30 years has worked to improve the living environments of Indigenous people in many suburban, rural and remote areas of Australia and internationally.

Matt Esterman  History and e-learning coordinator at St Scholasticas College, Glebe. His current research looks at user voice in the design process for new learning spaces and school buildings. Matt is an actively engaged professional at TeachMeets, He regularly blogs and tweets @mesterman.

Genevieve Blanchett a designer who operates across architecture, urban design and the performing arts with a focus on community-driven creative place making and arts-based development projects.

Watch the trailer.

Interview with designer, Matthew Miller and Another article.

I would love to see you there.
@anneknock

Immersive Learning Environments Matter: Designing places we all like to be

The physical environment matters to me.

Tap House

Have you noticed how social, open public places spend time and money creating the right ambience? Last night, while having a refreshing beverage in an establishment called The Local Taphouse I looked around at the space. They had created a real ‘pub’ atmosphere that locals would visit, living up to it’s name. It ‘feels’ like a pub should feel. Not just a place that dispenses beverages and provides seating.

The design of the physical environment matters to the patrons.

Nielsen Park

Summer at home is dangerous, for the bank balance, at least. We live in a part of Sydney that is hard to beat. Bondi Beach down the hill and Sydney Harbour around the corner. We spend the summer swimming at Bondi (sharks, what sharks?) and in the Harbour (sharks, what sharks?).

We stay most of the summer in our tiny, bright and sunny apartment, with the local area as our playground. But, that means I usually spend time thinking about the design of our our place. This time it’s been the bathroom. We have dismantled the shower screen, purchased cedar bath mats and created a ‘wet room’.

Style and functionality both matter to me.

 

Class 2

It was with delight that (via Twitter) I happened across the immersive learning projects for the new school term at Hartsholme Academy in Lincoln, England. Carl Jarvis and his team understand that the physical environment matters to their students motivation, and also for the teachers’ enthusiasm. I have visited Carl’s school and was blown away by the creativity of the teachers and the engaged learning of the students in the spaces.

The physical environment matters for learners.

As I travel and see schools I often am impressed by professionally designed spaces that have substantial budgets, but what the crew at Hartsholme have done is taken their everyday classrooms and created immersive learning environment, reflecting the theme of the term. The classrooms don’t have one desk, one chair per student. The children are working on the floor, inside castles or tents, wherever they feel most productive.

The immersive learning environment is one aspect of their revolutionary approaches to learning, it operates within a well designed strategy for engagement and authenticity. But the physical environment is designed to:

Class 12

Stimulate the senses

Connect the learning

Provide a range of environments for the children to interact within

Have materials that enable exploration of thinking

Facilitate working together

 

It is wonderful to see a school taking such risks…

“How could you ever do this, not giving students tables and chairs. It’s a fundamental right!”

 Slide3

…but also achieving the results.

Hartsholme Academy is now consistently performing in the top 5% in the country and has been described as “beyond outstanding”. It was once “5th worst school in the country”.

You can find out more about Hartsholme approach in Carl’s own words here explaining more about the philosophy in his TEDx talk last year.

 

Just like the pub, my apartment and the the immersive learning spaces at Hartsholme Academy, the physical environment plays a significant role in enhancing our experience and quality of life and learning.

@anneknock

Designing effective spaces for working and learning: How to avoid the factory, the treadmill and the waiting room

IMG_2599In my international travels I’ve seen many amazing schools, universities and libraries, some that are visually stunning, but often there is something missing. Designing spaces for effective work and learning requires the connection of three distinct ‘spaces’ – cultural, technological and physical – each in harmony. When one is missing you are stuck in…

 

…a waiting room, a factory or a treadmill.

Cross-pollination is a healthy thing. I look for opportunities to experience new contexts, learn about other sectors and meet people in different professional fields. This broadens the scope of  my experience and challenges mindsets. Over the last 12 months I have enjoyed connecting with James Kemp MD at Amicus Interiors. On the one hand Amicus (which is Latin for ‘friend’) Interiors could be described as a furniture company for office fit-outs, but on the other, and more realistically,

IMG_0016The brand personifies the business and represents the foundation of trust that we place at the centre of our company culture. We are an enthusiastic, friendly team and we love what we do…

We have developed a solid reputation for meticulous care and attention to all our work. This reputation has been built upon an underlying commitment to our clients, to understand, and plan for, the key issues and challenges that surround the delivery of each project.

