Transitions Symposium – Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments

The first of a series of three worldwide symposiums took place in Melbourne earlier this month. The Melbourne ILETC Transitions Symposium – “Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments Symposium” was organised by Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change (ILETC) research project and occurred the day after the ILETC project Annual Partners meeting.

I attended and gained a lot from the variety of upcoming research presentations at the “Transitions Inhabiting Innovative Learning Environments Symposium” at Melbourne University. Mary Featherston presented an inspiring keynote and set the scene around how “pedagogy and the design of spaces are inseparable”.


Mary Featherston, Interior and Product Designer, Honourary Senior Fellow University of Melbourne

The symposium was separated into four different topic sessions.

  1. “Inhabiting Design” moderated by Richard Leonard, Director of Hayball Architects.
  2. “Teacher Practices” and was moderated by Craig Deed, Associate Professor of Education at La Trobe University.
  3. “Change and Risk” moderated by Steve Cook, Principal at Albert College.
  4. “Measuring Impact” moderated by Professor John Hattie, Professor of Education at Melbourne University.

Below I have included some issues that came up when I asked about the presenters’ thoughts around the sound environment.

The first session was “Inhabiting Design” moderated by Richard Leonard, Director of Hayball Architects. Typically small but relentless difficulties occur around car parks, lockers and toilets. Anna mentioned noise around the locker areas needing to be controlled as there is a need for quiet. Glass is increasing as are audio and visual distractions. Peter mentioned sound in traditional corridors is just noise removing corridors creates different options.

The second session was “Teacher Practices” and was moderated by Craig Deed, Associate Professor of Education at La Trobe University, Australia. It was interesting to consider the sound environment when considering the conditions for teacher authority and authority of teaching space – in quiet conditions or in noisy conditions the management approach and therefore attitude of students might be more affected by noise than is generally realized. Dr Janet Buchan asked if “pedagogy into spaces” or “spaces into pedagogy” should be the way to consider the interaction between the two.

Session three was “Change and Risk” moderated by Steve Cook, Principal at Albert College, Australia. Chris Bradbeer lifted out practices and structures and issues around team teaching. Tamara Jones discussed increased engagement in ILEs where there is clarity of; purpose, focus and expectations. Leadership expectations of how to… Susanne highlighted the need for repositioning teachers and learners. However there is an ongoing tension between innovation / creativity vs control / order (tension between Traditional vs ILEs). Cellular classrooms with sliding doors can minimize distractions, can noise be managed out? Case studies that work we called for. Educational philosophy and spaces required to support this should be embedded in the design and change management process. Recalibration zones required for teachers, like quiet spaces for concentration, this created a debate about the non-designated quiet spaces – is the rest of the building just noisy. Spaces cannot be flexible for all activities but more activity specific.

Session four was “Measuring Impact” moderated by Professor John Hattie, Professor of Education at Melbourne University. Issues addressed covered, what does teaching and learning look like in different classroom environments. How are the pedagogic approaches, technology use and use of space? How teachers collaborate and work in teams and how teachers think? To take existing educational outcomes which are recognized as “good” and take them to “great” needs to maximis the effectiveness of the learning environment – to that effect the physical environment was mentioned as the potential “Trojan Horse” for change. It was interesting to hear the timeshare of teaching and learning activities – by speech communication would be interesting to understand the interactions from teachers and between students etc. Also the style of learning and thought processes required for the tasks; from receiving info up to analyzing and evaluating which requires a much deeper thought process. Importance of understanding learning motivations and cognitive processing was raised. Teacher mind frames and how best to utilise space, skills and curriculum. This combined with phases of curriculum adaption and skills adaption including the relationship to the appropriate spaces.


Listening and asking questions during the sessions, it was increasingly clear that sound environment was relevant in all the topics which came up in the presentations and the Q&A afterwards. It inspired me to focus on the relevant aspects which the sound environment potentially impacts on. If we are to create a democratic learning environment to support Innovative Learning Environments, it is vital that acoustics is embedded in the thinking around PEDAGOGY, BEHAVIOUR & LEARNING SPACES. So I thought I should lift up an overview of aspects where acoustics may have more of an impact than we might imagine.

Of course this focuses on improving the acoustic environment (as a positive however untapped resource) to be inclusive and fit for purpose in terms of applying new directions; in curriculum,  incorporating the gradual move from teaching to learning on the basis that this provokes / inspires increased student engagement in their learning process. In turn, this can support more effective learning outcomes with an increase in students’ capacity to think on a deeper level and transforming or reducing the risk of (potentially subconscious) negative attitudes and behaviour supporting the gradual release of responsibility from teaching to learning.

Here are some thoughts around potential implications (from the outset) associated with PEDAGOGY, BEHAVIOUR & LEARNING SPACES and a good sound environment:

  1. For students:
  • positive behaviour;
  • basic engagement;
  • motivation;
  • potential ownership in the learning process; leading to
  • more on task behaviour, more time for thinking more collaboration leading to cross fertilisation of ideas , opinions and constructive dialogue; and
  • even critical thinking….

Causality, the relationship between cause and effect as described above in a positive manner might perhaps be reversed in a negative manner if there is too much noise.

  1. Implications for all the above on teaching / teachers is potentially exponential….
  • Whole class instruction or the lesson should begin on a positive note, teacher on the front foot; “here’s what we can do today following on from the last positive learning experience….”

So, a platform and atmosphere where teachers feel they “can do…”

If there are working in poor sound environments where noise dominates then perhaps the “can do” atmosphere changes to one of having to take control and the “can do” moment may be lost…..

  • acoustics is invisible we need to start joining the dots regarding different teaching and learning approaches and cultures, curricula approaches and the use of learning spaces to ensure there is enough cognitive capacity to think proactively during learning to support inclusion of deeper learning processes. Not only to hear and recall what is learned but an allowance for discussion, contemplation, analysis, evaluation and more informed opinions and outcomes…..


Of course we can see that more research is needed…

More info about the forthcoming London and Grand Rapids (USA) Transitions events here.

Education 176

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