Next year, I will be heading to Melbourne, Australia to study school design and use as a Fulbright Post-Graduate Scholar. It has been a long process - I started my first application in June of 2014 and after not being selected on my first attempt, I tried again and found out I was a finalist in March of this year. Here's the scoop on me and what I will be studying:
I have spent the past three years as an educational planner at an architecture firm in Austin, Texas helping plan and design schools across the United States. I earned a B.E.D. in Architecture and a B.S. in Psychology from Texas A&M University (whoop!) and a Master’s in Human-Environment Relations from Cornell University (go big red!), focusing on Facility Planning and Management with a minor in Organizational Behavior. While in Melbourne, I will be researching the design and use of innovative schools throughout Australia with the Learning Environments Applied Research Network (LEaRN) at the University of Melbourne. There I will be collaborating with Drs. Wesley Imms and Ben Cleveland from LEaRN and with Richard Leonard of Hayball Architects as a research team member on the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change (ILE+TC) ARC Linkage Project.
Some background: Many schools I work with desire innovation and turn to their facilities as catalysts for change. However, we often see a disconnect between the vision of these facilities and their subsequent use and performance. This can result in missed learning opportunities for students and potential wasted capital investment.
Australian schools and designers experience a similar disconnect. There has recently been an unprecedented scale of innovative learning environment construction in Australia. This implementation was initiated to address the Melbourne Declaration in 2008 and the subsequent Building the Education Revolution (BER) program in 2010. The former called for a focus on the student-centered, active learning heralded to teach the collaborative and critical thinking skills sought by today’s employers. It has resulted in a significant, large-scale shift in the design of public schools. Part of this shift is the key linkage of all school stakeholders supported by the BER program’s emphasis on whole school change. Few, if any, other countries have seen a transformation mandate of this scale.
Further, while there are isolated examples of Australian educators leveraging these new designs to reinvent the learning experience, recent academic studies show many teachers appear to not change how they teach and many schools lack any academic improvement. The ILE+TC project aims to bridge this gap between the educational potential of innovative school designs and their actual performance. I will bring my expertise on this phenomenon in the US as I collaborate on the ILE+TC and hope to create an ongoing discussion between the two countries regarding school design, utilization, and organizational change.
My ultimate goal is to help expand the role of school architects and planners. The design process as it is, while engaging and collaborative, often only includes a small subset of the eventual users and only touches the physical structure, not the entire operational and organizational system it supports. This is especially troublesome when a school system hopes to deviate from the traditional models of teaching and learning and relies upon the building itself to create the shift. I see a new paradigm in which there is a strategic organizational alignment process integrated within design work to help school clients holistically realize their vision.
For more information about the Fulbright program, click here.