James visited NBCS and was struck by the similarity of our school and the work of his company, he wrote on the company blog:

Led by the inspirational principal, Stephen Harris, they have created an Activity Based Working (ABW) environment at NBCS for the children to learn, develop and have fun. If you had told me it was possible to have over 180 year 5 & 6 children working effectively (and quietly!!) in one open plan area, I would not have believed you! But when you see it in operation it is truly inspiring.

These children are given the trust, responsibility, the technology and the right support from their facilitators (the ‘teachers’) to excel. Whether they are sitting at desk, on the floor in small work groups, on sofas or beanbags, they are working away with excitement. I loved it. (Read the full blog here.)

I first came across the idea of Activity Based Work (ABW) a couple of years ago after visiting a CBD corporate refit and wrote a few blogs (like this one) about it as I believed that this approach to the work environment had much to inform the educational context, a corollary to James’ inspiration for NBCS informing work spaces.

Amicus InteriorsJames and I caught up last week, to see the transformation of the Amicus Interiors office in Martin Place in Sydney as an Activity Based Work(place). This was my first opportunity to see the new fit out. We talked about how the team are adapting and changing to work in an ABW environment. As with anything that involves people, the shift to change takes them on a journey – no fixed desks, closed and open collaborative meeting areas and close co-location with colleagues.

 

 

In our lively discussions about the places of work and learning, James highlighted the three types of spaces that must inform the effective place of work (and learning):

  • Cultural space – the way we do things around here
  • Technological space – the tools that enable
  • Physical space – the surroundings that support the work and relationships

Each of these play a crucial role to encourage innovation and creativity and foster productivity.

What happens if something is missing?

Factory Treadmill Waiting Room

When we are thinking about the redesign, refit and transformation of learning spaces, how do these three elements interplay? In 2015 NBCS ‘Project Barcelona’ will be complete – a space that is open, social and connecting. It involves new ways of thinking about school, spaces and learning for the 21st Century. Right now we are gearing up to look at what is needed to optimise the space and prepare our staff:

  • Cultural space – how will the community shift their thinking about school and then own and embrace the space
  • Technological space – what tools and infrastructure are required for the space to function as intended
  • Physical space – how will the fit out, the zones and the movement meet the dreams and aspirations for connection

@anneknock

Some other posts to check out:

Every space tells a story: Is your library the community’s living room? 6xCs to shaping your narrative.

In the libraryI have a soft spot for libraries. I started my teaching career in a primary school as the teacher librarian. This isn’t usually the first job for a young graduate, but it was mine. I loved reading to the children, making author and theme related display, but most of all, seeing the children explore the world of literature and their own passions for learning.

Learning Spaces

Learning Spaces Making more effective learning environments  is an online journal by Imaginative Minds

The most recent edition (Vol 2.2  2014) has an article “Libraries for the future of all users” (by Lee Taylor).

The key function shift from one of “collector” to “connector” – where the primary purpose has moved from one of collecting books, information or music, to one providing a range of people the opportunity to use this space to connect intellectually and physically – a kind of “living room” for the city.

Have you ever considered the library as your school of community living room? This can happen when there is a shift from “collector” to “connector”.  Prioritising people over things.

What characterises a people-focused, future-focused library?

It’s a place for connection, where people’s needs are understood. In this article Taylor makes connections with new community libraries in the cities of Newcastle and Manchester in the UK, by Ryder Architecture. Both of these projects:

  • minimised staff spaces
  • maximisation of public/shared space
  • book collections mechanised for efficiency
  • provide varied places for different types of work
  • variety of collections that respond to community interests
  • welcoming entrance space

These points contrast to the libraries of the past:

  • books front and centre
  • command and control culture
  • task and process oriented staff
  • large designated staff work spaces to hide away
  • one large controlled space where silence is reinforced
  • facing barriers to entering

The architects decided that to make the library the community living room the users needs were important, that it was a shared and community-owned space. This meant that the designed included things like easily accessible power charging points and that the design was able to accommodate mixed mode study. I think we can all relate, I often have my laptop, iPad, mobile phone, paper, pens spread out around me when I’m working.

