Learning Spaces

Many visiting educators are envious when they see the Learning Hub at Wirreanda Secondary School. I can tell you from personal experience, how powerful it was to bring Urrbrae staff to the LH last year. I think, often, as staff of WSS, we forget how fortunate we are to have such a space accompanied by a support team and with an ethos to experiment, to practice teaching and learning in an environment that challenges the notion of a classroom. Yet, it is far from perfect and although still a relatively new space, the time has come for a review and the review needs to focus on what we actually want and need from the LH as a space or spaces.

If we look at how the LH is promoted, what our own online materials say about it, the LH blog introduces it as a “dynamic learning environment” (https://learninghubwss.wordpress.com/). Digging even deeper into what we say as a school the LH is meant to offer, the video showing Tony Lunniss talking about the planning and purpose of the LH on that same page shows a key intention when the LH was created, to offer, “dynamic learning spaces” (Tony Lunniss). In that same video, however, the comment, “Learning spaces evolve as they are lived in” (Tony Lunniss), could be said to predict such a review.

Looking at research on Learning Spaces, there is a lot of commentary on the gaps in literature particularly in respect of studies over time (Locker, 2007; Blackmore et al, 2011). In other words, there is not a lot of research that provides insight into when to review a space, how to review a space or the significance of doing so although Blackmore et al (2011), Locker & Olsnen (2003) and Locker (2007), all highlight how the way spaces are used changes over time.

As a Learning Hub team, we started the process of reviewing culture in the space last term although we weren’t really sure of where such a process would lead. In fact, the pressures of the Seniors using the space, shortages of bookable areas and technology, coupled with a significant turnover in the Learning Hub staff trying to understand the culture, meant discussions began very early into 2016. The LH Mentors contributed to a collaborative document exploring the culture of the LH, its current use and what we saw as how it should be used. In that document, the LH team highlighted ‘flexibility’ where there are spaces that change to meet the needs of teaching and learning opportunities.

As the new Senior Space has opened and the impending development of new spaces from the STEM grant awarded to the school, the LH is no longer the ‘new’ space, nor is it, arguably, the only space that is ‘dynamic’ or ‘flexible’. The ‘evolvement’ of the learning space that Tony Lunniss referred to has added pressure as the school environment around the LH has and will continue to change. Added to that is the school’s move to BYOD where no longer will the LH have laptops on offer nor will it be utilised because it offers the technology. Thus, a clearer understanding of what the underlying reasons are that lie behind having ‘dynamic’, ‘flexible’ spaces needs to be determined. To my mind, this is best determined by first answering the question: “What type of learning do you value and want to encourage?” (DEECD, 2011). I know what learning I value and the feedback I get from students in the school points to hands-on, constructivist, constructionist and authentic experiences. I also know others share a similar view.

With those values in mind, I feel as a LH Mentor (or as Google would define me: ‘an experienced and trusted adviser’), I have begun to explore and experiment, to flex the spaces and showcase what the space can offer if we think beyond the current zone structure:

As Higgins et al (2005) highlighted, teacher professional learning and pedagogy are key meditating factors in learning spaces realising innovative pedagogies. Such showcasing of what is possible, how to re-imagine the structure of the learning environments within the space and what can happen to teaching and learning when this is done, are intended to add to the professional learning in respect of the future use of the LH. Yet, to further cite Higgins et al (2005), ‘user involvement’ is required so I urge all teachers at Wirreanda Secondary School to do similar and add to the pool of knowledge, the possibilities around what the LH can provide us from now on.

By Nick Jackson

References

Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., & Aranda, G. (2011). Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes.

DEECD (2011) Making the most of flexible learning spaces – A guide for principals and teachers https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/govrel/ber/2011/berflexiblespace.pdf

Higgins, S., Hall, E., Wall, K., Woolner, P. & McCaughey, C. 2005, The impact of school environments: A literature review, The Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Newcastle. Available at: http://www.stakeholderdesign.com/designcouncilreport.pdf

Locker, F. (2007). Future-Proofing Schools: Strategies and Implementation,

Locker, F. and S. Olsnen (2003). “Flexible School Facilities. Part I.”

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