Learning environment evaluation and the development of school facility design guidelines

Year: 2016

Author: Cleveland, Benjamin, Soccio, Philippa, Love, Patrick

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Australia has been the site of significant school facility design innovation during the past decade. This innovation was showcased in 2013 in a report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) titled Innovative Learning Environments, Educational Research and Innovation. It featured case studies of forty exemplary schools from around the world. Of these, seven were from Australia, including six from Victoria.While international attention directed towards the designs of Australian schools is nice, there remains little empirical evidence to attest to the effectiveness of these and other innovative school facilities in supporting desired and emerging pedagogies in primary and secondary schools.The Towards Effective Learning Environments in Catholic Schools (TELE): An Evidence Base Approach project was set up in 2015 as a collaborative research initiative between Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) and the Learning Environments Applied Research Network (LEaRN) at the University of Melbourne. Over three years (2015-2017) the project aims to develop empirical evidence and subsequent guidelines that can aid decisions about how best to design and use of learning environments (school facilities) in primary and secondary schools.During the course of the project, the pedagogical effectiveness of 36 learning environments in Catholic primary and secondary schools in Melbourne will be evaluated using LEaRN Evaluation Module 3 – Alignment of Pedagogy and Learning Environments. In doing so, the project seeks to answer the following questions: 1) How can Catholic school learning environments be designed and used to best pedagogical effect? 2) How well aligned are contemporary pedagogies with the designs of learning environments in Catholic schools in greater Melbourne? 3) What influence do different building typologies have on this alignment? 4) How can the alignment between contemporary pedagogies and the design of school learning environment be improved?For the purposes of the project, learning environments have been delineated by the adjoining spaces used by a class, cohort or year level at the same school, including shared zones that have consistent physical features. Five spatial typologies (A to E), as identified by Dovey and Fisher (2014), have been used to group learning environments with similar spatial assemblages. These typologies are differentiated by their relative degree of openness, from traditional classrooms (enclosed) to permanently open-plan spaces (open). Using a strategic sampling technique, an even distribution of each building typology will be evaluated over the course of the three-year project to help identify which learning environments (including furniture, fit-out, and cultural practices) are the most supportive of contemporary pedagogies, as envisaged by CEM and the participating schools.This paper reports on progress towards the development of evidence-based guidelines for the design of contemporary schools, as derived from the program of learning environment evaluation described above.