Finland has rolled out a new national curriculum for comprehensive schools that emphasizes interdisciplinary and student-centred learning. Schools need flexible learning spaces that support different ways of teaching and learning. The new space designs should also be cost-effective. In Vantaa the information needed for the space development was gathered and analyzed with the help of Rapal’s experts.
The schools are generally run by local authorities in Finland. They use the national core curriculum as the basis for local curricula. Vantaa, the 4th largest city in Finland, is interested in using the multi-space concepts, familiar from the corporate world, in schools to design an environment that supports the new curriculum. In Vantaa, the need for extensive renovation of old school buildings create additional pressure for the change.
In 2015, city of Vantaa carried out a simulation phase where six comprehensive schools tested various teaching and space models. During the simulation phase, different furniture and technological solutions were tried out, spaces repartitioned, and hallways and support spaces claimed for learning activities. The project manager for the simulation phase was Eero Väätäinen who has years of experience in education. Traditionallly, the utilization of school facilities has been estimated based on the school schedule, number of class rooms and the area required by them. Now Väätäinen wanted fact-based information on space utilization to verify the effects of the phase. Qualitative data on how the spaces work was also needed. He turned to Rapal for help.
Accurate and Comparable Space Information
Prior to the simulation phase, digital floor plans of the schools were drawn into Rapal’s Optimaze system that was to be used for planning and measuring the space utilization. Uniform capacities i.e. how many workstations suitable for learning existed in the space, were defined for all the school spaces, also non-classroom spaces. Väätäinen appreciated the quick implementation: with Optimaze Measure tool space utilization* and occupancy rate** measurements could be started immediately at the beginning of the simulation phase. The results deviated significantly from the calculations based on the lesson plans. For the first time, space utilization could now be reported and analyzed reliably using a uniform measurement methodology.
Taking the Personnel’s Opinions into Consideration
The teachers were encouraged to assess and question the school’s facilities and teaching methods. Qualitative feedback from them was gathered via Rapal’s learning environment questionnaire. The questinnaire had been modified to serve the purpose of evaluating the simulation project in cooperation with the teachers and the educational administration representatives. Väätäinen says that also performing measurements provided valuable information about the schools and teaching. The principals conducted some of the measuring rounds and could observe school matters in more detail than during normal working days while touring the facilities.
Changes Create More Space for Education and Significant Savings
Väätäinen says: “One of our goals is to improve the efficiency of space utilization. Transforming schools into multi-space schools does not mean making spaces confined from the children’s perspective, quite the opposite. At the moment, there is two square meters of space per pupil available for educational use. In the new multi-space schools there could be nearly three square meters of space per pupil. Currently, in an average school in Vantaa, only 40 percent of the space available is occupied by classrooms and up to 20 percent of the space is taken up by hallways. In the schools of the future, learning takes place in multiform spaces instead of the traditional classroom model. Therefore, the space previously wasted on hallways can be utilized for education.”
The change also has a significant financial effect. Väätäinen elaborates: “Building a school costs approximately 3,000 euros per square meter, so turning hallways into teaching space means saving more than two million euros in an average sized school of 4,000 square meters. Even existing schools can be transformed into multi-space schools by, for example, partitioning classrooms with moveable walls.”
Cooperation Continues on a Larger Scale
Space utilization has also been measured in other municipal educational administration spaces in the area of Tikkurila and extending the cooperation is being considered. Space utilization was also observed in the evenings, for a total of four times per day. This way, the utilization rate of the spaces could be examined in different times to provide more information on how to best divide the space between the various uses. “All educational administration spaces should be designed according to the multi-service model. For example, a library could function as an educational space during the day or a school could provide recreational space for the people of the municipality”, Väätäinen says.
Väätäinen has been happy with the cooperation with Rapal. “Defining utilization rates and capacities is consistent now. We have utilized the measurement results in the creation of facility plans. The learning environment questionnaire during the simulation phase has also been important as similar surveys related to the pedagogic operational environment have not been previously performed in Vantaa.” However, he does not feel that the cooperation is ending here. “Rapal’s experts have met our needs and even gone beyond that. I wonder, what else could our cooperation yet lead to? I already have some thoughts on combining indoor air measurements with defining space capacity”, Väätäinen envisions.
*Utilization rate: the percentage of time a space, e.g. a classroom, is in use.
** Occupancy rate: the percentage of seats occupied in the space while the space is in use.
Keen to develop your learning environment? Get our guide and make room for creativity!
Our guide aims to provide you with a general overview of what a learning environment development project entails, as well as views, ideas and practical tips from experts. We hope this guide helps you envision your goals and gets you started!