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Editorial: The study of learning environments

This special issue is dedicated to the study of learning environments, an international field of research that has attracted the attention of teachers, administrators and classroom researchers. For many years, teachers have believed that the atmosphere, tone or ambience of a classroom is a subtle but important contributor to student learning. Teachers know that harmonious relationships among students and between teachers and students are desirable classroom characteristics. While positive environments are intrinsically valuable entities, research has shown that positive environments are extrinsically valuable - they enhance cognitive and affective outcomes of students. High quality classroom environments emphasise, for example, cooperation rather than conflict, teacher support rather than criticism, and task orientation rather than apathy. Similarly, administrators accept that positive school climates with empowered, collegial staff who feel supported by the school community are more likely to contribute to school effectiveness and associated student learning.

The plausibility of these descriptions directs attention to psychosocial learning environments - those aspects of the environment that focus on the behaviour of humans. While the physical dimensions of environments are not insignificant, the emphasis of psychosocial environments is on the interpretation of events by inhabitants. In terms of Lewin's field theory, behaviour is governed by how the individual person interprets the environment.

This special issue is timely in terms of Queensland schooling for at least two reasons. First, there is a rapidly developing emphasis on outcomes-based education in Queensland. The strongest tradition of classroom environment research has linked the quality of the classroom environment with the cognitive and affective outcomes of that environment. Second, the latest Education Queensland sponsored research, Productive Pedagogies, has focused attention on supportive classroom environment as a key component in improving educational productivity. Clearly, psychosocial environments are important to contemporary Queensland schooling.

Given the complexities of schools and classrooms, researchers have grappled with the difficult issues concerning the conceptualisation, assessment and analysis of learning environments. The four articles in this issue reflect the considerable progress that has been made on these issues since the mid-1960s. In the first paper, Classroom Environment Research: Progress and Possibilities, Dorman reviews the field of classroom environment research so as to provide a contextual basis for the remaining papers. Historical perspectives, methodological issues, previous research and current and future directions for research are discussed in this paper. The development of classroom environment research into an international research domain is made clear through a consideration of salient research.

Waldrip and Fisher's article, Student-Teacher Interactions and Better Science Teachers, demonstrates the usefulness of using classroom environment assessments in studying exemplary teachers. This Australian research employed the Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction (QTI) which was conceptualised and refined in The Netherlands to assess teacher-student interaction in classrooms. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, the usefulness of the QTI to identify exemplary science teachers was confirmed.

In Gender Differences in the Perceptions of Chemistry Laboratory Classroom Environments, Quek, Wong and Fraser report research conducted in secondary schools in Singapore. This article illustrates typical classroom environment research with classroom environment dimensions employed as criterion (dependent) variables. In this study, the authors describe how actual and preferred perceptions of the chemistry laboratory environment vary according to gender.

The final paper, Johnson's Beyond Groupthink in the Study of Learning Environments: Connecting the Field to Other Literatures, provides a more provocative analysis of the direction of learning environment research. Johnson argues that learning environment research must become more integrated with other fields of scholarship. In particular, he suggests that one productive direction would be to link the study of learning environments with organisational theory.

This collection of papers reflects the considerable progress that has occurred in the study of learning environments since the mid-1960s. The national and international dimensions to this field are illustrated by contributing authors from Singapore, the United States and three states in Australia (Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia).

Jeffrey Dorman
Guest Editor

Editor details: Dr Jeffrey Dorman is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the Australian Catholic University. He specialises in the study of learning environments and was responsible for developing this special issue of the journal on this topic.

Address for correspondence: School of Education, Australian Catholic University, PO Box 456, Virginia 4014 Queensland, Australia. Email: j.dorman@mcauley.acu.edu.au

Please cite as: Dorman, J. (2002). Editorial: The study of learning environments. Queensland Journal of Educational Research, 18(2), 109-111. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer18/editorial18-2.html

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Created 12 Sep 2004. Last correction: 31 Dec 2004.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qjer18/editorial18-2.html