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Adapting to Education: in conversation with Ken Molloy

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The purpose of education has evolved significantly over time, with the traditional ‘one size fits all’ model deemed ineffective for modern day requirements. As such, there is a need for a shift in the design of educational spaces to better support these requirements through the implementation of a more flexible, adaptable model, and to future-proof the education sector.

The recent announcement of the proposed $6.7 billion investment in New South Wales public education infrastructure by the NSW Government will see the start of this upgrade, with the state taking a leading step ahead to pioneer this fast-moving shift across the nation, with similar infrastructure programs underway in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.

Actively engaged in these plans, Ken Molloy, Head of Design and Product Development, Lotus Doors, believes the upgrades will bring new approaches to class room design, driving the educational sector forward to effectively promote productivity, creativity, inclusion and communication within our schooling system.

“Spaces like classrooms are going to be used for a long time, and this is often overlooked in the design stage,” he said.

“Unlike the technology and furniture used within them, classrooms don’t get updated every few years. Currently, a lot of the spaces being built are not fit for purpose, and, as such, the proposed educational upgrades will need to think about the longevity of these projects, ensuring they are able to support lots of different ways of teaching and student learning habits. The classroom designs need to promote best practice teaching not only right now, but in the years to come, and this can be achieved by utilising adaptable, flexible spaces that feature such innovative tools as acoustic sliding doors and gliding walls that link students to their surrounds and support creativity. Adaptability isn’t just about furniture on rollers or plenty of floor power points.”

WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE SHIFT

Working closely with educational institutions, architects and designers to establish the needs and requirements of both students and teachers, Lotus provides a range of products and high-touch services to support student learning styles and contemporary teaching methods, creating modern spaces that people thrive in, characterised by a high level of creativity and experimentation. These spaces accommodate a wide range of philosophies and styles, making it easier to navigate the best ways of learning supported by adaptable spaces.

“Our education system once held little regard for the specific needs of individual students and imposed a set of uniform standards and behaviours on them. However, today, it is more student-centric in its approach, focusing on inspiring, motivating and tailoring education methods with a flexible and adaptable approach,” said Molloy.

“Having moved away from a rigid ‘one size fits all’ approach, lines of desks facing the front are no longer the only and best way to use educational spaces. Mobility, adaptability and flexibility are the way forward”.

The modern educational system is actively adapting to new-age challenges, supporting students and teachers alike with the use of flexible, multi-function spaces that cater for such requirements as children with special needs, integrated-topic lessons, co-teaching and other modern teaching styles, which is expected to be further rolled-out with the government grant.

“It might be that the day starts with separate classes, each with a home base, with a need to quickly change the configuration to support several different classes collaborating in one large open space, or that a student requires a breakaway space to better concentrate. Perhaps classrooms have the ability to open up to the outdoors to better account for wellbeing. Flexible spaces provide adaptability, which supports a diversity of teaching and learning,” he said.

“We want spaces where people can thrive. Flexibility is fundamental in this current day and age, because rigid design in education limits ways of teaching. I think that, now more than ever, experimentation around teaching methods across the industry needs the support of these flexible, adaptable spaces. Lotus is able to support best practice teaching and learning by working with architects, builders and educators to create innovative design solutions, and then work actively with its clients to turn these into reality.”

Molloy recently attended Transitions at the University of Melbourne Graduate School, noting the conference provided an opportunity for educators, architects, researchers and peak bodies to discuss global research and trends in innovative learning environments (ILE’s) and teacher change.

“Current thinking is, and research findings show, that flexible spaces support modern teaching methods which result in more deep learning by students”, he said. We, at Lotus, are keen to engage with the research and stay abreast of how our products can support ILE’s.”

BENEFITS OF CHANGE

Molloy noted the benefits of flexible and adaptable education spaces, with the trend fast-moving across institutions Australia-wide, and the incorporation of indoor-outdoor spaces using moving walls coincided with the emerging trend of connectivity to the environment. The idea of reconfiguring any space on demand to suit the specific needs of that teacher is ground breaking, creating a diverse range of experiences in the space of one class session and flexibly adapting to each and every teachers’ requirements throughout the day.

Furthermore, the shift towards flexible learning spaces encourages excitement and engagement amongst students. It caters for a variety of approaches, effectively learning through the senses and catering for different student’s learning habits. Offering adaptability allows teachers to respond to and act on ever-evolving research findings and incorporate these evidence-based trends. Molloy noted the opportunities amidst flexible, adaptable spaces within the education sector to be wide-ranging, and the current injection of funding into Australian schools an exciting time for schools nationally.

