New generation learning environments: are students with hearing difficulties included
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Architecture, Building and Planning
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2016 Leanne Rose Munro
New generation learning environments (NGLEs) are proliferating in schools worldwide, driven by technology innovations and globalisation (Griffen, Care & McGaw, 2012). Between 2008 and 2012 in the state of Victoria, Australia, numerous schools were built and/or refurbished embracing the principles of open-plan design in the State and Catholic sectors under a Commonwealth-funded initiative entitled Building the Education Revolution (BER). While an increasing body of research is exploring how teachers and students utilise the affordances of such spaces, there exists a dearth of research about their provision of quality educational environments for students with learning differences (disabilities). In mainstream learning environments a significant number of students have suboptimal hearing abilities attributed to transient or permanent auditory disorders, including hearing loss and auditory processing disorders. There are no known studies that have accounted for the prevalence of school-aged children in this cohort, however it is postulated that the proportion of students with suboptimal hearing is between 7–10% (Tomlin, 2014; Wake & Poulakis, 2004). Flexer and Smaldino (2012) stated that hearing is a sense and listening is a skill. This suggests that measuring the capacity of a particular person to hear sounds, as represented on an audiogram, is just a small fraction of what matters in the whole scheme of listening and learning. Therefore it is important to consider how the changing elements in NGLEs help or hinder equitable access to learning opportunities and inclusion for students with suboptimal hearing abilities. Little is known about the performance standard of fully operational NGLEs. Indeed, there is virtually no research on how students and teachers maximise NGLE characteristics towards a positive effect for students with suboptimal hearing abilities. This project utilised a mixed method design, blending building acoustic measurements with qualitative data collection techniques, including semi-structured interviews, focus groups and photo elicitation, to empirically investigate student perceptions of inclusion in communicative experiences in a single sampled NGLE. Three students with suboptimal hearing abilities were treated as case studies, allowing focused exploration of the affective and effective impact of pedagogy, spatial design, building acoustics, and technology on their inclusion in learning activities. Other participants included teachers and the school principal. The research design enabled baseline measurement of the acoustic qualities of the learning spaces to be collected, exploration of how the students inhabited the spaces and participated in learning activities to be undertaken, and investigation into how teachers intentionally or unintentionally manipulated the physical properties of the space while teaching. The mixed methods approach led to the discovery of the value of ‘nooks’ (sensory reduction zones within the learning environment) and ‘the trusted other’ (a person the case study students identified as a good peer who could aid their learning). Coupled with access to technology tools for listening and learning, the students reported feelings of inclusion in communicative experiences. Noisy spaces with high reverberation times precluded the case study students from accessing clear speech; however, it was found that when student agency was given, self-advocacy and self-regulation mechanisms were exhibited by students i.e. the students explored their environment, finding spaces, places and multimodal platforms that supported their learning. Whist speaking and listening remain the central mode of communication in schools, this project highlighted the urgent imperative to evaluate the inclusion of students with hearing difficulties in various learning environment types – especially NGLEs of varying designs. The challenge for future research in this field is to engage with cross-disciplinary approaches that account for the relationships between students with suboptimal hearing abilities and the learning environments they inhabit, to develop new knowledge about how the principles of inclusive education can be enacted. While this study was limited to the analysis of a limited sample of students and teachers in one NGLE, its results carry significant implications for the further research into the design and use of NGLEs.
Keywordsnew generation learning environment; hearing; inclusion; classroom design; design affordance; student agency; acoustics
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