Hey what a difference a ‘can do’ attitude can have. Perhaps I should get out more but I really was excited by what I saw today. Speaking to some of the others on the tour, I wasn’t on my own. QUT have faced some of the same problems and made some of the same mistakes as other Universities but clearly they are getting it right much of the time. The Engineering Precinct was a terrific example of engaging the academic community, identifying changes to the curriculum and designing spaces to help facilitate that change. In the UK, I used some of the same principles – engage the academic community, lead with the pedagogy, create designs and repeat across multiple spaces for consistency and this had really good results. However, when I did this, I used fixed technology with inflexible designs – the technology 2.5 years ago couldn’t quite cope with anything else but clearly now it can which presents us with some challenges and opportunities. One of you (Rocky or Danny?) said, “I need to go back and press the pause button on work we are about to do”.
Some similar themes emerging today again:-
· Consistency of look and feel makes the spaces easy to use and reduces support overhead. This makes it easier for academic staff to engage.
· More examples of flexible spaces – furniture (and even wind tunnels!) on wheels. Talks to the philosophy of ‘don’t bolt things down’
· Gordon Howell said today “If you put in quality spaces, students will look after them”. Lori Bowe said the same yesterday. I think this is true and is evidenced by the low levels of theft and damage to what seem to be easy pickings in the flexible spaces we saw today.
· Evaluation is important. Today, we noted that QUT have a fairly structured, albeit informal way of evaluating spaces, which we as a Community of Practice could develop:-
o Post occupancy measures
o Utility measures
o Satisfaction measures
o Outcomes based measures (impact on learning) – difficult to measure. Lightweight feedback – QUT trawl twitter and use post-it notes in new spaces to get students to put up comments.
· Whiteboards/writable surfaces. Everywhere we have gone this week, we have seen how important writable surfaces are. We have considered using glass at UWS and having seen good examples of this in a number of institutions, I think we will give this a go – it seems to work really well.
· Keep it simple – again, over-doing it over-complicates the space and detracts from its usability. Basic components seem to really work: A bit of technology, a whiteboard, comfy chairs and a table. Students do their creative thinking on the whiteboards and bring it together on the technology.
What left a lasting impression on me today was....
· The screens on the walls didn’t get used but the screens on wheels didn’t. QUT weren’t sure why until they discussed this with a psychologist. Things on walls are precious – we are taught this from early childhood – don’t touch the stuff on the walls. Things on wheels however send a different message – they are toys, they are accessible & you are allowed to play with them.
· The Mobile Computer on Wheels (MoCow) which costs about $5,500 and provides a simple, repeatable, scalable set of technology that can be used anywhere.
· OWL – the web based voting and feedback application. Makes ‘clicker’ rather unnecessary – turns any web-based device (phone, iPad, laptop) into a clicker and so no need to provide clickers to students. Very simple.
· Wheels! I’ve seen tables and chairs on wheels (OK, I get that) but seeing a mobile wind tunnel and other heavy machinery on wheels to enable flexibility in spaces that traditionally are fixed – this made me think again about what is possible.
· ‘Can do’ attitudes – there seemed to be a more collaborative and experimental attitude in the team at QUT. There are risks in what they do – Geoff said that they do not require that everything works first time and this changes the emphasis and the approach. It allows mistakes but also greater successes. Someone yesterday said, “It is only a mistake if you do it twice – the first time is just a learning experience”.
· A clear link and integration between research and teaching. We talk about it but it was good to see some real experiences of it in the Engineering spaces.