3 21st century school buildings and learning hubs
Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy
This is the text of the report presented to the New Zealand Parliament in December 2012
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A key issue in providing a 21st century learning environment is ensuring that schools have the right facilities to support teaching and learning. We heard consistently from teachers and students that the single-cell learning spaces of traditional classrooms of the last 100 years do not always meet the needs of learners. We also heard from many submitters that having desks arranged in rows, even if they are now facing an electronic whiteboard, does not maximise the opportunities of learners.
We heard that students are increasingly learning in groups, and in collaborative ways. We heard that some new schools, such as Albany High School in Auckland, and Amesbury School in Wellington, have been designed in an innovative way to accommodate modern learning environments. We understand that many schools are balancing the need to develop more modern environments with current upgrades. We hope that for any new builds consideration is being made to ensure a more modern learning environment results.
We were delighted to hear from teachers who had used a small amount of money and a lot of creativity and determination to transform their old classrooms into learning spaces to better reflect the needs of their students. These new spaces allow students to find the space that best suits their learning needs; if they are working on a collaborative project, they can use one of the larger tables, and if they want to work on an individual project, they can decide whether they would prefer to sit at a desk. We heard that some schools are moving away from “computer labs” to a policy of placing computers in every classroom. Increasing variety and uptake of devices coupled with wireless access could enable students to better determine the space that works best for them.
We heard flexibility of 21st century learning environments was seen as the opportunity for learners to engage in a much wider range of learning activities and situations than possible in a conventional classroom.
We heard that teachers can also benefit from learning in open spaces. We heard from some submitters who work in new school environments that the open spaces can facilitate better cooperation amongst teachers. Albany Senior High School has open space classrooms. We heard that less experienced teachers are often scheduled to teach classes next to classes being led by senior teachers. This allows them to observe the senior teachers, and pick up tips that they can immediately test themselves; so teachers can collaborate more freely, and see the results much sooner. We heard that they believe that this approach is beneficial for all students.
One submitter stated that a flexible physical environment does not support 21st century learning without the right kind of teachers, the right kind of relationships, the right kind of pedagogy, a broad toolkit of teaching and learning tools, and flexible timetables to allow for personalised learning.
While there are obvious benefits from a better physical environment, there are many existing schools that were built decades ago, and have not been adapted for 21st century learning. We think access to more open, flexible, networked learning environments should be considered, not just in the context of a new rebuild, but also how we convert existing environments. We heard from a number of submitters the benefit of access to wi-fi in more modern learning environments. This is discussed further in chapter 9. When schools cannot offer wi-fi, the students seek out places that do; we heard of students connecting to the wi-fi network offered by a nearby McDonalds.
We heard that some schools act as learning hubs for their whole communities. One way to create an effective hub is to make the school facilities available to the community to use when school has finished for the day. Another option could be to open up the school library to the community. Submitters noted that some schools have set up “parents’ computer rooms”, where parents can use the school’s computers away from students. Other schools have placed computers in the school lobby for use by parents. There are a range of models currently happening around New Zealand, and they need to be considered both in terms of the benefit for children’s learning, and in terms of access to resources.
We heard from some submitters that there can be practical issues when trying to set up a school as a digital hub. One school took two years to complete all the required policy changes so that the community could use the school library when the school day ends. We heard from submitters that legislation and schools’ insurance policies are barriers to allowing non-students to use the facilities except in certain circumstances. We heard that the Manaiakalani cluster formed a trust to allow the community access to their school facilities, which provided an easier mechanism than to change their insurance policy and seek exemptions under the Education Act 1989.
We heard that there is a large variance across the country in the role of school libraries. Some schools have invested significant resource and time in ensuring their libraries are an integral part of 21st century learning. One factor that could be taken into account is the possible difference in role between rural and urban school libraries. We believe there needs to be greater consideration of their role.
4. We recommend that the Government investigate the benefits and implications, along with any policy or legislative changes, of extending availability of school facilities and resources, including computer labs and Internet connections, to their communities.
5. We recommend that the Government create best-practice design templates for school buildings so that newly-built schools and upgrades are more open, flexible, and networked.
6. We recommend that the Government consider how school libraries can be 21st century learning environments.
7. We recommend that the Government consider encouraging local government to ensure greater Internet access via public libraries for out-of-school learning as a valuable community resource.