Queensland students returned to their schools some time back which has given us the opportunity to discuss with our clients the future of the classroom after Covid19, explore how things have changed and what it means moving forward.
Architecture is dynamic in its nature, as Architects, we are constantly adapting to the changing needs of our clients and their end users, new technologies, new ways of thinking, new societal expectations and even global pandemics all affect how we design.
The pandemic saw schools open only to children of key workers, meaning that fewer students were being supported by physical learning spaces. The shift to learning at home and an adaption to virtual styles of learning has made us question the notion of the Traditional Classroom in a physical sense.
Flexible Learning Environments
The challenge as Architects is to respond to the change in pedagogy due to the pandemic, to re-structure existing classrooms to accommodate smaller groups – flexible spaces that can expand and contract as needed and incorporate innovative technologies to support the schools that may hold on to in a part digital, and part physical pedagogy.
In recent years, our clients have embraced collaborative learning environments with different spaces which allow students to find what works for them. Not only has this approach proved to enhance academic performance (see studies by ILETC), it is easier to reorganise these spaces into socially distanced arrangements, using elements like folding walls as well as moveable furniture and portable dividers to offer multi-purpose spaces, quiet pods for studying, one-on-one meeting spaces and small breakout areas or socially distanced arrangements if we’re faced with another event that requires us to do so.
Taking the learning space outside if possible or opening the classrooms up to wide verandahs to create larger indoor/outdoor multi-purpose spaces while increasing the natural ventilation that limits the spread of airborne disease and, as studies show, can foster a positive learning environment.
Social Connection and Wellbeing
Although our experience from learning from home has proven that the curriculum can be successfully delivered via technology, we can’t ignore the fact that while wholly learning online, children miss the social connection that is crucial to their development.
Technology cannot replace the physical and social interaction with their peers, a fundamental aspect for the mental health and wellbeing of the students, and as such there will always be a need for the physical learning environment.
Any solutions would need to be determined on a case by case basis, based on the individual needs of each school.
We will incorporate lessons learned on how spaces performed in respect of flexibility and technology during the pandemic and incorporate our experience in aged and healthcare i.e. durable materials and hygienic design e.g. multiple hand washing stations within the learning areas, as well as flexible and adaptable working areas that we implement in our work space projects all while maintaining the social connection and wellbeing of the end user at the forefront.