There is growing research to support the idea that the physical space of learning environments impacts the actual learning that takes place.
The Center for Arts and Education at West Liberty University (WLU) is turning that research into reality with a two-year project to rethink both indoor and outdoor educational spaces to become flexible and creative learning environments.
According to Lou Karas, director of The Center for Arts and Education at WLU, they are working with partners in Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia to reimagine space at all levels – from preschool to higher education.
"The idea is to inspire creative and flexible learning environments," says Karas. "We do not want to be stymied by the traditional 'classroom' lay-out of desks in rows with stationary chairs. This type of environment is not conducive for collaborative and creative learning. If you image contemporary work spaces that encourage creativity and different types of 'learning,' our work is to consider those elements in other school-based environments. The changes to the 'learning spaces' are aesthetic, environmental, and architecturally driven."
There are several projects underway to redesign the school environment to maximize learning. One example is a project at Wheeling Middle School to reimagine and transform an empty lot into an outdoor classroom. In Pittsburgh, Shady Lane is reimagining a space called "the little gym," which is a gross motor space for toddlers.
A key component of the "spaces" project is innovative professional development. Everyone involved in the projects has opportunities to learn about the research, tour good spaces for learning, network with other educators and access a growing resource library.
Karas points out that the goal isn't "to just rethink the space, but also to rethink the teaching and learning in that space."
While the project is focused on reimagining space, it is also creating exciting partnerships in the region to cultivate student creativity and inspired learning. The Center for Arts and Education is partnering with a number of organizations including The Children's Museum of the Ohio Valley, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, the Mattress Factory, CREATE Lab at CMU, Phipps Conservatory, Carlow University, the June Harless Center at Marshall University and more.
"What's exciting about the project," says Karas, "is that there are no boundaries, no borders."