Why Learning Spaces made me share my plans for College House

On Friday 9th September, I attended a workshop at the Beyond Distance Media Zoo (University of Leicester) on Designing Learning Environments for the Future presented by Matthew Riddle of La Trobe University. This was a bit of an ALT-C hangover, as I actually met Matthew the day before at the conference.

During his presentation Matthew discussed the finding of the Spaces for Knowledge Generation project skgproject.com. The project which include Apple as partners, has carried out research at several institutions into the effective design of formal and informal learning spaces that make them more conducive to learning. Especially in a time when technology use is become more important within education. He described this as: “the chalk to plasma continuum”.

Preferred layout for formal learning

During his presentation he described some of the finds that have been observed and implemented. For example a preferred  design for formal learning settings like lectures and seminars is to have curved desks, this enables the audience (learners) to have eye contact with one-another during discussions. Access is also important, therefore having aisle at the sides and the centre of the room is important. For presenting a new approach is to have screens on three sides of the room. This enables learners to see presentations wherever they are sitting.

He discussed other formal setting like workshops, where it is important to have furniture where learners can sit around tables to collaborate. Flexible learning spaces are important, so tables which can be folded away and moved is important. In addition to this Matthew discussed breakout spaces where learners can collaborate more privately, he suggested the restaurant style booths are ideal for this.

Informal settings in which students learn is also important. Due to the increased used of Personal Learning Devices like iPads and laptops by students he observed that learners tend to congregate around power supplies and wireless signals. This something I have been observing at the University of Leicester for a while, especially before the new library opened and the wireless network expanded (2007ish), students often gathered in the foyer of the law building as this was one of the few places on campus the wireless network was strong and students could Skype home. Matthew stated, if this is in learners nature, we should make these open space more comfortable, supplying bean bags or seating.

The final learning space he described was outdoor learning spaces, even in the UK! These are something that I have seen an increasing number of withing primary and secondary education as highlighted in this FutureLab: Reimagining outdoor learning spaces report. The advantages of which are explored in this series of literature reviews by the English Outdoor Council.

Matthew went on to describe the project’s Rocky Mountains metaphor they use for these learning space scenarios:

  • Mountain Top: representing lecture theatres
  • Camp fires: Representing workshop and open learning spaces
  • The Cave: private learning spaces
  • Watering Hole: Social learning spaces like the cafeteria

Whichever learning space is been designed Matthew stated it should follow the project’s  Seven Principles of Learning Space design:

  • Comfort: a space which creates a physical and mental sense of ease and well-being
  • Aesthetics: pleasure which includes the recognition of symmetry, harmony, simplicity and fitness for purpose
  • Flow: the state of mind felt by the learner when totally involved in the learning experience
  • Equity: consideration of the needs of cultural and physical differences
  • Blending: a mixture of technological and face-to-face pedagogical resources
  • Affordances: the “action possibilities” the learning environment provides the users, including such things as kitchens, natural light, wifi, private spaces, writing surfaces, sofas, and so on.
  • Repurposing: the potential for multiple usage of a space

It was really good to see a wild range of people from across the university at the workshop including:

In the second part of the workshop Matthew asked us to design a learning space. I teamed up with Emma Kimberley and we designed an adaptation of one of the current buildings on campus. Now I’d like to say I was quick enough to come up this idea on the spot, but the design we worked upon I have been thinking about for some time. Considering the university representation there, this seemed like an appropriate time to share it.

The background behind the idea is; I used to work for the Beyond Distance Research Alliance in the Media Zoo which during my time there was based on campus. The department and the Zoo moved off campus to the other end of University Road a couple of years back. In the meantime, in my current position as Learning Technologist in the Student Support and Development Service, I have become a member of a group called the Learning Technology Adviser Group. In this group we have discussed the training and advice on the use of technology in learning and teaching, for both academics and students. It is my belief that a facility like Media Zoo is required for this. However, if its to be utilised fully it needs to be on campus and have a fairly open approach where academic and students alike can drop in a receive advice, and also offer the more structured workshop training as currently offered by the Zoo.

My idea is to adapt one of the oldest buildings on campus College House (below), by building a glass cube on the front, on what is currently the car park, the position is shown on the Google map below. The style of the cube has taken inspiration from the Apple Store in New York.

College House
College House

Google Map College House
Box position of Google Maps

Apple Store NYC
Apple Store NYC

Here is my (with a little help from my sister) artistic impression of what the building would look like.

Artistic Impression of the building

Workshop design
The design created in the workshop

I have considered this previously, but during the workshop Emma and I consider the inside of the building. The image here shows our design concept.

The building would have two functions, offices and open lab. The old College House would accommodate researchers, learning designers and learning technologist who work on elearning and educational design.

The cube, which has two floors. On the ground floor there would be open space where people (academic and students) could work and receive support and advice from skilled staff who would be on hand. This space would also contain (apple store like) benches at which small workshops could be held. The open space would have bean bags and soft furnishings for relaxed working, with moveable plasma screens for small demos.

The second floor would be a flexible learning space in which workshops could be held. There would be a trolley of laptops so they could be used as required for hands-on workshops. The tables would be storable and moveable, so the layout of the room can be changed. There would be screens on each wall, learners can see presentation from wherever they are sat.

The space outside could also be used for relaxed study.

I have also named the building (tongue in cheek). Following the tradition of naming buildings after Vice Chancellors, I have named this after our current Vice Chancellor. It is the:

Burgess Open Learning Lab Of Collaborative Knowledge Sharing

I would like to clarify the acronym of name is by no means detrimental of the Vice Chancellor, but a reflection on the likelihood this conceptualisation will be realised!

Nevertheless, the building does have a metaphoric representation, this merger of an old building with new architecture would represent the beliefs and approaches of the people working within it. That is taking old educational principle and pedagogy and blending it with new technology and methods of deliver.

That’s the idea, remember where you saw it first 😉

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