The summary below presents the research evidence on physical environment in the Australasian context.
The Teaching & Learning Toolkit focuses on impact; it presents an estimate of the average impact of physical environment on learning progress, based on the synthesis of a large number of quantitative studies from around the world.
This page offers a summary and analysis of individual Australasian studies on physical environment. In contrast to the Toolkit it includes studies which do not estimate impact, but instead investigate the implementation of interventions and how they are perceived by school leaders, teachers and students. This information is valuable for school leaders and teachers interested in finding out more about particular examples of physical environment interventions that have been delivered in Australia and New Zealand.
Melbourne Graduate School of Education generated this summary and it is current for June 2016.
Summary of Australasian Research
The physical environment encompasses changing the physical learning environment, either by moving to a new school building; or seeking to improve the design, air quality, noise, light, or temperature of an existing building.
Overall, there is a dearth of published, post-2008 studies that examine the relationship between the physical classroom environment and student achievement. The studies on physical environments in Australian schools included in this review focus on quality of classrooms, working in open working spaces, outdoor working spaces, and the use of audio assistance within the classroom.
One Australian systematic review of designed physical learning spaces and student outcomes found that incorporating teacher opinion into the design of a classroom aids in teacher motivation and innovative usage of space; however, the link between such spaces and student outcomes remained inconclusive (Blackmore, Bateman, Loughlin, O’Mara & Aranda, 2011). A correlationary study between academic results and the physical classroom environment, across eight countries, found that the impact of small physical environment changes on student achievement was greater in lower socio-economic areas compared to areas where the quality of the classroom was already significantly above average (Hopland, 2013). Hopland’s (2013) study found mixed results for Australia; it was not clear whether there was a relationship between classroom quality and student achievement outcomes.
Open-plan classrooms are a relatively new concept, aimed at promoting teaching and learning collaboration and innovation. Knock (2012) examined two schools that had incorporated open-plan classroom designs (e.g. whiteboard walls) into their existing classrooms. Overall, 180 students (Years 5-6) and six teachers used the remodelled spaces. Qualitative data revealed that both students and teachers generally viewed the spaces positively, and teachers felt they were better able to collaborate. Saltmarsh, Chapman, Campbell and Drew (2015) also examined open-plan classrooms for primary school students and found greater willingness among teachers for experimentation and innovation as well as co-learning between teachers and students. Nevertheless, they also highlighted the lack of evaluative research into classroom design.
Wilson, Marinac, Pitty and Burrows (2011) conducted a one-year study in two primary schools in Brisbane, to determine whether classroom sound amplifying devices improved student learning. There was one control class and one experimental class in each school (N=147). The Sound-Field Amplification (SFA) devices contributed to small but significant improvements in student listening (p < .01) and auditory analysis (p < .05) skills, but only in the school where classrooms were in a brick building. Requirements for successful use of SFA devices include teacher training and classrooms built from sufficiently soundproof material. The researchers suggest SFA devices as a good intervention for younger students of mixed abilities. The study also highlighted the importance of lesson management and audibility.
Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., Aranda, G. (2011). Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes. East Melbourne, VIC: Dept of Education and Early Childhood Development. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30036968
Hopland, A. O. (2013). School Facilities and Student Achievement in Industrial Countries: Evidence from the TIMSS. International Education Studies,6(3), 162-171.
Knock, A. (2012). The built environment: creating innovative learning spaces. Christian Teachers Journal,20(1), 12-14.
Wilson, W. J., Marinac, J., Pitty, K., & Burrows, K. (2011). The Use of Sound-Field Amplification Devices in Different Types of Classrooms.Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 42(4), 395-407.
Saltmarsh, S., Chapman, A., Campbell, M., & Drew, C. (2015). Putting "Structure within the Space": Spatially Un/Responsive Pedagogic Practices in Open-Plan Learning Environments. Educational Review, 67(3), 315-327.
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Classroom environment; Australia, New Zealand; Open-plan classrooms; outdoor teaching; physical environment; learning; achievement; school physical environment.