Design and technology: changing classrooms

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Training space for teachers created for Independent Schools Victoria by BVN Architecture.

Training space for teachers created for Independent Schools Victoria by BVN Architecture. Image: Dianna Snape

Close interaction between design and technology is seeing classrooms evolve into dynamic learning spaces via the virtual world.

Face-to-face teaching doesn‘t have to mean you’re in the same room anymore, or even in the same city. With the right technology and a flexibility of space, teachers are encouraged to explore, and new learning spaces are giving them the opportunity and training to do so in the right environment.

BVN was recognized as a leader in designing new educational spaces for the twenty-first century when we were invited to participate in an exhibition that formed part of the Imagine conference that was held in Vienna last September, organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Austrian Ministry for Education. The conference organizers maintained that the greatest challenge for governments and designers is to ensure that today’s learning environments are able to respond to the educational needs of future generations. The two scenarios that were explored were “Schools Without Walls” and “A World Without Schools.”

BVN exhibited Independent Schools Victoria’s IDEA (Invite, Discover, Engage, Act) Space at the conference. Independent Schools Victoria’s (ISV) brief to BVN was based on the need to provide a training space for teachers who were trained in traditional classroom layouts, but who are moving into new schools with open learning environments equipped with new technology aimed at collaborative learning. Two traditional classrooms in ISV’s West Melbourne headquarters were transformed by removing traditional walls to create a flexible series of linked spaces that enable dynamic interactions with technology. Cisco Systems has been a key partner throughout this process, as it’s essential for the technology company to be a close collaborator in these designs. BVN is now collaborating with Victoria University (VU) and Cisco Systems to develop the first of a number of experimental learning spaces for VU campuses aimed at collaborative, interdisciplinary and self-directed learning. This is an evolution of classrooms into learning spaces, which respond to a brief to develop spaces that foster exploration and creativity in teaching and learning.

In the development of this project, BVN associate Fiona Young facilitated an interdisciplinary workshop focused on creativity, which included not only students, academics and architects, but also a musician, set designer, exhibition designer and urban and interior designers. The first outcome is a learning space at VU’s Footscray Park campus that is configured to allow independent study, group work, performances and exhibitions. It is proposed that both floors and walls are finished with a new product called IdeaPaint, creating multiple surfaces to write, draw, doodle and exchange ideas on. The flexibility extends to the technology, which is deliberately not “built-in” to the structure, thereby enabling upgrades as new systems are introduced without expensive building work.

Along with the potential to greatly improve teaching outcomes, technology can connect people in ways that are particularly beneficial to organizations like universities. VU is exploring these options to support students and teachers across a number of different campus locations. In the early stages of the ISV classroom scheme, one of the elements that helped BVN in the project’s development was when the four lead teachers wrote scenarios for how they thought they’d teach in the future, maybe as far ahead as twenty years.

This is challenging us as architects to continually research developments and find partner organizations in communication technology, as well as to explore contemporary teaching theories to enable us to design the physical spaces that maximize opportunities for creativity in learning environments.

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