Wednesday 27 April 2011

Virtual University: Designing Schools for the Creative Age

At the end of last term, I watched a session with the virtual university, part of the Microsoft Innovative Schools community of which my school is a member. The session's title was 'Designing Schools for the Creative Age' and evoked a combination of wistful longing at some of the gorgeous learning spaces that were presented, but also with much food for thought for the situation my school finds itself in; previously a BSF school, we were one of the unlucky group who lost their funding shortly after the coalition government came into power.

The session began with an overview of the twelve measures, the Language of School Design, with which to consider any innovations in terms of learning spaces; enquiry and project based learning, student directed learning, community based school, collaborative in learning teams, interdisciplinary, culture of excellence, data driven, safe and secure, nature as school, lifelong learning, community as school and global and creative age school. For me one statement stood out suggesting that the design of school physical spaces is very much a part of our schools which we forget about; often we are extremely preoccupied in focusing on an evolving curriculum that we do not consider how to move our learning spaces forward to match and our schools end up resembling fortresses. Another important comment was made regarding consultation and the need to work alongside your stakeholders rather than just dictating what you think is best. It was a timely reminder to me as sometimes I get so caught up in my latest innovation that I forget to ask other people what they think or want.

The session then moved onto looking at traditional learning models, e.g. ‘cells and bells’ to a fully connected learning network encompassing the global and creative age; learning studios with breakout spaces, project based areas, seminar rooms with movable walls, information gathering ‘cafĂ©’ areas and easy access to outdoor learning spaces. There are five design patterns most commonly seen in schools: closed network (cells and bells), classrooms with computers, learning studios with multiple activity zones, classrooms with breakout spaces and classrooms with learning commons.

The redesign whereby corridors are removed is an extremely popular one; a variety of learning spaces, separated by permeable edges (seminar rooms, project based areas, lecture halls) surround an open space utilized for collaborative projects, informal seating for ideas gathering, resource areas (books, technology, audio visual media, instruments, art supplies). With permeable edges (movable and/or transparent walls), the ratio of teachers can change from 1:25 to 4:100 allowing for cross curricular links and teaching. Learning studios tend to encompass areas for multiple activities including active zones for more hands on learning, storage and project work. Cave spaces are extremely important; individual reflective spaces with 2/3 solid walls to provide a sense of enclosure and security.

All redesigns need to reflect the use of technology in teaching and learning so as to achieve this global and creative age. Effective wireless technology, moving away from fixed desk PCs, instead laptops, android tablets and smartphones with faculties supported by learning commons, often grown out of what was the library, but redesigned to reflect 21st century learning; firmly embedding technology amongst the more traditional printed word and using permeable edges, informal seating , cave spaces and technology pods.

Whilst the virtual university session was very enlightening and certainly gave me food for thought where the LRC is concerned, I was also pleased to try out the UK Partners in Learning with Microsoft which has given me another networking and resource sharing tool to help develop my digital literacies and that of the students and staff in my school