The OECD’s 21st Century Learning Environments (2006), stated that:
Quality design can inspire students to learn and teachers to teach, and can have a positive effect on the local community and environment (p. 47).
Regardless of whether a facility is renovated or newly built, a school designed to meet the needs of its users (this includes the community) in the 21st century should according to Patel (2006) be based around the following themes:
• Facilities should be flexible, adaptable and relocatable, incorporating a range of spaces, such as clusters of classrooms, which are responsive to future changes, including ICT.
• Facilities should provide social spaces and informal study areas. School design should maximise circulation while avoiding long, narrow corridors. The heart of a school can be created through design, with open access learning areas, attractive dining and toilet areas, and breakout spaces for small groups.
• Buildings and the surrounding landscape should be inspirational, capturing the imagination and demanding the respect of the community it serves.
• Design should be inclusive and accessible for both students with special needs and the school community, inside and outside school hours.
• Design should use innovative ideas to maximise the comfort and sustainability of school facilities, through effective use of energy, natural daylight, ventilation, acoustics and sustainable materials.
Governments in Australia and New Zealand responded developing advice for schools such as the New Zealand Ministry of Education “Designing Quality Learning Spaces” published in 2007 http://www.minedu.govt.nz/~/media/MinEdu/Files/EducationSectors/PrimarySecondary/PropertyToolbox/ModernLearning/AcousticsGuide.pdf
and the Victorian Government’s “Building Schools in the 21st Century” published in 2009.
Australian and New Zealand Schools responded with the development of a range of new and innovative learning spaces. However sometimes these new spaces have been pedagogically challenging for teachers particularly where schools have removed the walls of existing classrooms without recognising the change in acoustics, which research has shown is very important for effective student learning.
There has been considerable research regarding the impact of hearing loss on learning
In their report “Sound-field Amplification: Enhancing the Classroom Listening Environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children ”Masie, Theodoros, Mcpherson and Smaldino stated that the goal of classroom instruction is comprehension. However, for speech to be comprehended, the child must be able to hear well enough to discriminate the word sound distinctions of individual phonemes. Normal hearing for children is now considered to be 15 decibels hearing level (dB HL) or better at all frequencies, and with normal middle ear function (Northern & Downs,2002). A slight hearing loss extends from 16 to 25 dB HL.
Studies have indicated there are significant numbers of children with this degree of unidentified hearing loss in every school, many as a result of middle ear problems (Flexer, 1992). Unfortunately, the term “slight hearing loss” erroneously implies that the loss has little consequence. This is not the case. The high prevalence of early onset, long-term middle ear disease and consequent hearing loss amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children has been well documented (McPherson, 1990; Nienhuys et al., 1994).Australian studies have indicated that 50% to 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school children have sufficient middle-ear related hearing loss to adversely affect classroom performance (Nienhuys, 1994).
In addition to hearing problems, the combination of excessive noise and reverberant classrooms contributes to the difficulties faced by all school children in understanding the teacher’s verbal instruction.
Sound-field amplification is an educational tool that allows control of the acoustic environment in a classroom. Teachers wear small microphones that transmit sound to a receiver system attached to loudspeakers around the classroom. The goal of sound-field amplification is to amplify the teacher’s voice by a few decibels and to provide uniform amplification throughout the classroom without making speech too loud for normal hearing children.”
The report discussed “ the major findings of a study which investigated the effects of sound-field amplification intervention on the communication naturally occurring in the classrooms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Sixty-seven percent of the children began the field trials with a slight hearing loss. The results confirmed the extremely noisy and reverberant conditions in which teachers and children are operating on a daily basis. The findings indicated that sound-field amplification intervention encouraged the children to interact with teachers and peers in a proactive way. Teachers identified voice-related factors to be a major personal benefit of the systems.
New Zealand Ministry of Education’s document “Designing Quality Learning Spaces” advises schools to use sound amplification systems when:
• the teacher’s voice is not strong enough to achieve a satisfactory voice-to-background ratio .
• the class has students:
– with hearing impairments
– for whom English is a second language
– with learning difficulties.
It describes the advantages of sound amplification systems are:
• at the flick of a switch signal-to sound ratios are improved
• the teacher can be heard from anywhere
• the teacher’s voice is less stressed
• students’ on-task behaviour and comprehension may be improved.”
Whilst we often consider the importance of visual displays especially with the focus on BYOD and 1:1 tablet or laptop environments it is important to remember that other significant sense “sound”.
FrontRow Juno : Advanced Classroom Communication is an excellent solution for school’s to ensure that teachers and students can be heard in the digital learning spaces they create . To learn more go to: