Eton recently unveiled the Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning – with learning spaces designed by Spaceoasis working with Lewandowski Architects.
The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning (CIRL) at Eton College is now officially open. The vision of outgoing Head Master Tony Little, CIRL is designed to develop Eton’s expertise in teaching and learning. The centre will act as a research hub, allowing experimentation with cutting-edge innovations in teaching and learning and a greater emphasis on evidence-based practice. The research findings will be used not only to sustain Eton’s own high standards but will be shared with other schools, universities and research bodies around the world.
Masters will use the centre to try new methods of teaching and to share best practice, while Eton’s students will experience new ways of learning in a non-traditional environment that is unlike any other in the school. Ultimately, the work undertaken at CIRL will push the boundaries of education and help discover more how young people learn, understand and communicate.
The Tony Little Centre is located in an existing building at the college, redesigned by local architect firm Lewandowski Architects. The Edwardian façade gives way to a truly 21st century interior. Spaceoasis, learning space designer and furniture manufacturer, worked alongside Lewandowski Architects and with a senior master from the College, Simon Hearsey, to design and install the new learning spaces at CIRL. Here we take a closer look at the design features in three of the teaching and learning spaces.
With a one-way mirror along the length of one wall, the Observation Classroom provides an opportunity for teachers to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning and to watch others doing the same. Lessons can be filmed to enable critique and the sharing of new ideas.
The furniture in the Observation Classroom is deliberately simple, yet agile. 21 Spaceoasis Bite tables, which are mobile and can be configured in a variety of ways, and a teacher’s lectern provide a highly flexible space that can be arranged to accommodate any lesson style. Those comfortable with experimental layouts could organise the tables in clusters, waves or a semi-circle, while those more used to a didactic face-the-front set-up can start with rows of desks and gradually move towards a more innovative approach. The mobile teacher’s lectern also encourages masters to move away from the ‘comfort zone’ of their desk.
The chairs in the Observation Classroom are white Tip Ton chairs by Vitra, which allow the user to tip the chair forward slightly, allowing movement, which improves posture and blood flow, which in turn improves concentration.
Creative ICT Suite
The Creative ICT Suite comprises three spaces: a master’s office, a teaching space and a seminar room. New technology is ushering in completely new ways of learning and this space is designed to allow the flexible and collaborative use of ICT.
The desk in the master’s office faces the wall, so when a student comes in the master has to turn 180°, offering the student their undivided attention. Similarly, this arrangement affords the master a quiet place to work when not engaged with a student.
In the corner of the master’s office is Eton Meadows, a whimsical space with an astroturf floor, Baa stools (which look like life-size sheep) and red upholstered seats that look like toadstools. This playful space is deliberately informal; it’s somewhere that requires nothing of the students and is a place they can come when they simply need space to think.
The main teaching and learning space consists of three zones, all with agile furniture and writable surfaces to encourage creative thinking and collaboration. In the first zone, seven agile Petal tables with LearningSurface dry-wipe, writable surfaces can be clustered together for collaboration or hived off individually for independent work. A writable wall and height-adjustable circular LearningSurface table enclosed by three Agile screens, creates a more intensive thinking and brainstorming space. Upholstered seating around the outside of the screens provides another choice of places to sit.
The third area in this space consists of multi-height, irregular-shaped upholstered Lobe stools and laptop tables so students can choose how and where to sit, from perching on the edge of a high stool, to retreating to a quiet corner. This informal approach to ICT integrates technology in a more relaxed and flexible way than the rigid, fixed bank of screens of a traditional ICT suite. The plethora of writable surfaces in this space also encourages creativity and collaboration in a way that paper and pens simply can’t match.
The third area in the Creative ICT Suite is the seminar room, which includes a bespoke-designed oval table. Elliptical in shape and seating up to 16, this table enables groups to come together in a non-hierarchical setting where students can interact tutorial-style, much as they would at university or in the workplace. Each seat at the table has its own pull-out writing shelf concealed beneath the table’s top enabling students to turn through 90° to work independently.
Video Conferencing Room
CIRL’s sleek, white video conferencing room bears little resemblance to your average facility, with the audiovisual equipment integrated so that not a single cable is visible. This room will act as Eton’s window on the world, allowing the college to share its teaching and research with schools and organisations both locally and across the globe.
A shield-shaped table featuring the Eton College crest sits in the centre of the room with the flat edge of the table facing the screen, this means everyone sitting at the table can see and be seen. When the screen is not in use, seats can be placed on all three sides of the table.
“For this cutting-edge facility we wanted furniture that was exciting, yet also practical and flexible. Spaceoasis embraced the project from the start, listened to our requirements and had an excellent understanding of what we were setting out to achieve. They worked with us to match the furniture to the spaces perfectly and took remarkable care over every detail. The team here has found it a pleasure to work with Spaceoasis. The result is a centre in which every aspect of the furniture is exactly right for how we use it, and a major reason why the overall effect is so stunning.” Jonnie Noakes, Head of Teaching & Learning.
Spaceoasis’ James Clarke designed the learning spaces at the Tony Little Centre. After attending the opening ceremony he commented, “Eton is probably thought of as a traditional school but this space demonstrates their intention not just keep up with how teaching and learning is changing, but to lead the way and to share their findings with the world. The teaching and learning possibilities of new technology are only very gradually finding their way into the classroom and I hope that, with this new centre, Eton will be able to inspire other schools and universities throughout the world. I think this space also shows that furniture has a crucial role to play in enabling creative ways of teaching and learning and integrating technology, it would be very difficult to achieve this in a traditional classroom environment.”
The Tony Little Centre opened on 5th May 2015 and is already in constant use.
Watch the space in action here.