Last November RSP Research Director, Robert Loe, attempted to articulate a purer education experience. Using Peter Brook’s “The Empty Space” as his inspiration, his blog sought to marginalise the importance of the the physical education space and highlight the key relationships within it. Yet this week, a report by the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) at the University of Salford suggests that the characteristics of classrooms such as air quality, colour and light can together increase pupils’ progress. The research, funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Research Council) suggests that the impact of classroom design on attainment, within a year, could be as much as 1.3 sub-levels.
Today, Peter Cunningham of Innova Design Solutions explore the characteristics of outstanding classroom design arguing that optimising the design of classrooms can help students’ reach their full potential.
The study by the University of Salford reveals that classroom design and environmental factors could improve a student’s academic progress by as much as 25%. Classroom orientation, natural light, temperature, air quality, flexibility of space and the use of colour were all found to have a significant effect on students across 34 classrooms.
The research included a mix of age and ability groups and of the 751 students involved, it was found that 73% of variation in progression was directly attributed to class design and layout.
Shunning traditional classroom layouts, some schools are implementing forward-thinking designs and working spaces for their students. The Vittra School in Sweden is a great example; it’s been developed without conventional boundaries to allow students, placed in ability groups, to utilise the features of the whole school.
Flexibility of design is crucial: the traditional desk-and-chair layout has been replaced by open-plan areas that can be used for learning and recreation. These elements reflect a shift in learning practices from a teacher-focused to a pupil-focused mindset which encourages communication by minimising physical boundaries in the learning environment.
Collaborative learning can be impacted by classroom design. By building spaces within schools that allow pupils to sit in groups, rather than in rows, discussion is actively encouraged. It’s a simple shift that can have exciting repercussions.
Melanie Laing, Director of Innova Design Solutions, believes,
Creating a classroom that engages and motivates everyone who uses it is a major challenge. Things like clear lines of sight, clutter-free work surfaces, and good circulation areas all have a positive effect on behaviour.
What does all of this lead towards? What lessons can we take away from classroom design and its effect on learning? Well, put most simply the ways in which we choose to design and build our classrooms can have a demonstrative effect on the means of communication between students and their peers, and more importantly between teacher and student.
By allowing for educational spaces which actively encourage group participation and collaborative learning, teachers will find it easier to engage with, and encourage, communication between, their classes. As we continue to explore the effect that physical environment has on the learning behaviours of students, it’s rational to suppose that schools will take an ever-greater interest in the ways in which they can use classroom design to foster strong relationships and academic progress.
But does the debate end here? The Salford study suggests that ‘academic progression’ is improved as a result of a changed environment, but this doesn’t say that relationships are improved by environment or classroom design. What then is the link between all 3 (relationships, academic progress and environment)? Latif hints at the impact on enhanced communication; are their other benefits to thinking Relationally about design in order to explore the nuances of the Relational impact of classroom design we invited Samuel Fisher, Cambridge University Architecture graduate and Policy Development Partner of the Project, to carry on the conversation: