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The pedagogical architecture of modern learning environments in four New Zealand secondary schools

The New Zealand Ministry of Education has committed significant resources to develop state-owned school buildings that are purposefully built with quality materials, embrace internet capable technology and contain large, flexible learning spaces. Schools and classrooms built in this manner have been referred to as modern learning environments (MLEs). The development of MLEs was to improve the quality of school property infrastructure and increase student achievement with learning environments that support 21ˢᵗ-century teaching and learning. Initially, there was quite specific guidance on building and design standards for MLEs, but there was limited guidance on how to change teaching and learning practices to match with the physical changes of learning environments. This thesis reports on qualitative multi-site research that explored teaching and learning in four New Zealand secondary schools that followed the requirement to adopt MLEs. Data was collected at each school via document review, a semi-structured interview with the principal, semi-structured interviews with teachers who taught in the MLEs and a focus group discussion with students who were timetabled to the MLEs. Across data sources, the main foci were (1) to investigate how the concepts of learners, educators, content and resources were interpreted and organised in the MLEs and (2) to explore what those in MLEs considered 21ˢᵗ-century skills and competencies to be and how these were being developed in learners. The employed methodology offered primacy to the participants' understandings and experiences to help make visible the operation of MLEs from the varying perspectives of those involved in daily teaching and learning in these environments. Viewing the MLES in the four schools this way identified an observable gap between the potential that literature presumes MLEs may contain to develop 21ˢᵗ-century skills and competencies in learners and the realities of the daily operations of these learning environments. This gap is visible when considering how underpinning concepts related to the operation of MLEs are employed and when exploring individual reflections on how aspects of the physical space of MLEs may enable or constrain teaching and learning practices. Viewing MLEs this way also demonstrated how influential participants' individual perspectives were when limited guidance on how to change teaching and learning practices was offered, and therefore how essential purposeful time to reflect with colleagues is when collaboration is a valued or required aspect of a learning environment. Additionally, viewing MLEs this way suggests teaching and learning in an MLE deprivatises both teacher and student practice by making teacher and student actions visible to colleagues and peers in a way they were not visible in pre-MLE learning environments. The approach taken in this thesis to explore the phenomena of MLEs in the New Zealand secondary school context contributes to the emerging discourse around the development and understanding of MLEs from the perspectives of those involved in the reality of teaching and learning in such spaces. By making visible the reality of the use of MLEs, this research can be used to develop support for those who carry out teaching and learning in these environments.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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