Modern learning environments: case studies

Issue: Volume 94, Number 1

Posted: 26 January 2015
Reference #: 1H9cqE

As the pace of technological change increases, and the ubiquity of the ‘digital age’ continues to influence education delivery, educators are faced with the exciting and challenging task of preparing young people for a world that is not yet imagined – a world in which every young person is a competent and confident life-long learner, able to innovate and adapt quickly to change.

Of course, digital technologies don’t just affect what we teach young people, but where, how and why they are taught. As a baseline, we can all agree that – while still crucial to the development of New Zealand’s future leaders – knowledge of numeracy and literacy may not be enough to arm school leavers with the tools they need for the future. What is important is the need for strong leadership and quality teaching practice within schools as we move through times of rapid change. The application of the vast and unique skill-sets our teachers have built up over years of classroom experience, coupled with up-to-date digital learning practice, is vital to ensure modern technologies are applied in ways that support learning.

There are many exciting opportunities provided by the closer integration of information technology into learning. As one example, the possibilities of cloud-based software continue to change the way the world - and our schools - collaborate. And, of course, the sum total of human knowledge is now arguably available through nothing more than the humble web browser.

Recognising that information technology can only become more integral to the way people learn and how society runs itself, government has in recent years invested heavily in ICT infrastructure to cope with the voracious data demands of the future. By the end of 2016, almost all schools will have access to ultra-fast broadband, modernised internal ICT networks, and a fully-funded N4L Managed Network connection.

Right now we have the chance to be ambitious in building on the technologies available by leveraging this investment in infrastructure and the enthusiasm of students, teachers and leaders to adopt technologies for learning.

But schools are at different points along the path to fully taking advantage of digital technologies and modern learning environments. And many teachers are – understandably – still coming to grips with how to get the most from modern technologies and environments to enrich, improve, and even revolutionise the way they help young people to learn.

Perhaps the best thing you as an educator can do, if you’re unsure of your next step, is to learn from those schools whose journey began earlier; learn from their mistakes and successes, and, with sector-wide collaboration, your own pedagogy will be significantly enhanced.

The case study summaries below look at the experiences of three schools who have met with success in moving towards a modern learning environment (MLE) – that is, classrooms designed with modern teaching practices and technology in mind. The schools have made changes not just to the way they embrace technology, but have utilised evidence-based theory on modern learning environments in general and are seeing enhanced student engagement.

Auckland Normal Intermediate

Auckland Normal Intermediate is a decile 9 school for years 7 and 8. It has 726 students; 42% European and 45% Asian.


With the introduction of the new curriculum, we questioned our curriculum delivery and asked – ‘As a high-decile school with high-achieving students, what are we doing to support their all-round development; is our implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum engaging, relevant and challenging?’

The journey

The school did a lot of research both locally and internationally and decided on a student- focused, inquiry-led and conceptual approach where the students take responsibility and ownership for their learning.

Change came from developing a clear and strong vision grounded in international best practice. This was important to help the school justify the changes to teachers and parents.

The school day is based on a ‘unit of inquiry’ which is a concept-based theme running through the term. Class-based subjects are integrated in this unit of inquiry and this is complemented by specialist subject work. Class-based teachers go with their students to the specialist subject areas to work and learn with their students.

There is a clear transfer of knowledge from classroom inquiry to practice in specialist spaces. The first space to be modified was the specialist area. On a shoestring budget, the school opened up the space into a large, open, flexible learning area and was creative with furniture. Now a student can seamlessly work, for example, on designing and building a chair using a range of technologies and materials. Teacher desks were removed and teachers now use a teaching station when working in these spaces. Desks and chairs for students were removed and replaced with a variety of flexible furniture options.

Breens Intermediate


Breens Intermediate in Christchurch is a decile 7 school for year 7 and 8 students. It has 258 students and the ethnic composition includes 77% European and 12% Māori students. The school operates out of prefabricated, relocatable buildings that were all built around 1976.

The journey

The school focused on reflective practice. They started changing the management structure to a more coaching and mentoring lead-teacher model, each with their own strengths. The school participated in a lot of professional development, but were also proactive about things like teachers providing feedback to each other. They started to break down some of the physical barriers to change, for example, they took out the storage rooms and lockers that weren’t needed and put windows in walls between classrooms. In this way learning became more visible and collaborative.

Woolston School


Woolston School is a decile 2 school in Christchurch that caters for years 1–8 (age 5 to 13). It has six bilingual classes taught in either Māori or Samoan. It has 330 students; ethnic composition is 53% Māori, 34% European and 12% Pasifika. The school operates out of a mix of older and newer buildings. Years 1–2 and the bilingual classes are now located in newly established relocatable buildings which are open teaching spaces and an example of modern learning environments. Years 3–5 are located in a learning studio-style block which has four teaching spaces that open into a common space and years 6–8 are located in 1970s blocks which are single cell teaching spaces.

The journey

At meetings, staff would regularly discuss their ideas. As the ideas began to flow, motivation and enthusiasm increased. Initially, two teachers moved into the same teaching space and began trialling these ideas. At staff meetings they would provide feedback on what worked and any lessons learned. Teachers began to learn from each other by watching, discussing and working more closely in teams. Over time they began to encourage each other to do things differently. More collaborative-style teaching and individual student learning started to take place across the school. As teachers’ motivation grew, so did the motivation and enthusiasm of students who were learning from the new working practices of the teachers.

Further information

The full case studies can be found on the Education website (external link)and further information on how schools can make the most of learning with digital technologies is available on the Enabling e-Learning section(external link) of Te Kete Ipurangi. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:56 pm, 26 January 2015

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