Interview - Coffee Break with Dr Wesley Imms

5th May 2021 • Enrichment

Dr Wesley Imms is a researcher at the University of Melbourne, specialising in the design, use and evaluation of innovative learning environments.


Dr Imms is an Associate Professor at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and holds education degrees granted in Australia and Canada, including a research MA and a PhD in Curriculum Studies from the University of British Columbia. With awards spanning his primary, secondary and tertiary teaching career, Dr Imms has made, and continues to make a valuable contribution in his field.

Dr Imms is also a member of the cross-disciplinary Learning Environments Applied Research Network team (LEaRN). LEaRN is an international leader in applied research aimed at improving the design and use of learning environments across all educational sectors, based on an understanding that the built environment critically impacts the educational experiences of teachers and learners and that applied research and design of innovative learning environments will bring community benefit. LEaRN is self-funded through a succession of ARC Linkage grants, consultancies and commissioned research for education departments, the Federal Government, and autonomous schools.

Dr Imms kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us.

Can you tell us a little bit about what led you here? Was there a time in your life or a particular memory that sparked your interest in working in this field?

In 1965 my Grade 2 teacher in a small Tasmanian town converted our classroom into a ship and sailed us around the world for the year. She used a manipulation of the learning environment to underpin a remarkable cross-disciplinary ‘lived experience’ curriculum. Totally unheard of at the time. Another influence has been my Visual Art training (I taught for a decade). I used this to re-design and build my own homes – we did it all, from windows and doors to moving structural walls, building bespoke furniture that ‘fitted’. When I got the chance to join the cross-disciplinary LEaRN group at Melbourne University, I jumped at it.

Please finish this sentence. A learning environment should be...

..a natural, exciting blend of innovative design and innovative teaching. While aesthetics are critical to building an engaging environment, nothing matters unless the teaching/learning meets that level of excellence.

Covid-19 has forced learning to go online. A lot longer for some than others. What sort of long-term consequences (positive and/or negative) do you think we could see down the track?

I don’t think it will dramatically alter already established trajectories of changing our schools’ working and learning actions. Some minor adjustments for sure, but the reality is, the learning spaces of schools serve such a huge array of social activity, on-line will only briefly touch on that.

What are you working on at the moment?

A 15-country ‘scoping study’ – getting 60 of the best ILE minds in the world (across industries, researchers, educators) to answer the question – what is the next big research project? We'll take a year to get these insights.

In your eyes how does Australia compare to other countries in regards to teaching and learning environments? Are we keeping up?

Our ILETC project (4 years, 17 Partner organsiations, 4 countries), reinforced a perception that Australia and NZ are leaders internationally.

Can you tell us something most people wouldn’t know about you?

In Grade 1 my mother would wave me goodbye at the front door as I walked to the school next door…and Id sneak in a back window and dress up as a superhero for the day. Got away with it for months…I spent days dressed in boxes (Robotman) masks and capes…