In my experiences and understanding, Open Plan Learning Spaces are a distinct term opposed to Open Planned Teaching Spaces.
The obvious difference in these terms is reflected in the saying that :
Just because you taught me doesn’t mean I learnt”.
I have experienced OPTS but because it was a single streamed school it was actually across stage levels. It was also very much open planned learning and not just open planned teaching.
For those students who deviate across a continuum in particular subjects, this set up was ideal and allowed their to work at their stage of understanding rather than in the confines of a single room with one teacher trying to accommodate levels which we all know can vary greatly.
OPLS do not have to be a single subject either. There were occasions where someone was researching a Science and Tech topic while another group may have been practicing skills in reading aloud to an audience.
The elements of the room are very alive, vibrant, energetic and can be self motivated. However, it was not all “rosey”. Situations like these allowed children greater chance to “hide” when off task, to engage in social conversations simply because the noise level was on another level. We started to use a noise “timeline” to remind children that there were other working groups in the learning space. This timeline, which was colour coded, described to the students if they were talking too loudly, interacting too “vibrantly” ie walking around the room from group to group and so on with little task accomplishment.
But on reflection, this was a time when resources were limited to one computer per room which may or may not have worked depending on its mood that day. The thought of teaching students who have access to a 1:1 ratio of iPads or even 1:2 ratio, or a nest of computers in the room, is almost inconceivable to the extremes of what learning can take place.
Like all things, these resources, whether it is the iPad, the student ability to use software, the interactions between students, the note taking, the presentations of their knowledge in a resource equipped room opens the teaching and learning to new levels. And it is therefore, why I see OPLS as not just the physical space which these teachers and students occupy but the curriculum planning that they will participate in. The curriculum itself becomes an “Open Planned Learning Space”…it is open to so many methods of teachings, methods of interaction and methods of presentation.
It appears that whatever we try to define in our studies the element that remains central is the teacher. The term teacher, especially in open planned learning spaces, seems like the wrong term. Because “to teach” suggests that it is only this one person who supports a students learning when in fact, in an open planned learning space the teacher becomes the “educator”, the “instructor”, the “tutor”, the educationalist” or a alliance of all these terms.
But it is not just the term “teacher” which seems to need adjustment but also the term “group” work. To group work suggests that there are confines to the number involved in the learning; that they are a cluster of “associated students”. I define this as the “colourbond fence” image…confined with little view to the other side.
Collaboration, on the other hand is more of a “chook wire fence”, keep the lessons functional, with purpose and direction but allow the students to see through the barriers and enclosure that group learning often presents. Allow students to see that there may some thing better on the other side through their interactions.
So perhaps we should be defining it as Open Planned Collaborative Learning Space…the term, when simply spoken, and presented to students raises their level of instruction just by having to explain it to them. I imagine a situation where the teacher instructs the students that their room is a collaborative learning space. And a sign on the door that reads: “Welcome to Year 4Gold, an open planned collaborative learning space”…wow, it already sounds inviting and gives the students more credibility as learners.