Newcastle City Library and Manchester Central Library are characterised by welcoming entrances. Generous and comfortable, a space to linger, where library-users can catch up for coffee.

So if it time to rethink your library, where do you start?

If you are thinking about making changes to a space, to make it more person-centres there are a few things to think about. I have synthesised these into 6xCs

  1. Community: All stakeholder needs considered
  2. Connection: Design space for connection and working styles
  3. Collections: Placement and storage of resources, books, artefacts
  4. Communication: The verbal and non-verbal messages conveyed
  5. Comfort: Fit out meet users’ needs  – furniture, air, light, technology, modes
  6. Cool: The space is interesting, attractive, inviting, fun and quirky

Here is a process to facilitate your team’s thinking and action steps for change:

1. Articulate the aspirations of the 6xCs for your context

  1. Community
  2. Connection
  3. Collections
  4. Communication
  5. Comfort
  6. Cool

2. Gather your working group, go on a field trip and have lunch together.

Visit recent developments in your city how do these spaces interpret the 6xCs:

  • City offices with a variety of places for working and connecting
  • Community libraries
  • Incubator/co-working spaces
  • University libraries and social spaces

Look again at your 6xCs and create a statement of aspiration for each.

City sights

3. Develop your strategy

A. What is the current situation?

B. Describe the library what you want to see.

C. What are the pathways from A to B? Can you prioritise them?

D. What are major barriers and obstacles to achieving your B?

E. Now, what will you do:

  • Within a week
  • Within a month
  • This year
  • Within 2 years

This is the kind of process I enjoy working through with groups – Identifying their A, dreaming about their B and then developing the strategy to get there. Let me know if I can help you with your change process.

I’m also thinking about a Library Learning Space Study tour to the UK. Looking at community, university and school libraries. Interested?

@anneknock

Every space tells a story. Is yours a place that supports the work of innovation? 10 Ideas to ponder

A few years ago I was presenting a workshop at a conference that was held in a school. The classroom allocated to me was one of the most depressing spaces I had ever encountered. As a professional learning space, I tried to do my best to reconfigure it, but the only thing I could really do was shift the orientation.

classroom

What did this space tell me about itself? The teacher was the most important person in the room. There was nothing else to look at. The old posters on the wall were tatty and who knows what view there was on the other side of the black plastic that was covering the windows. The large clunky benches meant that there was little opportunity for collaboration. The space shouted the culture at me: sit down and listen, don’t look out the window, look to the screen at the front. I will tell you everything you need to know.

Every space tells a story.

This is what’s happening in the world of work:

20120223-061939.jpg

Your next workplace may look more like your lounge room than an office. Architects of a new generation of modern buildings are offering workers ”living spaces” and ”lounge” facilities to make them feel at home, often replacing the traditional desk and chair.
(SMH 9 July, 2014)

 

What story does that tell? Comfort, pleasant surroundings and a sense of being ‘at home’ matters to productivity, creativity and innovation.

What story does a learning space need to tell?Maglegard

Think about the spaces you work or teach in. Does the surrounding physical environment support and facilitate the learning that you want? How does it positively influence the desired culture?

 

 

John Seely Brown, co-chair at the Deloitte Centre for the edge contends that the cultures that constantly produce innovation share three characteristics: visionary leadership; an organizational commitment to breakthrough thinking; and a place that supports the work of innovation. (Forbes)

When we talk about innovative schools, the three characteristics are the same:IMG_1230

  • Visionary leadership
  • An organisational commitment to breakthrough
  • A place that supports the work of innovation

Learning spaces for the innovative school need to be places where students and teachers can collaborate, share knowledge and learn together. Separate does not allow for this – separate desks and separate classrooms.

