Design opportunities in education
Generation Alpha has arrived! The cultural perspective of technology is re-shaping traditional classroom layouts and settings. Emerging innovation in Artificial Intelligence, Mixed Reality and robotics are moulding new educational experiences and learning practices. Balancing the presence of technology with nature is an important consideration for schools, especially during periods of substantial growth, to ensure the student experience includes the benefits the natural environment offers.
Learning in nature
Associations between indoor-outdoor space and learning outcomes is an evolving research area and studies have shown correlations exist between greater contact with nature and improvement in academic performance. In the context of education and learning, Biophilic design is important, particularly in areas related to:
- Social and emotional learning: Compared to urban settings, natural environments support greater social and emotional restoration; reduce tension, anxiety, confusion, anger and fatigue; and help with students’ attitudes and behaviour.
- Memory and attention: In one study, research participants who walked for an hour in botanical gardens showed that short-term memory improves by 20% in nature, compared to those walking through urban streets.
- Fatigue: Attention restoration theory (ART). Nature provides the specific environmental stimuli to facilitate recovery from attention fatigue.
Cultivating and attaining student engagement is a common goal in almost all schools and education settings.Positive psychology models such as PERMA (Positive Emotion; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning; and Accomplishment), used by the NSW Department of Education aims to promote attributes that foster student engagement, confidence and improved learning experiences that lead to higher levels of student success. Nature fundamentally supports many of these goals. For example, local schools in Sydney often identify with unique nature specific to their locality, such as gum or fig trees or resident school ground animals such as ‘chooks’ or rabbits. Natural features can help form a sense of identity for school communities – where nature itself becomes a classroom/learning environment.
Design decisions considerate of nature lead to positive outcomes in built environments. Four effective strategies that can promote improvement qualities in school design and help support student-centered learning, health and wellbeing include:
1. The connected façade: Operable components enable control of indoor environmental quality.
2. The window seat/nook: An intimate setting to encourage peer-to-peer and self-directed learning for students.
3. The courtyard: A well-established architectural typology, the courtyard design creates a safe communal outdoor space that is both protected by and connected to indoor learning spaces (this can be on ground level or at an upper level on high rise buildings). In particular, the cloister and/or verandah also provides transitional space, ideal for nature-oriented activities during inclement weather.
4. Natural materials: Building techniques that dovetail the latest technology with natural materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) (see photograph 3 – Macquarie University Incubator Building) are now being considered for their benefits in prefabrication and precision, speed of construction and importantly their natural prefinished material.
These approaches are commonly found in vernacular architecture globally, from Japanese Zen gardens to the cloisters of Europe. Translating similar design principles into larger-scale school buildings is important in the context of promoting healthier environments for students in city locations and high-rise developments.