The Sydney schools diving into unconventional design


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Schools in Sydney and around the country are creating spaces designed for peak internet connectivity, creativity and collaboration.

A change is happening in classrooms - and schools - across Australia. In Sydney and other capital cities, school design is evolving to keep pace with advances in technology, growing student numbers and the need for classrooms designed to be flexible spaces for different types of learning.

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Fiona Young, an architect and co-director of Hayball Sydney, says schools are moving away from the traditional "cells and bells" building design to become Innovative Learning Environments - places where internet connectivity, creativity and collaboration are all being included in the design.

"Sydney will soon be home to numerous examples of innovative learning environments, a primary example of which is the Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta, and the Ultimo-Pyrmont Public School," says Young, who is undertaking a PhD in pedagogy and learning space design.

"They're not the traditional kind of campus, but include spaces that are more diverse, agile and purposeful, and allow for a wider range of learning and teaching styles."

Young says schools are thinking more than ever before about the integration of technology - where to place large screens for presentations; including walls that can be written on and even where to place furniture in learning spaces.

While new schools are starting from scratch when it comes to this new design, others, like Abbotsleigh in Wahroonga, are redesigning their established spaces.

Headmistress Megan Krimmer says the school has redesigned classrooms, particularly over the past few years, with a focus on flexible layouts and the latest technology. "Abbotsleigh has been a technology rich school for many years, and we continually assess what is available ... to enhance the learning of our girls."

"We have recently built a maker space area in the senior school and are in the process of building another highly innovative maker space for our girls in the Junior School.

These areas, amongst others, encourage our girls to tinker and make things without the need to be continually packing away," Krimmer says.

New spaces and new school designs are offering many benefits but also some challenges for students and teachers.

"The design of education spaces is rapidly evolving and, in some cases, there's a need for teachers to look at how they can harness these new spaces to enhance their teaching," Young says.

With rapid changes in design, schools are constantly looking to the future - what they will need to consider in the decades to come.

Vivek Wadhwa, a futurist, author and Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, believes that technology in learning may mean schools themselves become obsolete.

Learning will happen at home instead with the use of AI and avatars as teachers.

In his book about the future of education, Driver in the Driverless Car, Wahwa noted: "My future school is the backyard of my house, and my classroom is a digital tutor with a virtual-reality headset.

"My avatar instructor is Clifford ??? Clifford is always on duty, a button-push away."

But Young is not so convinced that schools will be done away with altogether.

"It's exciting to see that there can be multiple models of schooling [learning at home and school], but I think the role of a school as a physical home of education will remain inherent, regardless of where people choose to learn."

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The story The Sydney schools diving into unconventional design first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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