Building High Impact Learning Environments
Until recently, our society was based on the “Gutenberg model.” Our current educational system was designed to support that model. Now, we’re in what can be called the “Google revolution.” Technological advancements are producing societal disruptions that make the familiar Gutenberg approach less and less relevant. Educators now have the job of designing learning environments that can prepare students for a future we can’t even imagine.
Review Current Environments
School leaders need to take an in-depth look at the impact that their current school and classroom environments are having on students. Students spend an average of 14,000 hours in the classroom during their K–12 academic career, so the learning environment is an invaluable part of an overall ecosystem that supports teacher effectiveness and student learning experiences.
In my district’s case, we partnered with a company called MeTEOR Education. We knew we wanted what MeTEOR Education calls a “high-impact learning environment” — a student-centered learning environment that would bolster teacher and student engagement, cooperative learning, and self-directed learning.
Five Critical Factors
A major challenge to introducing high-impact learning environments is the lack of a clearly articulated vision. Each district will have its own vision, but there are five elements that are critical components:
Integrated Technology: Consider how technologies are going to be leveraged to develop authentic, technology-rich learning frameworks. The thoughtful design of space to account for technology is a must. School leaders must provide appropriate variety and access, and facilitate its universal use by learners and teachers.
Learner Mobility: Almost every physical space within a school can be used to extend teaching and learning beyond the traditional classroom. Today’s learning environments should accommodate informal learning options, and a properly designed environment can allow students to seamlessly move from space to space as their work changes.
Multiple Modalities: Teachers and students should be able to organize their respective spaces to accommodate a variety of activities, including working with partners, working on small teams, large-group collaboration, independent work, and teacher-student interaction
Adaptability: The upside to adaptable classrooms is that they allow you to take advantage of learning opportunities that aren’t always planned. In fact, the location of electrical sockets, casework, and other finishes may unintentionally make it difficult for teachers to veer from the traditional front-facing lecture mode. Therefore, you should also design new spaces to be adaptable.
Dynamic Ergonomics: Poorly designed seats can negatively impact muscles, soft tissue, nerves, circulatory systems, and respiratory systems. The good news is that with the increased focus on ergonomics among furniture and workspace designers, factoring this component into new learning spaces could be the easiest part of a new design.
Details Make the Difference
You may be wondering whether all this effort really makes a difference. For Burnet CISD, it did. The ways in which each school joins the Google revolution are very likely to differ, but incorporating these critical elements into your vision will provide a flexible framework for any initiative.
Keith McBurnett, Guest Blogger and Burnet CISD Superintendent, is in his sixth year as superintendent of Burnet CISD. In his 24 year career in public education, his service includes public school teacher; assistant principal; principal; and numerous central office positions including assistant superintendent, chief academic officer and deputy superintendent.
Since being named superintendent, McBurnett has led Burnet CISD to secure over $4 million in grant funding to support a K-8 after school program, pass a $26.75 million bond program to renovate and expand existing campuses and implement numerous programs to increase college and career readiness opportunities for students. In addition, under his leadership, Burnet CISD was named the 2015 HEB Excellence in Education Small School District Award winner for providing innovative educational offerings to students. In 2017 the District was 1 of 22 districts in the State of Texas to be named to the Seventh Annual AP Honor Roll