Innovative learning environment

At one of the campuses of the KSD schools in Diest (Belgium), about 1,150 students from the first and second grade, attend classes. The school redesigned the attic into an open and flexible learning environment, in collaboration with Vanerum.

A clear vision translated into design

KSD has a clear and innovative vision on learning and evaluation, which is mainly based on students taking control of their own learning process. This idea came from the vocational education department. Since two years they are no longer working with one teacher in one classroom, but with a group of teachers working together to support the students. Sometimes there are two teachers in front of the classroom or the doors simply remain open, so that they can help each other when needed. To expand this vision, they experimented on the ‘old’ attic floor for a year. Some classrooms were opened up, doors were removed, old stools they found were re-introduced, seating areas were created in the hallway and students could work standing up or work on the window-sills. It worked but it still was a bit an improvised solution. Therefore, they decided to transform the entire floor and create a transparent and flexible learning environment. “It was a challenge for KSD to implement this innovative vision into an old school building.”, says Ken Vanmechelen (member of the managing board second grade), “But we have definitely succeeded!”

KSD chose to furnish the floor with specific materials and furniture, which ensured that it was no longer possible to teach in the traditional way. Teachers are forced to work differently. According to Erik Verhoeven (teacher of general subject in vocational education and student & teacher coach) the semicircle train bench is a very nice setting to explain something to a group. “You can place about 20 students here – some in the sofas, others at the high tables, some on the hockers – and you as a teacher can stand up or sit down, so you have direct contact with all your students. They all are very close to you and each other, but in a comfortable way. What I really like is the variety of choice they have: the pupils can work standing up at high tables, they can chill in the sofas, sit on a stool that moves or they can sit on a high chair.

Research indicates that movement motivates people to keep working. Students should be able to stand up and walk around from time to time and that is possible here. KSD’s motto is also ‘Talent on the move’ and this completely matches the new design”. Verhoeven also encourages the students to use all of the space and possibilities the room has to offer. Pupils that are working in groups can create their own space with moveable tables or can choose to sit in another room – behind the glass door – where it is more quiet. Further, a mobile touchscreen and mobile whiteboards were chosen specifically in order not to relapse into the classic arrangement with a blackboard – with a teacher in front of it – in the front of the classroom, but to keep the options open.

Both teachers and students are enthousiastic

This environment invites to taking classes. “Students, parent, teachers, … everyone who has been here reacts enthusiastically. It has been a long time since I heard from a 14-year-old: “I want to be in this classroom!”, says Ken Vanmechelen. “Now that they have seen this, teachers are requesting info about a different way of teaching. There are a lot of questions about co-teaching and flexible classrooms.” It also encourages other teachers to introduce new ideas.” It was not the main goal of KSD, but it plays to the advantage that the new learning environment could work as an oil stain to carry out the vision of the school and put it into practice.