Plans to Pedagogy: Research in Action – The Morison Centre and The Ridge @ Radford College

Published: Wednesday 20 April 2022

Thursday, 31 March 2022 – With 88 registered attendees for this event, it is safe to say that third time is definitely a charm for ACT LEA Chapter’s event held online with Radford College.  After COVID unfortunately interrupted earlier plans for an in-person event at the school during 2020 and 2021, we were finally able to hear from Radford College and its stakeholders on the school’s fascinating journey of participating in a research program based around the spatial design and use of innovative learning environments, incorporating this process with the design, fit-out and use of its new secondary school building, the ‘Morison Centre’.  Attendees were also intrigued to hear about how the school designed the learning environments for younger students in the construction of its new junior school building, ‘The Ridge’.

Dr Marian Mahat, University of Melbourne Senior Research Fellow, Learning Environments and Applied Research Network (LEaRN), explained the ‘Plans 2 Pedagogy’ (P2P) research program, which was intended to run for a period of three years and sought to ascertain “How can school leaders and teachers effectively engage in the design, development and use of innovative learning environments? “[1].  The study partnered 11 schools with LEaRN academics to design the most appropriate spatial interventions for each school’s needs, and then assisted schools with implementing these interventions by building competency in teachers and students to use the new spaces for their intended outcomes.

In the first phase of the research program, Radford refurbished two prototype classrooms for multi-modal learning with flexible furniture.  After pre-phase 1 teacher and student surveys were conducted and baseline observations noted, the first intervention of refurbishment and new furniture installation was completed, and teachers and students were observed while using the space and furniture.  The second intervention was then initiated, whereby learning workshops were offered on how best to use the space and furniture in the classroom effectively, depending on pedagogical activity. Further observations were noted and post-phase 1 teacher and student surveys were completed.  

The second phase of the research program incorporated team teaching along with flexible furniture in the secondary classrooms of the Morison Centre, with similar surveys and observations.  It was interesting to hear the observed outcomes thus far of the study with respect to Radford’s experience demonstrating that innovative design should also include learning practices in order to facilitate the best use of these spaces for maximising learning outcomes.

Attendees heard from Fiona Godfrey, Principal of Radford College, on the challenges faced by the school upon her arrival in 2014, and how the school subsequently came to be involved in the P2P program by chance after hearing about the program through the Anglican Church Grammar School in Brisbane.  At the time, Radford College had reached enrolment capacity and held long waiting lists, while facing a reduction in federal government funding within the next few years. Asking the question “how big does the school want to be?”, it was considered the time was right to increase enrolments (ultimately by 450 students or 25%) and expand its curriculum offering to include the International Baccalaureate (IB), a Dance Academy and major expansion of co-curricular activities.  

To facilitate this increase in enrolments and expanded curriculum, the school needed new classrooms and office space.  It went out to tender to change architects for the first time since the 1980s, engaging Marcus Graham of Stewart Architecture. Announcing to the school community that it would be embarking on a new masterplan, the school subsequently introduced an additional 18 classes between 2018-2021 with the construction of the Morison Centre and The Ridge.  

Louise Wallace Richards, Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning at Radford College, and Lisa Plenty, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, were appointed as lead liaison for the school in the P2P research program and gave attendees some insight into implementation of the innovative learning environments from the perspective of educators within the school.  

A significant upgrade from the original 80s buildings with noise issues, Louise and Lisa outlined how the new spaces and movable furniture were more effective at engaging students as learners, helping them to be the agents of their own learning when they were actively involved in the arrangement of the rooms.  It was discussed that the spaces offer students more opportunity for deep learning and experiential practice through the flexible use of the spaces.  In this regard, they described learning the importance of making sure that teachers understood how to use the spaces effectively through professional learning, and the implementation of a Community of Practice at the school. 

Building on from the P2P research program, the school is now in its second year of collaborating with the University of Canberra to work through further strategies for using the spaces and furniture in the promotion of ‘self-regulated learning’, which is important for getting students ready and in the right mode for learning.

Lastly, but certainly not least, attendees were enthused to hear from Marcus Graham, Practice Principal of Stewart Architecture.  Marcus spoke about the topographical challenges of the 18.5 hectare Radford College site in Bruce, ACT, and how they have sought to improve pedestrian access and evolve the aesthetic of the school over the past six years to meet the requirements of the next generation and improve sustainability.  In this regard, the master plan designed in partnership with the school promotes a pedestrian dominated site by relocating all parking to the surrounds of the school, creating three level terraces to link key spaces within the campus for equitable and inclusive movement, and provides logic for the position of new buildings while respecting and accentuating the bushland backdrop and available parkland.

Set out over two levels and strategically designed to allow for future expansion, the Morison Centre adjoins the school’s Mackinnon building and makes use of shared amenities.  Sustainability features in the north facing building include a solar passive design with glazed windows, angled columns and external shade to shelter from afternoon sun.  Cut out excavated material was re-used in the landscaping of ‘The Commons’.  Floors are polished concrete, and durable timbers were used throughout to provide warmth and foster a university-like feel that assists with the transition of secondary students into tertiary education.  The building has generous circulation and many options for open learning, with the upper level floor area including suspended acoustic panels and able to open up to 600m2 of space.  The upper level opens out to a terrace which overlooks The Commons lawns, and includes raked ceilings for increased ventilation.

The Ridge junior school building was constructed over three levels, using signature red brick that ties in with existing buildings at the school.  The building is orientated for morning sun, and includes operable walls for functional and flexible teaching spaces that are highly transparent.  Floors and ceiling make use of colours and lines, and the design comfortably invites integration of the internal with the external environment.  The external environment includes bleacher seating in the quad, and an adventure playground.

ACT LEA Chapter thanks Radford College, Dr Marian Mahat and Mr Marcus Graham for their time and insight into the P2P research program, pedagogical changes implemented and recent building works at the Radford College campus.

Further information on the P2P program can be found here and here.

Submitted by: Tara O’Keefe

Photo supplied by Stewart Architecture.