How Orestad Gymnasium’s Innovative Design Transforms Teaching and Learning
Mads Skrubbeltrang is an education pioneer from Denmark and has been serving as the Principal of Orestad Gymnasium, a highly regarded academic institution in the country, for over a decade now. Under his leadership, Orestad Gymnasium has become known for its cutting-edge curriculum, state-of-the-art facilities, and its commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive learning environment.
In this interview, Mads shares how a school can put many of the actions identified in A New Education Story into practice.
Mads, thank you for taking the time for this interview. Could you please share a bit about the design and learning principles at Orestad Gymnasium?
Orestad Gymnasium is known for its architecture that creates different learning environments. Our school has open learning spaces, where students spend 50% of their time at school. There are no limits – no walls, no doors and no roof. These areas promote creativity and are perfect for group work.
We also have more traditional classrooms where you can close the door, ask the teacher, have a discussion with students or give a presentation. The only difference is that we have glass walls, supporting the open feeling of the building. This way students can see each other in the school, and we believe this transparency and openness is important. Besides, it’s inspiring to see students learn something from the teacher and each other.
However, not all students prefer to be out in the open. Many of them find it to be more independent and free, but some prefer to be in a traditional classroom. I’m convinced that the mix of the two is what makes it unique.
Your school is 100% digital and at the same time, you put very much emphasis on the importance of teachers. Can you elaborate on the interplay between technology and making learning more learner-centred, one of the key actions identified in a New Education Story?
Having open learning spaces with no walls and no limits is only possible with a digital platform. The platform provides a wide range of opportunities. For example, the teacher prepares the material and goals for the class in advance, so the students know what they need to do and what the class is going to be about when they enter the open learning space. It allows them to start working on their own without the teacher instructing them in class. The teacher is important, the teacher is there. But it is not someone who is strictly an academic person, the teacher is also a social person who facilitates the learning process.
Another opportunity that the platform provides is giving feedback to the students. For example, when a student hands in some work, the teacher can choose to give sound feedback. This allows you to provide feedback orally by recording your voice and talking about students’ work. This type of feedback is more personal as it allows teachers to talk directly to the students. From my experience, this personalised way of giving feedback is very positive.
The platform also allows you to get the relevant data, statistics, and the activity of the student which makes it easier for the teacher to monitor individual progress. For example, it shows who opens the documents and who hands in their work. And it’s not about having control, it’s about seeing the trend and progress of each student.
Overall, our experience with the digital platform is that it has to be very simple and not distracting to students. There has to be a simple entrance into the materials section and the work you’re going to do. When it’s easy to use, you feel more secure and focused. Once you’re on the platform, the teacher can open new doors, be creative and have different materials.
How are learner-centeredness and student agency built into the design of your school? Could you give a couple of examples?
We believe the students should independently produce products. I think that’s one way to show the students that their ideas are important. Turning their ideas into the student products makes them see that they are innovative, and that’s why it is a part of our didactics. Our goal is to help them feel independent and create an impact, so innovation is and will be important in the future.
A part of our profile is to work with media studies, so a student product can be a film or a podcast. It must be the students who act as journalists, producers, directors and editors as it gives them hands-on experience.
Another example is our morning assemblies – a live studio recording. This is when our students invite people into the studio to tell us about the world of our high school. Students write the agenda for the morning assembly, they are also behind the camera, and they’re also producing it.
For some of the recordings, we invite the external world. It could be people from business in Copenhagen, universities or doctors. For example, it can be a psychiatrist who can share good advice with students on how to cope if they are feeling down. In addition, each summer, our students produce recordings for the youth democracy festival in Copenhagen with a lot of guest speakers. This experience makes students feel empowered. It is also a way to use technology and create a sense of fellowship and community at the same time.
How is decision-making done at your school and who is involved in the process?
Our decision to be digital, for example, was a top-down decision, but how to work with it was bottom-up. We as the management make the decisions, but it’s also our responsibility to make it work. And that’s when we need teachers to support the implementation and make sure we do it the right way.
When we changed our platform one and a half years ago, we spent a lot of resources learning how to do it at a slow pace. We had a lot of workshops that helped us learn through trial and error before introducing the initiative and starting to use the platform.
Thank you Mads for taking the time and for sharing your perspective.