Research from the University of Salford released in February this year suggested that a well-designed classroom could give students’ academic progress a much-needed boost. The Clever Classrooms report revealed that student progress could be improved by as much as 16% with conscientiously-designed classrooms.
The research took into account the design and manipulation of a wide range of design and environmental features such as colour schemes, access to natural light, temperature and more – trying to determine the most important factors when encouraging students to reach their potential.
Although this study was primarily aimed at primary school students and classrooms – the effects of environmental and design factors are universal throughout education from school-starters to university-leavers, and most certainly has relevance for further education colleges.
University of Newcastle’s Impact of School Environments: A Literature Review argued in 2005 that classroom design was falling behind the rapid evolution of teaching methods and technology available to both course leaders and students. Amazingly many classrooms and lecture halls still follow the same design principles found in Dickensian novels with a course leader stood beside a writing board in front of rows of students.
University of Salford’s Lead Researcher, Professor Peter Barrett, hopes that his team’s research can help designers adopt a new approach: “I hope our ‘Clever Classrooms’ report will become a valuable asset for teachers and school designers across the UK and can make a real and lasting impact on children’s learning progress.”
The Scandinavian approach
Unsurprisingly for a group of countries habitually placed towards the top of life quality lists, Scandinavia is leading the way for progressive classroom design. Eschewing traditionalism, there are a number of learning institutions in Denmark, Sweden and Norway which are at the very forefront of design and architecture.
The Telefonplan School by Vittra in Stockholm is built upon an open-plan design which ignores traditional classrooms and learning spaces, giving students the chance to learn in starkly different environments. Benefitting different subject matter and learning styles – this fluid approach to classroom design can help students pick their own course of education and inspire them to follow their intuition.
Similarly Ørestad Gymnasium by 3xN in Copenhagen has been designed to remove borders and boundaries and reduce the sensation within students that their personality is being restricted. The school is dedicated to testing new ways to organise teaching methods – and required a malleable design which can fit into new progressive techniques.
The British revolution
There was a time when Britain was renowned for offering the best education in the world – with envious educators looking at our schools, colleges and universities for inspiration. The OECD economic think tank published a definitive ranking of global education systems in May this year, with the UK placed in 20th position, languishing behind the likes of Vietnam and Poland. This led to UK educators and school designers looking to reinvent their services – a difficult task in an industry which is hugely steeped in history and tradition.
One such school which channelled the traditions of British education and architecture was Denstone College on the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border. The Victorian gothic manor, built in the 1870s, was converted into a school in 1973 and suffered like many institutions which were not purpose-built. Keen not to ruin the impressive exterior of the building, the college’s board approached a number of education interior specialists to modernise their science facilities.
Innova Design Solutions were selected for the project. Market Development Manager, Nasim Valli, explains: “The old Denstone College science laboratories were dark, uninspiring classrooms with a lack of storage – inhibiting the performance of students and teachers alike. We implemented our Hot Corners design concept to maximise the available space, and create both a working classroom and practical laboratory.
“This concept also relocates the teacher to the long wall of the classroom, shortening the lines of communication, creating a more collaborative approach to learning. From dark uninspiring cluttered classrooms, Innova has created light, bright, modern science labs ready to meet the changing needs of today’s young scientists.”
A healthy design approach
Students could spend more than 25% of their lives in a classroom throughout the working week, so it is important the environment is positive and the aesthetics are attractive. Learning environments which are distracting, unappealing or obtrusive can impact students’ overall happiness and attitude to working.
Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. believes that it is just as important to create an emotionally safe environment as a physically safe environment – allowing students to concentrate completely on their studies rather than any problems with their surroundings and the school design. This is particularly pertinent for students on their first day in a new environment, whether it is primary school, secondary school, college or university – it is important that students feel safe within a well-designed space.