Last week I attended a Heads of eLearning Forum (HeLF) event on Learning Spaces at Birmingham University. It was good timing, as GCU is planning to transform a floor in the Hamish Wood Building with state of the art teaching spaces, as well as refurbishing a number of lecture theatres. Learning from the experiences of others who are further down the road with these changes is really inspiring.
We heard first of all about past and future developments in teaching rooms and study spaces at the University of Birmingham, guided by their Learning Spaces Strategy. It’s interesting to note that Learning Spaces projects come under the wing of the Centre for Learning and Academic Development and Learning Spaces, where they have a Learning Spaces Development Officer.
Caroline Pepper from Loughborough reminded us of the UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit produced jointly by UCISA, SCHOMS and AUDE, which is a practical guide and another source of inspiration. I like the fact that the toolkit focuses very much on facilitating learning. It emphasises the diverse range of stakeholders who should be involved from the outset, including students and teaching staff. The fdevelopments at Loughborough are based around a set of key principles. Useful practical advice included the importance of flexibility to allow spaces, technology and learning to evolve over time, and the importance of natural light, especially in IT labs where it is often forgotten. Establishing an evaluation baseline early on against which success can be measured is vital.
We were also reminded that when new active learning classrooms are established, academic development is key to ensuring lecturers are prepared for making best use of the spaces with their students.
Peter Ryan of Canterbury Christchurch University shared experiences of the development of a new state of the art library building in its Canterbury campus as a learning space, including ‘maker spaces’ to encourage collaboration and co-creation among students.
We also heard from Paul Burt of UCL, who outlined the highly ambitious programme of teaching space upgrades that is taking place across UCL’s London campuses. It was interesting to hear that they have created new specialist AV/Learning Spaces posts (4 in all) rather than employing external consultants. This is allowing them to build up in-house expertise resulting in speedier start-ups and greater success for new projects. UCL are sharing their experiences with the sector and have produced their own learning spaces and AV guide.
All in all, the day allowed a really useful exchange of experiences and ideas. There was also some future-gazing into a shift away from fixed lectern equipment and the standard ‘teaching wall’ at the front of a room. Wifi capacity is key. As one participant put it, ‘If I can connect my iPad easily to my TV at home, why is it still so difficult to enable that for students and staff using their own devices in a teaching space?’ Why indeed.