- The magic formula: A comfortable place to sit; a table; some presentation technology and a writable surface.
- Inclusion of key stakeholders (library, IT Services, Capital Works/Property Services, Learning Designers and Space Users) is key. Without one of these key elements, spaces are often not fit for purpose. Working together as a team towards a common purpose is a powerful combination. Easy to say but difficult to achieve in environments that thrive in silos.
- Learning should be the driver for design - do not overwhelm spaces with technology or architecture.
- Really good learning spaces should not cost the earth. Simple, transferable concepts can be very good value.
- Wheels! Spaces that are flexible and reconfigurable stand the test of time and encourage interdisciplinary interaction and a blend between teaching and research. They also provide a platform for good blended learning.
UWS has a number of campuses and it was not possible to show them all in one day so UWS selected Campbelltown - a purpose build University Campus designed specifically for HE. It has a mix of specialist and general purpose teaching spaces as well as social learning areas. Parramatta campus is the subject of much refurbishment and renovation this year and next and is where the new Collaborative Learning Suite will be implemented later this year. In 2013, UWS will be rolling out a Learning Commons at each campus with the largest at Parramatta and so next year will be a good time to return to UWS to view some of its newest spaces.
At Campbelltown today, we took a tour around the School of Medicine Space (Building 30) with Fiona Pacey who was able to provide some context for each of the spaces. Building 30 is an exciting space to work and study and I was inspired by Fiona's enthusiasm for her place of work even after 5 years. The Problem Based Learning (PBL) Room was a simple format which highlighted the application of the "Magic Formula" of table, comfy chair, technology and writable surface. A simple but effective and cost effective space, popular with students who use the space 24/7.
The outdoor area was designed by the architect to be reminiscent of ancient rome or greece where students would gather to listen to great teachers. Nowadays, the students have found more modern pursuits taking ownership of the space for social and music events which drove the installation of a barbecue nearby!
The science labs for the School of Health and Science showed evidence of the evolution of thinking and learning as a result of iterative space design. By taking account of the mistakes of the past, the current wetlabs better serve the needs of the changing student profile. During the 2011 Tour, we identified the need to move to more flexible spaces which was evident even in the more specialist spaces - the Occupational Therapy spaces as well as the wetlabs had movable furniture to provide the school with the ability to adapt as the needs of the school changed.
The use of ICT in the labs and specialist spaces has had an impact on teaching - the use of cameras attached to instruments such as microscopes is commonplace and has meant that the outputs or a small scale experiment is now available to a larger group of students at the same time (as opposed to students taking turns to huddle around a microscope for example). This has made teaching more efficient. It is not yet clear what this means in terms of blended learning but for a hands on, practical subject it is a shift in practice.
Other more practical observations included the inclusion of bag storage for students which is an important safety consideration for things like wetlabs. In each of the specialist spaces, there was somewhere for students to store their bags.
In some of the more formal spaces, we saw the evolution over the years in the design of lecture theatres. Whilst the basic format remains the same, there are standards in place to improve the look and feel of teaching spaces with the use of colour, standardisation of comfortable furniture, iterative redesign of technology and inclusion of additional powerpoints for student laptop use. In her presentation, Yuen showed a number of examples where these standards had been used across a variety of spaces. Using the 'ice cream sundae' approach, UWS has applied Threshold Standards (recently endorsed by the Education Committee) which apply a base 'vanilla' standard across teaching spaces but allow for 'toppings' - the necessary variation for discipline specific technology (e.g. electronic whiteboards for School of Education or CAD for Engineering). Standards include projection facilities, PC, phone and the availability of writable surfaces which at UWS mean glass. From the 2011 tour, it was evident that glass provided a much better alternative to other traditional whiteboards and writable paint.
The Library, as ever, demonstrated a focus on the customer with a range of zones that provided opportunities to study quietly, in groups or even to snooze! The group study pods were very well utilised and the Library had made it easy for students to book these spaces using QR codes. Next year, the library plan to improve the group study pods with presentation technology - completing the 'magic formula' for already very popular spaces. Some other institutions had found the demand for in-house technology was dwindling but others, like UWS still receive feedback from students that they expect the university to provide them.
Lynnae Rankin, E-Learning Manager, reminded us all that the link to the Blended Learning Strategy was essential - the Learning Space is an important component of Blended Learning. She encouraged us to pursue 'Positive Deviances' to ensure that we blend the best of both online and face to face facilities. As Fiona Pacey talked about her spaces, she moved seamlessly in the discussion between physical and virtual space which, to me, demonstrated the increased blurring of what we mean by Learning Space.
In spite of the afternoon treasure hunt for the afternoon tea (which resulted in said treasure being savoured by all), the group identified a number of learning points from the day which many felt would inform their imminent space design opportunities:-
- The UWS 'Cookie cutter' approach is good - there was good evidence of consistency in the way spaces were planned. The use of the vanilla plus toppings approach seemed to be working at this campus.
- There were examples of the deployment of the 'magic formula' in different areas.
- Writing surfaces is common across all the spaces and had been retro-fitted in some spaces where the original design had not included them.
- The QR code for scheduling in library study rooms was identified as something quite unique and would be implemented at other institutions.
- The library had a very student focussed aspect to their design - despite it being one of the older UWS libraries and struggling with the existing building constraints, it has a relaxed feel which clearly the students appreciated. The group study pods were liked amongst the group and were all heavily used.
- It was unfortunate that the specialist spaces were science focussed it would have been nice to see humanities spaces - e.g. Flip classrooms.
- The evolution demonstrated showed some of the ordinary spaces - some of which were quite old and highlighted the importance of good design with the use of colour, good quality decor, up to date technology and, surprisingly important, the use of natural light. Fiona Pacey emphasised the importance natural light had in Building 30, the spaces around the windows in the library were occupied by students (some of the spaces away from the windows remained unoccupied) and one of the less attractive spaces was one that had no windows at all. It is good to know that we all are faced with similar challenges!
- Outdoor spaces are increasingly important as are the Social Learning Spaces dotted around the University.
- Getting student feedback to inform space design is difficult but there are some easy ways to get this important input.
- UWS has a strategic approach to Blended Learning which is driving Learning Space Design and there is a structured approach to ensuring the right people are involved in the design stages which is informing emerging standards around flexibility.
- Accessibility is an important and often overlooked aspect of space design. If you design well for disabilities, you usually just design well!
All in all, it was a useful day for most people on the tour with people discussing ways in which they would consider some aspects in their home institution. The weather was kind to us with only a shower or two in the evening whilst we were safely sheltered in the restaurant.
We're very much looking forward to the UTS visit which promises to be very exciting with a range of new innovations in space design awaiting us. Cameras at the ready!