Turning up the Volume on Education in a Post-pandemic World

24th October 2021
Pooja Ganatra
Acoustics Consultant

Following numerous schools and universities around the world pivoting to online classes in the wake of the global pandemic, there’s now equally as much attention being placed on the return to in-person lessons.

With this latest shift in the continuously evolving education landscape, the education sector must now look to adapt their current spaces to new requirements and factor in new challenges – particularly the way students hear, see, and experience learning in a post-pandemic setting.

In this episode, we shine a spotlight on education trends and discuss the way forward for the sector’s ‘soundscape’. Hosted by WSP Middle East’s Acoustics Consultant, Pooja Ganatra, this episode features leading insights from Gavin Hyatt, Head of Operations at Taaleem Group, and Cassey Stypowany, Lead Consultant, Building Acoustics at WSP USA.

WSP Middle East · Turning up the Volume on Education in a Post-pandemic World

Unable to listen? Here’s an overview of the discussion:

School of thought

Pooja Ganatra: “Adapting classrooms and new modes of learning has been essential to mitigate challenges posed by the pandemic. As consultants, we look at how we’re making sure the classroom environment is good for student health and wellbeing, because that is one of the major aspects right now – looking at the comfort which directly impacts learning and productivity. These are some of the very crucial factors to ensure student’s performance in terms of the physical built environment of the reimagined classroom.”

Gavin Hyatt: I think this period has been really beneficial to probably most industries actually, although it’s been a challenge. It’s really made every company think differently, especially the education sector, and it’s come on leaps and bounds in certain areas of what we probably wouldn’t have had to do… it’s kind of been forced on us.

“Although online learning and delivery was excellent, it’s just not the same; In regard to delivery, face to face and bricks and mortar really does make a difference.”

On masks in schools:

Pooja Ganatra: “Looking at the acoustics within the classroom, and how important the students and teachers felt it was for them to kind of focus and avoid any distractions within them – 72% of them, were saying yes, noise doesn’t allow us to focus within classrooms!

Cassey Stypowany: I think in terms of communication with masks and muffling of speech, the whole communication channel between the teacher and students has been affected by that. It’s something that we should be considering as well, moving forward with designing our schools with better acoustics. Because if the masks come back, you don’t want that struggle to happen.

It’s important to reduce as many distractions as we can. A lot of classrooms, they like to have their doors open, so then you get the noise from the corridor, and you’ve got some students that are paying attention to that, rather than the teacher. And the finishes within the space, like the ceiling tiles you guys were mentioning earlier, it just helps with the intelligibility. So it becomes a space that they can focus and rather than picking up every distraction that might be around them. Designing for the air ventilation to be quieter is such a big piece too. I feel like that gets overlooked a lot of times and then teachers are struggling to project and they don’t know why they’re struggling to project and it turns out to be that’s just the background noise levels too are too loud.”

Gavin Hyatt: “When we are designing the buildings and the spaces, we do take into account the acoustics and as you mentioned earlier, the lighting aspects of everything, but one of the things we focus on as a group is to have spaces that aren’t just a classroom. So, we have a lot of breakout spaces where you know, the teachers can take the students to a different area or it could be actually self study areas for the students, we try and have those in wider corridors or in different spaces. These all add to the acoustics and the way that the classroom environment works, and we do encourage different types of styles of learning spaces than the old school traditional just chair and desk.”

On enhancing the education soundscape

Cassey Stypowany: “It’s interesting with the air quality piece that then plays into acoustics for existing schools; putting in supplementary units in the classrooms to kind of help purify during the day and they’re loud. And then you add the masks, so that’s an added distraction that can impact how students are learning and behaving.

“In terms of the auditory experience, I think it’s going to hopefully push new designs to put in filtration systems, almost taking a hospital design into schools and seeing how important it is in both spaces. Once it’s actually integrated into the building from the start, it’s quieter, and it doesn’t impact the students as much.”

Gavin Hyatt: “Just touching on the acoustics, obviously with yourself Pooja, we did do some work within one of the Taleem Group schools and we changed out certain ceiling panels to improve the acoustics there and we did it in a number of classrooms targeting classrooms we knew that would you know, either be noisier generally.

“In the rooms we did roll it out in, we genuinely did see significant improvement with the reverberation time and even the teachers and the students were commenting on it saying, it sounds different and I’m not having to shout as loud.

Pooja Ganatra: “Just to add to that, because I had done my entire dissertation at one of Taleem’s schools and Gavin was very kind to assist me through it with Jumeirah Baccalaureate… when I was conducting my research, I had a lot of literature review that I was doing, and this reminds me how natural lighting in the olden times they just had open classrooms in the Greek periods or when teaching became a part of life. It was just out in the open and then they started thinking ‘we need to enclose learning spaces because the weather isn’t fine, and then they started enclosing the classrooms and though ‘okay, we need AC and ducting and venting within them. Then came the idea of ‘okay, we actually still need lighting and windows but having acoustics in place as well. From here it helped develop thinking that there’s a lot more that would go into the whole learning experience of a person.”

Speaking up

Pooja Ganatra: “We’ve kind of touched on this before where we mentioned about how masks are causing the muffling of speech, and I think the whole voice over technology and some microphones would kind of help with that.”

Cassey Stypowany: “I could definitely see some schools considering it if masks are just always going to be around. However, I probably feel like it would be considered more in the universities where they have large lecture halls and where voice projection can be difficult.”

Gavin Hyatt: “I think we’d prefer to invest in other areas rather than trying to invest in the technology and in the classroom with microphones and things. I think classrooms are of a size where, you know, we don’t need to do that, because there’s this 24-26 children maximum in the classes, it’s not as Cassie said, the big university-type lecture theatres, it’s a standard classroom.”

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