We asked two schools what they thought about chang­ing ed­u­ca­tion en­vi­ron­ments, and how acous­tics could po­ten­tially im­pact stu­dent learn­ing out­comes.

The Australian Education Reporter - - ACOUSTICS & LEARNING - EMMA DAVIES


IN 2016, Woodleigh School in Vic­to­ria won the Learn­ing En­vi­ron­ments Aus­trala­sia Award for the best new con­struc­tion/ma­jor fa­cil­ity for its Home­steads de­vel­op­ment.

Prin­ci­pal Jonathan Wal­ter puts this down to the flex­i­bil­ity of the space.

“I think it’s the bring­ing to­gether of the so­cial learn­ing and the for­mal learn­ing spa­ces. The fact that those two blend to­gether [means] we’ve got enor­mous flex­i­bil­ity in the way that we can set up the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Home­steads al­low seam­less in­te­gra­tion be­tween out­side and in­side.

“It makes for an in­cred­i­bly calm and rest­ful en­vi­ron­ment which is very pro­duc­tive for stu­dents,” Mr Wal­ter said.

“The new fa­cil­i­ties that we’ve built re­ally re­spond to the en­vi­ron­ment, with pas­sive so­lar and the nat­u­ral light mak­ing them very hab­it­able spa­ces.”

The key to manag­ing acous­tics in the space is flex­i­bil­ity; parts of the build­ing can be shut off to cre­ate sep­a­rate spa­ces, or all the doors can be with­drawn to ac­com­mo­date 80 to 100 stu­dents.

“We thought very care­fully about the acous­tics. We en­gaged an acous­tic en­gi­neer into the de­sign and that was about putting in a lot of ab­sorb­ing ma­te­ri­als to make sure we had the sounds be­ing sucked up,” Mr Wal­ter said.

“There’s some features there around per­fo­rated ceil­ing pan­els which run right along the roof line with in­su­la­tion be­hind them. They’ve been re­ally suc­cess­ful; they re­ally deaden a lot of the sound.”

Home­steads also features ab­sorbent pin boards in many of the walls, soft fur­nish­ings, and a heavy set cur­tain that breaks off one of the spa­ces.

“There’s a com­bi­na­tion of pol­ished ce­ment and car­pet in the spa­ces, and the other main fea­ture is a vari­a­tion in ceil­ing heights – which means that we have the sound dis­si­pat­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” Mr Wal­ter said.

“They’re all em­bed­ded into the build­ing de­sign it­self so for teach­ers the noise is not a fac­tor be­cause it’s just part of good build­ing de­sign,” he said.

Mr Wal­ter said the chal­lenge for schools think­ing of tran­si­tion­ing from tra­di­tional to open learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments comes down to whether a change in the ped­a­gogy or a change in the fa­cil­ity comes first.

“The learn­ing has con­tin­ued from teach­ers about how best to utilise the space. It’s en­cour­aged sig­nif­i­cantly more col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween teach­ers be­cause it pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for much more ob­serv­able teach­ing,” he said.

“One of the im­por­tant things about an ed­u­ca­tion to­day is that it’s very so­cial.

“Stu­dents can ac­cess their learn­ing on­line but we need to pro­mote ways for chil­dren to be able to in­ter­act to­gether – also with staff in less for­mal set­tings – to build those re­la­tion­ships, and our spa­ces here pro­vide that,” Mr Wal­ter said.


A build­ing de­sign that al­lows for a so­cial in­ter­ac­tion was also part of the plan at North­ern Beaches Chris­tian School (NBCS) in New South Wales.

As­sis­tant Prin­ci­pal Cul­ture, Ped­a­gogy & Prac­tice Lou Deibe said the school puts re­la­tion­ships at the cen­tre of every­thing they do.

“We give our stu­dents a sense of be­long­ing and a voice in their learn­ing, en­cour­ag­ing their pas­sions and de­vel­op­ing their in­de­pen­dence,” Ms Deibe said.

“To­gether, with our ar­chi­tec­tural part­ners WMK Ar­chi­tec­ture, we have re­alised a bold vi­sion for our learn­ing spa­ces. In­stead of a typ­i­cal class­room, our col­lab­o­ra­tive learn­ing spa­ces are de­signed to foster pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships and self-di­rected learn­ing, in a dy­namic, flex­i­ble en­vi­ron­ment.”

NBCS be­lieves that spa­ces need to adapt and in­spire new pos­si­bil­i­ties for stu­dents learn­ing.

“Spa­ces are cre­ated very in­ten­tion­ally to em­body our stu­dent-led, com­mu­nity-based, cre­ative ap­proach to learn­ing, closely repli­cat­ing and pre­par­ing stu­dents for fu­ture work en­vi­ron­ments,” Ms Deibe said.

“Our core cur­ricu­lum foun­da­tion is built around project-based, col­lab­o­ra­tive learn­ing, which is sup­ported by cre­ative learn­ing spa­ces that al­low for end­less con­fig­u­ra­tions. Ca­ter­ing for a di­verse va­ri­ety of users at any one time.”

How­ever, Ms Deibe said acous­tics are a sig­nif­i­cant con­sid­er­a­tion for an open learn­ing space.

“From the floors, to walls, sur­faces and the ceil­ing – all work to­gether to com­bat re­ver­ber­a­tion and max­imise ab­sorp­tion of sound,” she said.

“The in­ten­tional de­sign of our learn­ing spa­ces en­sures we soften noise lev­els, min­imis­ing dis­rup­tion, while al­low­ing stu­dent en­gage­ment and dis­cus­sion to flour­ish in the space.”

WMK Ar­chi­tec­ture’s Dr Donna Wheatley said that the acous­tic re­quire­ments re­late to the pri­mary def­i­ni­tion of a class­room.

“A di­dac­tic style of teach­ing re­quires spa­ces of acous­tic sep­a­ra­tion to en­able stu­dents to fo­cus on the con­tent be­ing de­liv­ered by a teacher,” she said.

“If a class­room is flipped, whereby the teach­ing space is for the ap­pli­ca­tion of con­tent — ei­ther in­di­vid­u­ally or groups — be­ing com­fort­able with dis­cus­sion will en­able higher lev­els of knowl­edge shar­ing, and this re­quires higher lev­els of back­ground noise.”

NBCS is all for an en­quiry-based learn­ing model and col­lab­o­ra­tive en­vi­ron­ment for teach­ers and stu­dents of mul­ti­ple classes to work to­gether har­mo­niously, but Ms Deibe said the as­sump­tion that a quiet class­room is a sign of learn­ing hap­pen­ing isn’t nec­es­sar­ily true.

“We be­lieve that noise and dis­rup­tion is not nec­es­sar­ily neg­a­tive – it can be a sign that gen­uine, au­then­tic en­gage­ment with learn­ing is oc­cur­ring,” she said.

“We wel­come dis­rup­tion if it is fos­ter­ing mean­ing­ful learn­ing, un­leash­ing stu­dents’ cu­rios­ity, drive and po­ten­tial and giv­ing them a voice.”

Per­fo­rated ceil­ing pan­els are used in the li­brary at North­ern Beaches Chris­tian School (NSW).

Dif­fer­ent ceil­ing heights can dis­si­pate sound at Woodleigh School (VIC).

Acous­tic en­gi­neers used ab­sorb­ing ma­te­ri­als at Woodleigh School (VIC).

Large flex­i­ble spa­ces can be used for dif­fer­ent learn­ing tasks at North­ern Beaches Chris­tian School (NSW).

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