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About the Watershed

Part 2
Heinavaara, "Have-Nots,"
Classrooms

Part 3
Active Learning, Leadership

Part 4
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"If you have a classroom that is 600 to 700 square feet and are using the corridor for storage and computers, you, in essence, are using 900 to 1000 square feet of space."

William DeJong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam Watershed
Part 3 - Meaning of Learning, Classroom Size, Consciousness in Learning, Architect's Role, Educational Leadership

"Creating single purpose spaces (math classroom, circulation corridor)
 is a barrier architecture, not an enabling architecture
." Bruce Jilk

Q  Lia Burgers: As the meaning of learning is changing from passive to active, from static to dynamic, from inside oriented to outside, to lifelong learning and to global learning, is it still necessary to create educational systems that are surrounded by institutional walls and barriers?

Bruce Jilk: First a slight change in the question by asking "As the means of learning" I think this is what was intended. To discuss the "meaning" of learning would take us to a totally different level. Then the question asks if these changes (or expansions) are challenging the institution of education in regards to its perceived isolation.
       One of the fundamental attributes of a knowledge society is the significance of connections or relationships among its elements. There is overwhelming evidence [8] of the convergence between the corporate world and the education world. The same is true for the home world. Any "walls" or "barriers" need to be examined to assure they enable and not inhibit these connections.
       These are extremely challenging times for the traditional institutions of education. We live in a culture of choice and there are many new providers. While growth in traditional schools and colleges parallels the population growth, growth in non-traditional providers is expanding at about the rate of 40% per year [9]. In my experience the institution of education is responding to this challenge.  They are collaborating with the new providers and even absorbing them in their world. Bottom line: no more isolation.

Q Charles H. Boney, Jr., AIA: The typical classrooms we observed in Amsterdam were 20 to 50% smaller than US classrooms.  (For example, the elementary school with two stories of apartments above it had classrooms of 600-700 square feet; in the US we would have had 950-1100.)  There were few ancillary spaces, but they made great use of corridor space for computers and book storage.   Do you think our American bias towards single-purpose spaces (i.e., corridors must always be corridors, and learning only occurs in the classroom) inhibits the educational opportunities in our buildings?

Bruce Jilk: The classroom is primarily a teaching environment and, as a design, has little to do with learning. Here learning is a byproduct. Learning environments (spaces designed with learning as the primary goal) will be multifunctional. They need to support formal learning, informal learning and resource learning. I call these the learning threads. The learning environment is a fabric made up of these threads. Creating single purpose spaces (math classroom, circulation corridor) is a barrier architecture, not an enabling architecture.

Q Charles Boney: We saw many well-maintained schools on our tours.  Is this typical of The Netherlands, or did we just see the newest schools where maintenance issues have not become apparent?  

Bruce Jilk: I have been in new schools (Baku) that badly needed maintenance and old schools (Singapore) that were pristine. We can find the same variation across the United States. So the question is primarily a cultural one and this makes any short answer quite difficult. I will offer one observation. Countries (or states or communities) where society sees the "big picture" and takes a "long view" (such as The Netherlands) will nurture their resources more carefully. Its no accident that the most striking design at Expo 2000 was the Dutch pavilion. They have, in effect, designed their whole country.

William DeJong: I would agree with Bruce in that space needs to be designed to support the various forms of learning that need to occur.  However, your question regarding the size of the spaces and the use of corridors raises an interesting question.  The United States has a very unique and often inhibiting set of building codes.  Zoning laws prohibit apartment units and a school to be in the same building and likewise forces single purpose spaces.  Storage and computers in a corridor is a fire marshal's pet peeve (and at times correctly so).  Also, the restrictive exiting requirements have been detrimental to more open spaces.  We need a much more holistic approach.  We need to review some of these barriers; there are other ways to address safety issues.  I'm not an architect, but in many ways codes are driving design.
       If you have a classroom that is 600 to 700 square feet and are using the corridor for storage and computers, you, in essence, are using 900 to1000 square feet of space.

Q Prakash Nair: Do you subscribe to the traditional notion of learning as a conscious, independent activity or do you believe that learning is really a "byproduct" or an accidental outcome of some other primary activity?

Bruce Jilk: First I need to adjust the question. Learning can be a conscious activity but not independent. Learning always has context, even if we focus on what goes on in the mind. Also the learning that goes on in the traditional classroom is mostly a byproduct of teaching but not necessarily accidental. So I think the question is: Is learning a conscious activity or experiential? I would clearly say it is both.

Q Prakash Nair: If the latter is true, do you believe that our schools, which are set up as primary "learning places," miss the mark altogether? In other words, have schools and school facilities, as we know them become anachronisms in modern society or will they remain viable in the future with some periodic tweaking?

