Highlights and revelations from The 3 Rs in the Exponential Age

Published: Wednesday 27 June 2018

Our 18th annual conference was the best yet! Almost 600 people united to share, shape and challenge learning environments of the past, present and future. Curated by the NSW Chapter and MC'd by Adam Spencer, the three and a half day event provided plenty of highlights.


Welcome to Country
Auntie Anna provided the Welcome to Country from the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land. More than just a welcome, she also spoke of some of the issues affecting her community. New Zealand has been occupied by people for less than 1000 years, so it was fascinating to hear Auntie Anna speak of Aboriginal teaching methods, both oral and practical that have passed her people’s knowledge down through the generations for tens of thousands of years. 

by Murray Robertson


Honourable Rob Stokes, NSW Minister for Education
Rob Stokes opened the conference with an interesting overview of what was happening in NSW. NSW is looking at a community interactive model, where education, care and health services are co-located. It was nice to see a politician committed to the future, and acknowledging current research and best practice in pedagogical development as a driver of good architectural design. He discussed the need for education spaces to be flexible and look to the future, believing that we can be shaped by our environment.
Believing that we can be shaped by our environments, Rob Stokes had three key pleas to be considered:
•    School buildings need to deal better with an increasingly warm climate, where they are spending more each year on the cost of active cooling.
•    Flexible building that can look forward and adapt over time to different pedagogies.
•    Schools need to be more inclusive for the lifelong learning of the whole community, more permeable with shared spaces rather than being segregated behind fences.

by Dani Martin and Murray Robertson


Pasi Sahlberg
If we follow the crowd and don’t stop to think for ourselves, we get it wrong. We need time to stop and think about where we’re going – is it the right way or the crowds way?
The 2018 Learning Environments Australasia conference was headlined by the Finish educator, author and scholar, Professor Pasi Sahlberg. With a focus onLEA2018_Pasi Sahlberg_105 redesigning education systems, Pasi imparted key lessons on what shouldn’t drive policy, fake news and the secrets of success.

What not to do
There are policy drivers for education that we should avoid. For one, we cannot run education systems like marketplaces or companies. There is no evidence competition works as a system driver for all. We need choices to suit everyone, a system that allows creativity. When we have teaching and learning standards it is hard to find the space for good learning.
More test-based accountability leads to the wrong type of thinking. We must also be careful not to build school leadership teams through de-professionalisation. It is critical teachers have professional backgrounds to build successful teaching and leadership teams in schools.

What to do?
We need fair and needs-based funding, a focus on wellbeing and whole of child development.
Collecting ‘small data’ from observations, conservations and relationships is a valuable learning tool. These tiny human-centric clues reveal causations where ‘big data’ reveals correlations.

The main challenge for improving education is not just about teachers or children. It is how we create collaborative cultures that empower our schools. We must trust in the ability of schools to decide what works.

by Bella Bower

The 2018 Mayfield Project
This year’s Mayfielders concentrated on the confluence of schools and community, encouraging a curiosity mindset in all learners. As mere strangers two months ago they embarked on a serious and intense workshop with NoTosh after researching how teachers learn. Through sharing their research, thoughts and insights over three days, the group realised – Everyone Is A Learner. But learners generally learn independently – teachers learn independently of students, business managers learn independently of teachers, the community learns independently of schools…

What if we could see the common threads between what people are learning, and what people know about, and bring them together? How could we encourage a community of curiosity amongst all learners? What might these places of connection look like?

The group came up with two possible solutions – A Map of Curiosity, linking learners and learnees, and A Place of Curiosity, where learning groups come together to share, encourage and evolve. I liked that the Mayfielders involved a group of young school students to come up with innovative ways for linking community and school (like ‘make shoes out of a map to get here’ or ‘make a running game’). The project also worked in with Gonski 2.0, aiming to put children at the centre of learning, and encourage an evolving education system. The presentation was great and it was so good to see so many enthusiastic and committed young practitioners up on the stage, talking about the changes that will be taking place in their time.

by Dani Martin


Jordan Nguyen
Jordan Nguyen was one of the highlights of the conference. It was even more remarkable considering he was a late replacement for Richard Gill. Jordan’s talk had two remarkable threads. The first was Jordan’s own story. Echoing some of the comments from Claire Madden’s talk, Jordan was lacking direction until he found his sense of purpose. An accident leads him to consider a life with disability. Through this life defining moment, he found his “why”, to improve the life of people with disabilities.

