This is a blog from one of COBIS' Supporting Associates.
Distance Learning is not a new concept with institutions like The Open University and correspondence courses operating successfully for many decades. There is little doubt that learning in this way is the right thing for many and plays an important role in the development of a literate, well-informed and highly skilled society.
Remote working and education continue to evolve as information technology and communication across distances becomes ever more accessible to all. The use of platforms like Skype and Zoom etc has greatly accelerated in recent years.
This can be a positive in that it allows people to work from home with greater flexibility and reduces carbon footprint.
The movement towards more blended learning through effective use of environments external to the traditional classroom, IT-based research and communication platforms, is not insignificant.
The benefits are obvious, but there are some negative implications and so how do we strike the right balance?
Most of us agree that regular social interaction amongst young people is essential for mental wellbeing and it’s a critically important element of an effective educational experience. Student interaction with each other, their educational facilitators, collaborative group work and collective problem solving is greatly enhanced by face to face contact.
Whilst a cross-curricula approach helps provide a broad baseline for later specialism, some subjects have elements specific to that subject. Practical science involving chemicals, boiling liquids, naked flames and engineering involving resistant materials and machine tools require dedicated spaces.
The importance of State-of-the-Art Physical Learning Spaces
Student numbers going on to take higher-level STEAM-based education continues to decline in most economies. This makes the case for dedicated spaces and in particular, environments which stimulate interest amongst students for STEAM and helps create a desire to pursue an education in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics much more compelling.
The point is that whilst it is essential that we take care not to allow necessary education in practical science and technology to become diluted for the sake of another perceived benefit, it is also essential that we take care to ensure the spaces we do provide are fit for purpose. This means a lot more than just providing the requisite number of sinks, gas taps and storage cupboards.
An effective learning space must be one that is flexible in facilitating interactive group work and learning through discovery whilst not inhibiting the whole class address by the teacher. The space should be designed to be safe to work in for its intended specific purpose and above all should be a space where students want to be.
Educationalists are not building new schools or refurbishing school interiors every day and it is often the case that experience of this sort of undertaking is extremely limited.
Therefore, it is essential that those involved in providing a service to educationalists, be it design consultancy and or supply and installation have experience and expertise in this very specific areas. Knowledge of pedagogy, curriculum as well as local and national standards and regulations is vital.
There are many instances where it is the case that a provider asks the school what it wants rather than engaging in two-way exploratory dialogue and then presenting a range of options. This usually results in old poor designs albeit with good quality construction methods and materials which have stood the test of time being replaced with new colourful versions of the same thing but using poor quality construction methods and cheap materials which will not stand the test of time.
There are also many instances where a provider offers a one size fits all package which has already been developed, with minimal costs to the provider, rather than working with the school to offer a more suitable range of options in those particular circumstances.
A state of the art learning space can only be achieved where choices are made on the basis of a design which is pupil centric and gives due consideration to innovation, quality of build, materials and on a best life cycle value of at least 25 years rather than a lowest initial cost option.
Mike Serridge is a Director of S+B UK Limited who specialise in the design, manufacture and installation of inspirational STEAM learning environments.
Mike is a full member of the British Standards Committee LBI/1/1 and is one of the UK's expert representatives to The European Standards Committee CEN332 Laboratory Furniture and Fittings.
S+B has been awarded The Queens Award for Enterprise in International trade for its innovative design and installation of STEAM facilities in International School`s Worldwide.