Insight for schools: Trends in university learning space design, big shift from lectures to collaborative learning

For many school-based educators, one of the justifications for maintaining a traditional teacher and content focused culture is the need to prepare students for university. But what if universities are changing.

MUSE  Macquarie University
MUSE at Macquarie University

There are many examples of tertiary institutions that understand the need for change. Information, lectures and resources can be accessed online, so why would they need to come into university. The MUSE at Macquarie University (pictured) is the transformation of the former library of the 1960s into learning commons and now more students are on campus, they have a place to go.

It has been interesting to read the chapter: The Further and Higher Education Campus in Design for the changing education landscape (2014) by Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton. There is significant insight for the school education sector from what is happening at the tertiary level.

The examples in this chapter are in a process of philosophical shifts, from tutor/lecturer focused, front facing classes toward collaborative and active learning environments. The Active Learning Center at the University of Minnesota noted the difference in the behaviour of a professor in the two different learning modes. In the traditional rooms there was more lecturing and the professor remained at the lectern. The open space approach showed more discussion, movement throughout the space and greater consultation with individuals and small groups.

From: Design for the changing education landscape (2014) Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton.
Before and After at Melbourne University From: Design for the changing education landscape (2014) Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton.

The lecture theatre has limited cut-through and is increasingly inconsistent with the modes of learning that students need in the technology rich environment. It is not uncommon for students to stream lectures to their device, rather than sit in the lecture theatre. Physics lecturer, Eric Mazur realised how ineffective the lecture was for gaining knowledge and understanding. He discovered that this was better achieved through discussion and student-to-student explanation. In the article in Harvard Magazine,  Twilight of the Lecture: The trend toward “active learning” may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years, he says,

It’s no accident that most elementary schools are organised that way. The reason is, that’s how we learn. For some reason we unlearn how to learn as we progress from elementary school through middle school and high school. And in a sense, maybe I’m bringing kindergarten back to college by having people talk to each other!”

We can better prepare our students for further learning by considering these elements in the design of school, especially in terms of the three learning landscapes – physical, virtual and cultural.

The City – the campus as a learning communityManhattan and the City at NBCS

Alongside designated places for learning, we begin to see the entire campus as a learning landscape, identifying the spaces in-between. Movement areas are designed as part of the overall landscape. The balance of formal and informal settings is changing as students are required to be more self-directed. In many schools, valuable real estate is taken up by herding cattle along corridors. We can consider how these transition spaces can be exploited. Food is also important, more than just fuel, it is a catalyst for connection. But quality of the food and design of the setting matters.

Informal and Social Learning Spaces 

Primary school in Copenhagen
Primary school in Copenhagen

Mobile technology is the enabler that make informal spaces work for learning. They are usually outside the classroom, adjacent to eating and gathering spaces. Designed for both staff and student to co-locate, supporting the notion of a pervasive learning community. Social hubs are designed to suit each institution’s unique needs and culture.

Furniture Layout 2012-10-10 12.40.08 copy

Round tables encourage collaboration and quickly create a community of
learning. The students are forced to look at each other, changing the relationship amongst the classes. Allowing for different furniture types and multiple arrangements encourage collaborative and group based learning.

Libraries

A contentious subject for many schools. When learning resources are available digitally and students can almost carry a library on their device, the libraries can serve as information commons. The place where the digital learning environment can be managed. The lines are blurring between the learning commons, technology spaces, social/food spaces and information spaces. There can be sanctuaries for concentration and reflection alongside the collaborative and group settings, providing for different needs and a variety of settings for learners

TU Delft Library

What’s your metaphor?

As I explore this subject the importance of creating a metaphor for the spaces recurs. Ownership, codes of behaviour and a simple description in the shape of a metaphor can communicate the complex in a simple way. Here are some examples I recorded as I read Harrison and Hutton. What do you think they are describing?

  • City and the streets
  • Front Porch
  • Cul-de-sac
  • Den
  • Hive
  • Club
  • Cell
  • Home

No standing still

Learning is changing as society changes. Gaining knowledge and understanding in a digital and globally connected world requires a new mindset. We can stick to tried and tested ways, claim that the pendulum always swings back again, but I haven’t seen many pendulum clocks anywhere other than a museum. The world has changed and thankfully the place where learning occurs is evolving.

@anneknock

Design for the Changing Educational Landscape

6 Replies to “Insight for schools: Trends in university learning space design, big shift from lectures to collaborative learning”

  1. Hi Anne, We are running a bus tour for Qld Principals and Ed LEaders on 18th August to Agile Learning Centres at Griffith University, QUT and University of Qld – it’s Call Tertiary Agile Learning Spaces – Derek

  2. Reblogged this on Create Great Schools and commented:
    Environment leading the learning or the other way round?
    Learning space is now more complex than one room, one teacher, one blackboard and 30 desks in rows with the naughty kids up the front!!
    Modern school design requires creative thinking led by the learners.

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