eXperience Asia Day 2 Highlights

Published: Monday 31 July 2017

What better place to start Day 2 than in the Learning Experience Transforming Lives session.

Faye Yung from Project Little Dream explained their work in Cambodia providing libraries and school books to local schools to encourage more students to stay in school. Having only completed three buildings, the programme is still in its infancy. However, its aims to have schools act as the agent for change within their community and increase the local language literacy of village students is already paying dividends in community change. The group is now working on assessing their successes through a Functional Learning Assessment Task (FLAT) in association with The Open University of Hong Kong, to ensure their future endeavours are working within a rigorous educational framework.

Linked with Yung’s talk was Mechai Viraraidya on the Mechai Bamboo School in Thailand, a boarding school with a unique learning curriculum where students not only undertake standardised curriculum learning, but also horticulture, hospitality, retail, governance and business through real-world projects. The school’s aims are to create ‘good citizens who are honest and willing to share.’ Initiatives undertaken to achieve this aim include that the students do not eat on Monday so they understand hunger, each student spends a day every month in a wheelchair to understand accessibility and differing perspectives, schools fees are paid through 400 hours per student of community service and tree planting. Students are also the governing body of the school, responsible for all decisions including purchasing of food and supplies, auditing of systems and interviewing and employment of staff. The school has been a great success, changing the students not just academically but also attitudinally, and given many poor village students the prospect of attending university, which would have been otherwise out of reach.

From grassroots community engagement to high use technology in industry, the second session of the community strand featured Veerappan Swaminathan of Sustainable Living Lab Maker Education and Gan Hup Tan of Singapore Management University. Swaminathan spoke on the links between science, technology, art and culture as students adjust to living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. Despite the increasing role of technology in our everyday lives, there is now a renewed swing against this trend towards craftsmanship, self-actualisation and seeking meaning through physical work. Using technology as a tool to contribute and collaborate in these endeavours has led to an increase in maker spaces – both physical and digital – where users can learn from each other and nurture lifelong learning among peers.

The SMU-X spaces at Singapore Management University presented by Tan work on a similar model of collaboration, linking university students with not only their peers, but also industry partners to solve real-world problems. The students were heavily involved in the design of the space as co-creators of their learning environment, which has led to ownership of the spaces. So amongst the booths and meeting spaces, there are safe spaces, nap zones and technological withdrawal rooms. The space has since changed the pedagogy with an understanding that the changing workforce needs students with a changing mindset. Both these sessions, integrating collaboration, open sharing through technology and industry partnerships provided valuable lessons on the changing future of education, and the needs of space to change with it.

Following a quick lunch with our sponsors I heard from Louise Browne and Andrew Cortese of Grimshaw on the Arthur Phillip High School and Parramatta Public School, Australia’s first high rise educational facility. The logistics of building up to 17 storeys high for 12-18 year old students was quite astounding. As the high school is planned to accommodate 2000 students and the primary school 1000 students, creating a sense of safety and community within the large shell was overcome by breaking the design into smaller groupings of 330 students with a variety of spaces to reduce the requirement for student movement. Connected learning environments with adjacent external spaces at each level further break down the space, while also allowing for future adaptability to reconfigure the spaces as needed. Coming from a Perth perspective with no comparable school sites of that magnitude, it was interesting to see how Grimshaw have risen to the challenges presented by such a large multi-storey learning space within a high-growth urban area and created a mix of learning settings for flexibility and difference.

My final workshop of the day was run by Scott Alterator and Craig Deed of La Trobe University and focussed on the Architectural Language of Contemporary Design in Education. Through this workshop we looked to understand the powerful meaning of the language we use when talking about learning space and how that impacts designers, users, staff and students. There is often a disconnect as words can have shared or hidden meanings and often metaphors on space can mean different things to different people. We found this even within our small groups as we focused on simple words like ‘texture’ and what they meant to the different people around our table. This was something we could all learn a lot from but unfortunately ran out of time in the session, but I’m sure the work complied by the organisers out of this workshop will be very interesting.

As always, the Conference Dinner was a delight, with fantastic music students Angklung providing entertainment, even whilst trying to organise some of our delegates into hitting the right notes. The 10th Annual Regional Awards ceremony was a great success with what appeared to be a large variety of different projects across all the categories. It is always heartening to see the different work we are all doing and the changing nature of learning spaces throughout the region. Well done to all award entrants, and of course the winners.  The dinner was a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new friends in such a beautiful setting and hopefully everyone enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate our region with stories, laughter and fantastic food.

Check out Day 1 and Day 3 highlights.

Dani Martin, WA Chapter Chair

Photos by Derek Bartels, Bella Bower, Scott Duncan, Raechel French, Anne Knock, Fiona Young.