A common complaint over the years has been, where is the research? Where is the proof that different types of learning environments work? At one time, there was a limited response, but that is changing now. At the three-day Transitions 19 event hosted by the ILETC project at Melbourne University, 27 researchers from around world the presented their work!
The ILETC Project, or Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change lead by Prof Wesley Imms is the largest piece of research undertaken on learning spaces. The focus is on teachers. Its goal is to understand how physical space impacts learning and how can teachers be best supported to unlock its potential. The project has a core group of researchers working on this from across Australia and New Zealand, while it has reached out to develop the discussion globally.
Transitions 19 at Studio Five, University of Melbourne
There were researchers presenting from Sweden, Canada, USA, Italy Brazil, Indonesia and China, as well as closer to home. The project itself has travelled, running seven conferences in three continents. The presentations were grouped under Policy and Design, School Culture, Teacher Change, Student Voice, Student Learning and Experience as well as the project findings. The global presentations showed there isn’t yet a common language globally around learning space, but the interest in different spaces and their effectiveness is growing everywhere.
The event itself was part of the research. After each group of presenters, there was a range of workshops, each employing a different pedagogy in a type of space that tested the ILETC’s work on typologies. Its analysis presented on the last day.
There was a broad range of Foci. Many showed the challenges of change. One group learned the value to celebrate the small successes, another that it was OK to be uncomfortable (as long as supported in a team). Many noted that physical space is just one of several components that must come together. A highlight was on student voice; “The more we listened to student voice, the more we got it right”. Another noted that the best item of furniture was a milk crate.
The middle of the conference was broken up by visits to Mt Scopus Memorial College and Camberwell High School. Mt Scopus had built an environment that didn’t work and showed the value of a second chance to learn lessons and readjust the space. Camberwell High School principal Jill Laughlin showed us the stunning year 9 curriculum. I was particularly moved by their term 4 project on empathy with each group following a selected Melbournite. I watched an interview of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on the way home where he stated their design thinking approach now focused on empathy.
Seven ILETC PHD researchers presented on the last day. Each one worthy of a blog on their own. There was statistical analysis to show the effectiveness of different learning spaces. Dion Tuckwell has been researching co-design, noting participatory design needs creative methods. Fiona Young’s work on affordances brought the surprising “Educators see more accordance’s in a space than the designers”. What does that mean for the design process? Richard Leonard followed this up with his disappointment there were not more architects present. Research should be critical to an evidence-based design process. Mark Osbourne in his work change leadership noted “Design without a feedback loop is just a best guess”.
The conference culminated in Wesley Imms second presentation of ILETC’s work to define learning spaces as the spatial typologies Pedegogy, ICT, Design, Furniture and Acoustics. A pathway with 10 grand themes under three stages will be populated over the next year with a series of tools. This creates an important framework, with a shared vocabulary to collectively discuss these still emerging learning spaces.
The ILETC Pathway Framework, More to Come......