Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Classroom Environments

So do you have an ILE (Interactive Learning Environment)? A FLS (Flexible Learning Space)? Or an MLE (Modern Learning Environment)? What ever you call it, there have been many discussions on whether they work or not.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who has a daughter at school in a class that works in a MLE. She had some valid and interesting questions, some of which I could answer and some I couldn't. Her main concern is that her daughter would not learn how to sit at a desk for hours on end, because, as she rightly pointed out, the High School she was going to attend the next year does not have a MLE. Then she was concerned about University after that, having to sit in lecture theatres. She also wanted to know if it was actually making a difference to the learning. It's an interesting concern and one I decided to find out more about.

One of the things I thought about was how the space is used. I felt that it wasn't so much the environment, but the mindset and work of staff that made the difference. Much of the reading I have done since certainly backs this up. Mark Osborne from Core Ed says in his report from 2013 "Providing teachers with an open, flexible learning environment where inquiries are shared, interventions devised collaboratively and reflections based on both self and peer observations, can lead to the development of a robust, continuously improving community of practice." I think this is where a MLE can really make a difference.

Does a MLE raise student achievement? I found a good range of answers about this very question. Mark Wilson's Sabbatical Report from this year found that there was no research to directly link student achievement with a MLE. The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) had a discussion thread on this in 2014, where quite a few staff showed clearly that what they were doing had been making a difference in the classroom. It comes back to how the MLE is used and this was clearly stated in a Educause article focusing on the University of Minnesota and their New Learning Environment.  Their three key points were:
  • In the new technology-enhanced learning spaces at the University of Minnesota, students outperformed final grade expectations relative to their ACT scores.
  • When instructors adapted their pedagogical approach to the new space by intentionally incorporating more active, student-centered teaching techniques, student learning improved.
  • Students and faculty had positive perceptions of the new learning environments but also had to adjust to the unusual classrooms.
I have an amazing classroom at the moment. My main teaching load is in the School of Apps where students design and build mobile apps. This is run like a business and the room has been set up to reflect that. I think this is why the room works - it is how we are teaching. As you can see, they have a range of spaces to work at and there is room for collaboration space. The students are all young adults or adults and they love the room.

So, universities can head in this direction as well as schools, although few have done so at this stage. How long it will take is anyone's guess. I believe more and more schools are heading down this line, with the Ministry of Education certainly encouraging this in any new buildings (have a read of their design standards for school property). I just hope they have thought about changing the mindset of staff, as well as the furniture.

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” 
― Albert Einstein

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