Can schools incubate awesomeness?

FEBRUARY 15, 2017 / Announcements

It's time to reimagine schools as "awesomeness incubators", says education expert Mark Osborne. That demands a focus on the physical learning environment, as a key element in the teaching and learning ecosystem.
“We’ve moved beyond people thinking innovative learning environments are just the latest fad. Their success has been measured. Now we need to keep striving to be better at teaching in these spaces. The teacher needs to become the engine of innovation.”
Mark will present the latest learning-environment research in March at the Leading Remarkable Learning conference, convened by Westmount School. His presentation supports the conference focus on innovative education practice, which includes the development of self-organised learning environments (SOLEs), where the student has agency and autonomy over learning.
Innovative learning spaces are important to realising the potential of SOLEs. Mark says one benefit is being able to have more than one teacher available to the student.
“Relationships are at the core of what we are doing in schools. If students don’t think you care about them, they are not going to engage in learning.
“If you have teachers left and right whom you trust, and know want you to do well, then you are more likely to take risks, and seek feedback and support.”
There is also a benefit to teaching quality, enabling teachers to learn from each other and be ‘risk-takers’ too. “In the old model of teaching you were supposed to be the expert. Now it is absolutely vital that teachers model learning behaviours.”
While Mark’s presentation will be aimed at helping teaching professionals put research into practice, he says a big chunk of his work life is in parent consultation.
“Parents can question the new buildings, the style of learning, and the use of technology. The irony is that is often how they are working themselves – in collaborative spaces, with laptops and smartphones.
“It’s important that parents understand why the changes that are taking place.”

Research summary

One of the key ILE studies has been conducted over the past five years at the Church of England Grammar School (Churchie) in Brisbane, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne and the Australian Research Council. The key findings include:

  • The ILE can:
    • Significantly influence how technologies (both digital and physical) are used, and therefore, are perceived by students.
    • Increase the instance of active, collaborative, and multiplictious nature of student-centred learning experiences.
    • Affect a statistically significant enhancement of student engagement in their learning.
  • On average, different classroom layout explains 7 per cent of the variation in academic outcomes in each study.
  • On average, when students transition from a conventional classroom to a NGLS, their academic achievement increases by 15 per cent.

The study affirms that how the space is inhabited is at least as important as its design. The teacher’s competency in the space is a clear predicator to its impact.

A broader study, the HEAD project, through the University of Salford in the UK, gathered data from 3766 students in 153 classrooms in 27 diverse primary schools. The aim of the study was to identify if there was any evidence for the hypothesised influences of the physical design of classrooms on learning progress.

The study was based on a model with three dimensions:

  • Stimulation - that the level of stimulation provided for a space needs to be appropriate for the activity taking place. In visual displays and colours, there also needs to be a balance between not too complex, and not too chaotic.
  • Individualisation - that we react well to being able to adapt our surroundings to suit our individual preferences. Factors that enable invidiualisation include zones that enable flexibility for collaborative, semi-collaborative, and focused work zones, as well as areas for storage, and walls for display.
  • Naturalness - that we seek certain natural features as being healthy, such as daylight, air quality, temperature, noise levels and links to nature.

The study reports clear evidence that well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths. Differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year for the 3766 pupils included in the study. Another key finding was that stimulation and Individualisation factors were as important as naturalness factors.


About the conference

Leading Remarkable Learning has been convened by Westmount School to share the opportunity for advancing knowledge, skills and expertise in delivering learning that is available to all students.

It will present and interpret the latest research and technologies in key areas of 21st century learning:

• Self-organising learning environments

• Schools in the cloud

• Designing schools as incubators

• Developing teachers as coaches and facilitators

• Cross-curricula, cross-continent collaboration

Conference Dates
Conference - March 2, 2017
Master Class - March 3, 2017
Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau
Conference - March 6, 2017 
Horncastle Arena
Sugata Mitra, whose work has been in the areas of Schools in the Cloud, Students as Teachers, and Grannies in the Cloud. It shows very powerful impact and results, particularly for young learners. Sugata Mitra’s work to develop the learning capacity of slum children in India inspired a movie (Slum Dog Millionaire) and is propelling the shift worldwide to schools in the cloud. In these schools, which are a government priority in New Zealand, global collaboration will create exponential leaps in learning capability. Sugata’s projects have interesting links for all schools as part of ongoing research and enquiry into opportunities for students to make progress. 
Sir John Jones was knighted for his services to education and is a speaker who inspires us to think about why we are in education, and the impact we have on young people.  He inspires us to be better, to give it all, on behalf of our students. He reminds teachers of their unique role as the magic weavers who ensure a child’s life becomes a rich tapestry of learning experiences. He offers insight into the world of education leadership with a particular focus on developing leadership capacity organisation-wide. 
Frances Valintine is listed in the Top 50 Ed Tech thinkers globally. Founder of The Mindlab and Tech Futures Lab, she challenges us to think about the purpose of education in the context of a future that is changing exponentially.

Mark Osborne specialises in innovative learning environments, change leadership and teaching as inquiry. His personal mission is to turn all schools into awesomeness incubators.
Gordon Poad has worked in theatre and education, and has a passion for developing a learning offer that is creative, highly personalised, focused and authentic.