Making sense of Teaching and Learning: The Great Learning Environments Debate

Published: Monday 21 May 2018

The Victorian Chapter's experiment with a learning environments debate produced the biggest Chapter event in LEA's history - and challenged some fundamental ideas about our education system.

The event was set in a pedagogically fitting space, the Arts West Forum Theatre, which was the Overall Winner of the 2017 Learning Environments Australasia Awards for Excellence in Educational Facilities.

Over 140 guests came to watch as two teams of three battled out whether ‘Future Schools should be built for the purpose of learning rather than teaching’. The evening was hosted by Honorary Enterprise Professor Maxine McKew, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, and adjudicated by three representatives of the Melbourne University Debaters Society (MUDS).

The bar was set high from the start by talented Albert Park College student, Eloisa Moses-McMahon for the affirmative team. Eloisa advocated for student self-learning as enabled by information rich technologies:

“This revolution has reached a crescendo… technology, but in particular the internet and all its derivatives has transformed the way people source information and therefore learn. Information technology platforms are so powerful that people can construct their own education system and develop their own self-paced learning program if they so desire.”

Rising to the challenge, Wayne Hay of Baldasso Cortese spoke on how innovative learning environments enhance teaching:

“We are pro-teaching and by extension pro-teachers. As we will show, teaching and teachers are required in most settings for learning to occur. We believe that Innovative Learning Environments are the future of school design. These environments do not diminish the role of teachers. In fact, they enhance the need for teaching.”

Wayne snuck in evidence in the form of a quote from the PhD thesis of his opposition, Scott Alterator of LaTrobe University. We were treated to an animated and theatrical response from Scott, demanding:

“...death to the classroom; long live the classroom.”

The battle changed pace as Deb Cordingley of the Department of Education and Training took centre stage. Deb asked that teachers no longer be vilified by advocating for a cognitive-apprenticeship approach to teaching:

“Our team’s position of open-plan teaching is not semantics; we advocate for future classrooms to be built for good teaching; a paradigm shift to include the moral purpose of good teachers to produce good teaching experiences. Our preferred model is the cognitive apprenticeship as espoused by John Abbot. A cognitive apprenticeship allows teachers to model a range of relevant and effective pedagogies (Gardner, DeBono, Vgostsky, Hattie and the like) at the point of student need.” 

As the audience pondered Deb’s philosophical perspective, Hamish Curry of the Asia Link Institute at The University of Melbourne used sound reasoning to summarise the affirmative team’s argument in spectacular grace. As we closed the book for the Negative team, Oscar Pearce of Albert Park College had the final say concluding with his own need for teacher guidance and called out the affirmative team’s use of “Trump-like drama”.

As Maxine thanked the speakers and provided insights, suspense built in the room as the adjudicators left to make the final judgement call. Chatter built in the audience with little consensus on which team deserved the winning title due to the high calibre and distinct style of each speaker.

The verdict came in and the Negative team (‘pro-teaching, not anti-learning’) won for their logical arguments and impeccable manner. The best speaker was awarded to Deb Cordingley, the second speaker of the Negative team.

As the crowd left the theatre there was a sense of excitement and enthusiasm in the air.  It was reminiscent of the atmosphere created by the 2016 Mayfield project, which provided a platform to challenge and test ideas in a small group of people passionate about creating better learning environments. Congratulations to all involved, our excellent host, adjudicators and of course debaters! It was a GREAT debate.

Article: Bella Bower
Photos: Sherman Tan