What are the considerations in designing a learning space that supports and facilitates innovation?

The Zone

  1. Flexibility: Wheels, movement and ‘reconfigurable’
  2. Technology: Seamlessly embedded into the space, simple and reliable
  3. Furniture: Choose the place to work and connect, facilitate collaboration
  4. An inspiring feel: Aesthetics matter, natural light, an aspect, empty space
  5. Storage: Thought-through, embedded and easily accessed
  6. SCIL BuildingMultiple focal points: No area is identifiable as the “front of the class”
  7. Light, air temperature and quality: To minimise stuffiness
  8. Subtle and unsubtle zoning: Spaces within spaces
  9. Acoustic engineering: To enable multiple conversations across the space
  10. On brand: Supports the vision and
    aspirational culture of the school

@anneknock

Further reading: How place fosters innovation. 360° Research, Steelcase

Leadership again: “I’ve opened the space for learning, now what?” #thingsyoushouldneversay

Imagine if the story of the stork delivering the baby was true.

When I was young, kids’ TV shows didn’t dare mention, or even allude to, the real method of conception and delivery. Instead, we saw the image of a stork delivering a baby, perhaps unsuspectingly, to the happy couple.

The Stork

“The baby’s here, now what?” Imagine that.

Prior to the arrival of our first-born, by the conventional method of course, there was much preparation for this newest family member. We made initial plans and preparation for the responsibilities ahead – bought supplies, furniture and the enormous amount of equipment that the small person apparently required.

When he arrived we muddled our way through. As time went on we adjusted our plans and expectations, however, the months of preparation were essential. This baby was going to change our lives. It definitely wasn’t a matter of ‘business as usual’ once he arrived.

Open Space Learning: From conception to inceptionPArklands

Like any great idea, plan or endeavour there is a point of conception, when the idea was first formed. I have heard anecdotal accounts of teachers arriving for the new school year, finding walls down and shared learning spaces created. It didn’t end well.

Just like prior to the arrival of a baby, there are significant preparations to be made. The role of the team/school leader is to simultaneously listen and respond to concerns and to reinforce vision and direction.

At Northern Beaches Christian School shared spaces for learning are constantly being developed. In 2008 it started with Year 7 in the Global Learning Village, 2010 with The Zone for Stage 3 and Year 8 Quest for an integration of Science and Geography. Over the past few years the idea has spread across primary, to maths, design, technology and music.Rhythm & Blues

The development of each of these spaces requires constant attention, prior to staff and students using the open space, and then continued development, even after occupancy:

From conception – the germ of the idea

1. Reinforce a positive mindset, while considering every concern

If you truly believe that opening and sharing learning spaces are the right thing, then stick with it. Listen to concerns, respond to them, be empathic and supportive, while simultaneously resolute about the decision.

2. Design the space to achieve the vision The Zone

A sledgehammer to the walls is only the first step. Unless the physical environment is carefully crafted the space will more than likely default to a modified single cell use. Name and define zones within the open space.

3. Constantly communicate the desired culture (behaviour)

Be clear on how the space will be used. Communicate it and communicate it again. Share stories and paint pictures. Spark excitement and enthusiasm. The more that the leader talks about the changes the better.

To inception – the starting point

4. Be fluid and flexible Design Studio

Once staff and students start using the space adjustments will be made. This is normal. The vision remains clear, but execution needs to be tweaked. As a leader, be involved in all these discussions. It is important to keep the vision clear.

5. Take action to ensure that behaviours don’t default to old ways

Without reinforcing the vision, culture and desired behaviours old habits can creep in. Cupboards and bookcases can become walls spaces become delineated instead of fluid zones. Communicate vision and communicate it again

Opening spaces for learning is definitely not a ‘business as usual’ activity. Like the passing of time between conception and delivery of a baby, preparations for this ‘baby’ needs to commence as early as possible. School leaders not only need to fully own the decision, but give teachers the support and encouragement for the idea to grow and mature.

@anneknock