Reflecting on Connections: 2011 CEFPI Conference by Kathryn van Vugt
Leaving Perth, I looked forward to arriving in Sydney and attending the Connections Conference, but was unsure of what to expect. My experiences in educational spaces, as both a student and a teacher, coupled with research for my thesis have left me pondering several questions. At their core, these questions revolved around the idea of how can, or do schools and classrooms play an active role in teaching and learning, rather than just acting as a container of learning. Throughout my interactions at the Connections Conference it was reassuring to find that others were also grappling with this idea. The idea of contained learning was developed during the industrial era of the twentieth century and is embodied in the institution of the school. Consequently, the role of the traditional school was brought into question and from these discussions people expressed their ideas on how schools of the future may operate.
Charles Leadbeater theorised that many schools existing today are merely the remnants of ideas from the twentieth century. He suggests it is important that new schools and institutions of education embody the values and ideas of our current age and are not just established using the traditional idea of a school. So what are the products of the twenty-first century which should be embodied in educational practices and design? Leadbeater in his keynote address, revealed the importance of high systems and high empathy approaches as well as their flaws. Furthermore, Dr. Paul Brock advised of the importance of critical thought and Susan Stuebring suggests that we live in the age of meaning. There was a general consensus that networking and information technologies were at the core of the twenty-first century learning practises and design.
On the second day of the conference I attended site visits to Saint Mark’s Catholic College, Methodist Ladies College and Westmead Primary School. The site visits, together with the final keynote address by Barbara Stone, reinforced that active learning occurs when the learning practices and design outcomes are products of the current age. In my experience, from an educational perspective, I already valued the application of contemporary pedagogical approaches, though I struggled to envisage how designs, such as open planned classrooms or general learning areas, could support learning. Through the site visits to both St. Marks and Methodist Ladies College it became clear that these typologies were complementary to both current educational practices as well as products of the modern age. While Westmead Primary School reinforced traditional education practices, it was clear at all of the schools I visited that active learning also required the support of the school community. Despite extensive discussions regarding educational practices and design approaches to learning environments, Stone reminded us, that no matter what it ‘should always start with the child’.