Friday, 3 September 2010

Open Plan Teaching

Open plan teaching is becoming increasingly popular due to the benefits offered by this form of teaching and learning environment. Open plan spaces offer increased levels of flexibility, sharing of resources, cross learning between teachers and between pupils, enhanced visual and auditory communication as well many other educational benefits.
Alsops open plan teaching space option 1
Open plan within the educational environment can take many forms; learning plazas, breakout spaces, library spaces, shared resource areas, external spaces etc. These spaces have a diverse range of requirements and needs. In addition to this, open plan teaching is carried out from reception years right through to higher education, and then of course onto our working environment. This further increases the range of requirements and diverse needs relating to these types of spaces. 
Alsops open plan teaching space option 2
Often, a limiting factor of open plan spaces is poor acoustics. In MACH Acoustics view, this shortfall is due to two main factors; insufficient importance given to the acoustic design of the spaces (i.e. not employing a good consultant) and a lack of understanding of the specific needs of a learning space. It is MACH Acoustics view that the starting point in the design of an open plan space is to understand what is required from the space and its specific educational needs. Once these are understood, the acoustics design can be established and such to ensure that these requirements are met and that the clashes between acoustics and open plan can be resolved. 

BB93 ‘Acoustic Design of Schools’ provides some basic requirements with respect to open plan and these requirements are covered in Section1.1.7 Speech intelligibility in open plan spaces. In summary, this section states that the speech intelligibility level and sound transmission index (STI), are required to be above 0.6 and 1 respectively. The STI of a space is determined through detailed software calculations.

BB93 ‘Acoustic Design of Schools’ also provides advice in the form of case studies which are presented in Case Study 7.2 – An investigation into the acoustic conditions in three open-plan primary schools (BB93 Page 97) and Case Study 7.3 – Remedial work to an open-plan teaching area in a primary school (BB93 Page 107). These case studies look at the effects of acoustic treatments, acoustic screens, seating layouts and other aspects. It is MACH Acoustics view that this information is relatively limited and that better, simpler and more flexible solutions can be found.

MACH Acoustics has undertaken a number of projects containing open plan spaces ranging from open plan breakout spaces in primary schools through to full plazas providing the full educational spectrum to 60/90 secondary school pupils at a time. Two of these spaces include the New Line Learning Plaza and the New Line Learning Plaza 2 at Oldborough School, Kent. Case studies on these two schools are presented within this PDF document - Open Plan Teaching.

In addition to these projects, MACH Acoustics is working alongside White Design and Monmouthshire County Council in the design of two key educational open plan facilities; Green Lane Primary School and Castle Park Primary School. Using this blog, MACH Acoustics will be presenting our designs as they progress.
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