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Why Classroom Environments Have a Big Impact on Student Learning

Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand recently posted a research about the impact of learning environments on student performance. In the article, the concept of ‘better classrooms’ is described as “buildings where the indoor conditions promote the comfort, health and wellbeing of students and teachers.” One key insight is that student performance can completely change when the classroom conditions are not appropriate. Factors such as lighting, temperature, noise levels and ventilation need to be a primary consideration when it comes to the design of classrooms.

My PhD research, under the supervision of Associate Professor Michael Donn and Dr Geoff Thomas from the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, shows how electronic monitoring devices that simultaneously measure lighting, temperature, relative humidity, sound and carbon dioxide levels can provide data-driven insights for designing and maintaining better school buildings”, says Dr Aniebietabasi Ackley, PhD graduate of the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

The research was also supported by the Ministry of Education. This entity helped provide programmes that electronically monitor environmental conditions in schools. The information collected helped to drive design decisions in order to “create more stable, predictable and reliable indoor environments”.

The ‘teacher effect’ has been proved to be a strong factor that modifies students' performance, but experts say that there is plenty of evidence of the same strong influence of indoor environmental quality.

“In general, people are largely unaware of the impact of poor indoor environmental quality (IEQ). As part of our study, we discussed with one primary school class and their teacher the effect of carbon dioxide on concentration levels. The students identified that often carbon dioxide levels on the electronic monitoring device we provided increased quickly when the windows were closed, but as they opened the windows the levels decreased significantly. The students found it difficult to persuade a teacher to keep the windows open on a cold winter day. This suggests an awareness of managing these environmental factors can promote better classrooms. It also demonstrates the value of electronic monitoring device information on building performance, with signals to open windows, lower blinds and turn on lights when measurements fall outside the range of adequate conditions”.

The research also proves that good indoor environmental quality can reduce operating costs from energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At MKThink we are also looking at how learning environments can adapt to our evolving needs over time and how those spaces are designed considering factors such as wellbeing and safety. At Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, CA, we re-organized the entire campus plan to be centered around "making and creativity" with a Maker's HUB, amphitheater and outdoor exploration area located at the center of the school. These spaces signal to students the importance leadership and faculty have places on these activities. What ideas do you have for your spaces?


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