“We only get one chance to build a classroom. It is critical that we can to adapt these spaces, so we can continue to provide best practice teaching and learning, whilst also supporting the habit of ongoing experimentation that we want for both teachers and students,” he concludes.

HALE DESIGN: A CASE STUDY ON HALE JUNIOR SCHOOL

Globally recognised Western-Australia boarding school, Hale School, proudly offers its 300 students a thorough and personalised educational experience, with a vision to ‘prepare, teach and connect’. Partnering with SITE Architecture Studio and featuring Lotus products, Hale Junior School underwent upgrades to their educational spaces that saw the school globally recognised for its innovative, forward-thinking approach to modern educational tactics, taking home a multitude of awards including the 2019 Architecture Award for Education Architecture, WA, the Learning Environments WA Chapter Award, Category 2 for New Construction or New Individual Facility over $8 million, and the global title for the 2019 Shaw Contract Design Award Category Winner.

Committed to providing teaching staff an opportunity to develop both teaching activities that are catered to the individual needs of the student, as well as the wider class, a more supportive physical learning environment was identified as being required. Alex Cameron, Head of Hale Junior School, said the 50-year-old building was rooted in tradition, making it challenging to teach effectively in a way best suited to 21st century learning.

“Given the history of the school, which was first built in the 1960’s, there was a tremendous lack of flexibility in the original learning spaces,” said Alex Cameron, Head of Hale Junior School. “The building was traditional in design, with limited changes over the years. We worked closely with the architect and Lotus to develop three key learning centres for the school, including acoustic-designed learning pods to enable collaborative learning, accommodating for both large or small groups, and the incorporation of purpose-built learning spaces which centred around a grassed area and playground.”

In addition to the modern adaptable learning spaces, the design also incorporates flexible indoor/outdoor areas, classrooms that open up to large breakout spaces, and courtyards to harness the natural light and ventilation, creating spaces that enhance the wellbeing of students and teachers, and accommodating for various teaching and learning activities with ease.

“Hale wanted to bring their vision to prepare, teach and connect to life, enabling open teaching and learning styles. Lotus Glazed Acoustic Sliders provided visual connection between the classroom areas, allowing for easy transformation and with a ‘T’ design feature connecting the rooms together,” said Molloy.

Lotus designed a unique three-way intersection cavity for the sliding doors which allows for seamless function and the creation of a large distinctive flexible space. The effortless sliding doors offer an acoustically tested, sound separation between the spaces, allowing students to learn independently of other adjoining learning areas. Another feature included was the large eight-panel internal Glass-Stax Fineframe 75 Series moving wall, allowing for the full length of the classroom to open up into the hallway when required and when not, a single door provides entry. A remote stacking design was used for the storage of the wall when not in use. Remote stacking allows single, individual hung panels to park in a dedicated internal recess with discreet lock down points, removing the need for floortrack. The system also features a unique design element – powerful words covering each of the panels to create a positive energy needed for young minds, wording that jumps off the panels and instils confidence.

“The result of the upgrades to the Junior School have been tremendous, with industry professionals from across the nation visiting us to check out the innovative approach to learning spaces,” Cameron said.

“The Education Department, Catholic system, Sydney University…they seem to see the project as a benchmark and pioneer for the education centre, with hopes to replicate it not only across additional junior schools, but all tertiary. It is a truly sophisticated architectural design, recognised internationally for its uniqueness,” said Cameron.

With a sense of calm established across the school following the upgrades, Cameron believes the students love the adaptability of the spaces, with flexible seating, diverse use of furniture and accommodation for ever-developing technology. Overlooking the vast bushland home to the grounds of Hale school, the new school is sustainable in its design, amplifying airflow to keep cool in summer whilst retaining heat in winter. The glass panels encapsulate the views, including the school’s lake, offering a natural aspect and allowing students to remain close to nature.

“We’re now much better equipped to respond to the boys’ needs, whereas, the traditional brick walls previously seen provided little flexibility beyond that. SITE Architecture and Lotus Doors have extracted our hopes and dreams, and turned them into reality, creating exceptional, pioneering learning spaces,” Cameron concludes.

Source: Lotus Folding Doors

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