A series of examples then illustrated the ability to use technology to change people’s life’s, the emotional human side from the use of technology and some of the possibilities that kids growing up now with access to technology can achieved. It opened my eyes to the extent that technology can change us. I was impressed with his focus on developing technology that is accessible, achieving more with low cost components. People often think I should be using some new robot leg reported on the news, when in reality there is no funding for half million-dollar prosthetics.

An example of changing someone’s life, was the creation of a vehicle that Riley, a boy with cerebral palsy could drive with eye movement. Through Riley’s extraordinary concentration and determination, he was able to drive the car through an obstacle course. He was able to control involuntary movements, they had been told couldn’t be stopped.

The emotional human issues with technology was illustrated by the creation of a virtual avatar of an elderly Italian man that could interact in virtual reality with his wife. What will this be like to do this when he is no longer there? It might be wonderful for a grandson that never knew him, but difficult for those that did, a virtual ghost.

by Murray Robertson


Claire Madden
Claire Madden is a social researcher that has written extensively on the Gen Z, the generation that followed Millennials and has just started to reach adulthood. She has recently completed a comprehensive study on how future learners will study, acquire and use knowledge.

When asked what they wanted to do with their future, most students answered that they wanted to do something they liked, and they wanted to make a difference to the world. Looking back as to how I would have answered that question in high school all those years ago, I don’t think my answer would have been much different. But the way they are striving towards those goals is different. Why do they need to memorise dates and places when they can ‘just Google it’? Why do they get shown directorial leadership models in the classroom, when their workplaces will require then to be collaborative, agile and engage.

There’s also the significant impact of being the first generation to grow up with the smartphone. Most of the students Claire talked to, spoke of the new online communities they had to be a part of, and how that was changing their language and understanding of friendships. But interestingly, most acknowledged that they didn’t like it – they yearned for the days they could be outside, playing with friends, and not feel the pressure of missing out if they weren’t online. That was an interesting perspective: that people always involved in digital communities, didn’t necessarily want to be there.

Trading the depth of relationships for breadth generates mental health issues that we need to better understand. Now more than ever, there is a need to create spaces with a sense of community and belonging that provide face to face interaction.

by Dani Martin and Murray Robertson



Peter Hutton
The last speaker brought the conference full circle from Pasi’s talk on day 1. Peter, who had consulted with Pasi Sahlberg, was the principal that oversaw a transformation of Templestowe College in Victoria. With an almost military zeal, Peter made a revolutionary call to arms to transform the education system from the bottom up rather than top down.

Templestowe College has taken on some common challenges through their strategic planning, and are doing some really interesting things. As Peter noted: ‘students have far more capacity than we give them credit for.’

What stood out was the extent of student agency developed at Templestowe. Students and teachers are equal, with everyone being on a first name basis. Spaces are curated by the students.

Every request for new ideas, either put forward by a student or staff, has to be responded to with “yes”. Every student has an Individual Learning Plan, written by the students, so the students are in charge of their own learning. 10% of students are employed in running the school as sports coaches, gardeners, in-office administration and interviewing all new staff.

Students are also encouraged to have on-site start-up businesses which is manifest in graphic design, clothing production, skateboard creation and even snake breeding companies. In fact, over 80 businesses are in operation by students. The skills these students are learning are designed to support creativity, collaboration and problem solving, and encourage lifelong learning.

by Dani Martin and Murray Robertson


See you in Perth for the 19th annual conference, Transformance
As an architect we don’t just learn about buildings – there is so much more to creating space than that. To anyone who has children in an education system, and anyone who is interested in education, the future and technology, I encourage you to attend our events. Next year the regional conference is going to be in Perth, and we intend to have just as insightful speakers. Hope to see you at an LEA event soon!

by Dani Martin


Check out The 3 Rs tour reports and the winners of our 11th Awards for Excellence in Educational Facilities

Thank you to our conference coverage contributors:

Dani Martin, WA Chapter Chair - read Dani’s full conference blog
Murray Robertson, NZ Chapter Chair - read Murray’s full conference blog
Bella Bower, ViC Chapter Committee – read about Bella’s work with LEaRN

Article photos: Peter Doddrell

Gallery photos: Peter Doddrell, Matt Esterman, Dani Martin, Daniel Smith