Bruce Jilk: As I've said earlier, schools in modern society are teaching environments and as places to teach they hit the mark quite well. I've framed the discussion around the terms industrial society and knowledge society. This question frames the discussion around the terms modern society and, by implication, postmodern society. It will be constructive if we follow the latter terminology for a moment.
       The postmodern concept includes the modern within it; it does not cast it out. It is the modern world plus something more. And this is my point about schools. We will still have some traditional schools (which will be forever "tweaked") plus something more. Traditional schools will become only one of many choices, not the only or even the primary option.

Q Arnie Glassberg: What role can an architect play in helping school boards move to an understanding of the importance of school design to learning?
       
Bruce Jilk
: First school boards (and state governments) need to understand they are in the learning business, not the teaching business. I know I'm repeating myself, but this goes to the basic problem. Remember what happened to the railroads in the US? They thought they were in the railroad business (not the transportation business). The decisions they made came from this perspective, were self-serving and, as a result, they ended up mostly out of business. Likewise, school boards (and teacher unions, textbook printers, school architects, etc.) need to stop making self-serving actions and behave in the interest of a learning society. Just as railroads did not go away, schools and school boards will not go away. However, just as railroads have competitors and a smaller market share, so will public school systems. Architects will be of no help until they locate themselves in the learning society. I doubt this will happen before their clients, the school systems, make this shift.

Q Arnie Glassberg: How can an architect, as an outside party, highlight the importance of carefully examining instructional practices (and their lack of success so far) before beginning design?
       
Bruce Jilk:
We need to move very carefully here. Architects are not skilled in pedagogy. In the 1960s and 1970s architects seemed to be taking the lead in school design and "got ahead" of the educators. Although many good ideas came out of this, so did many perceived failures. Ever since, school architects are suspect. Many of the '60s and '70s architects are retired or dead, and because there was more than a decade when very few schools were built in the U.S., we now have a "service corps" that lacks this experience and is therefore ready to repeat it.
       On the other hand, as we move into the knowledge era, society is shifting its values. One of these shifts is from valuing products not only for their intrinsic qualities, but also for their symbolic qualities ( Nike shoes). Creativity is basic to nurturing symbolic quality and creativity is inherent in architectural education. Architects can contribute to the discussion on instructional practice from this perspective. Until schools of education develop a strong component of creativity in their curriculum, architects may be the best resource.

William DeJong: Architects can be very constructive in helping school boards move to an understanding of the importance of school design to learning.  But we need to be very careful here.  Is the architect telling the client what learning should take place or how students should learn?  That should be the client's job.  The architect should be providing design solutions to meet the objectives established by the client.  In the later context it would be very appropriate for the architect to assume the role of providing information to the client on how this might be accomplished from a design perspective.
       Many times the school board has not built a building in many years and may not be knowledgeable about all of the new design ideas and how they might impact learning.  But I would suggest the architect be very careful not to assume the client's role and responsibility.
       A collaborative planning and design approach usually provides the school board and the architect with the best of both worlds.
       I would agree with Bruce's caution.  Even when the architect has more knowledge than the client, the educator is still the client.  You should find ways to enlighten the client but in the final analysis it is their decision.

Q Andy Simpson: Knowing that new models are difficult at best to implement given constraints of facilities management, staff reluctance, local politics and others, what is your best advice to educational leadership (superintendents, board members and instructors) for navigating the current watershed?
      

Bruce Jilk:
First I would advise people buy into and follow a comprehensive process. I typically use the "Design Down" process,[10]  but there are others. In addition: 1) be clear about the true purpose of the endeavor; 2) involve representatives of all stakeholders; 3) begin with the needs and expectations of the larger community; 4) agree on what is special about the project; and 5) be honest about the learner expectations. Everyone has ownership (not just the superintendent or architect) and you can never communicate enough. Learn about other programs by visiting them. Although it is a poor substitute, if you cannot make the visits, have representatives from those programs come and visit the design/planning team. Next, this effort needs leadership (which can come from anywhere but is best if it comes from the school system) and skilled facilitation (which can also come from anywhere but is best if it comes from outside the school system). Finally, it is essential that everyone make decisions around what is best for the child/learner. Watch out for statements such as: “The school board won't approve,” “The superintendent's job is at stake,” or “This is outside the union agreement.” None of these are in the primary interest of the child.

William DeJong: I couldn't agree with Bruce more.  A participatory process is essential.  There are a number of good techniques to accomplish this.  We use what we call a "planning lab" approach.  It is a multiday, interdisciplinary approach and involves a broad based group of stakeholders.  Too often I have seen projects become the sum of the parts.  I believe projects need to be developed from the whole to the parts and back to the whole.  It also needs to focus on the future and not planning in the rearview mirror.  This doesn't mean that we can't learn things from the past but it needs to be focused on learning, students and the future.  I believe with the right process it doesn't take long to break the mold, but it can't be done by just having meetings with teachers once a week for an hour after school.


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