Integrated Flexible Learning Spaces


Working on the current Learning spaces project has stimulated further thinking about current developments in Learning Spaces. My work with students at City has also led me to think it vital that students have a designated integrated learning space, to help them with individual project and team working. Students across all schools share a need to develop their effective research and communication skills, from printed essays, and research projects, to digital and oral presentations.  Many of the students that Rae Karimjee interviewed about learning spaces, and those who attended the forum expressed a desire for a different kind of space to those presently available at City.  They had strong views about space that integrates sophisticated high tech, with a rich variety of low tech resources that stimulate collaborative work, and invention. They also wanted this to be bookable space for an hour session, with the possibility of booking on the day, as well as in advance.  Many of these ideas put forward, and even sketched out by students and faculty during the forum, are reflected in the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity at The University of Kentucky.

The Noel Studio was completed in 2010, and their mission is.

  • improve the communication and research skills necessary for the advancement of the (learning) community
  • provide a unique space designed to stimulate creative and critical thinking
  • provide a dynamic learning experience through the use of innovative technology and highly trained consultants
  • serve the (learning) community, its service region, and the nation, as a transformative physical and virtual hub for innovation in critical and creative thinking, research, and communication through a variety of modes and media

In this studio space the writing, communication and research areas are brought together. Students book in for one hour sessions to get help and also to work on a variety of research and communication projects, including graduate research. Or they can work in small groups to use the facilities to practice and develop their ideas. The studio offers a variety of physical spaces:

Invention Space

Presentation and Practice space

Conference space for collaborating on campus or remotely

Discovery space for guest speakers and instruction sessions

The studio is a technologically sophisticated environment, with touch screen technology and video equipment, but also has a rich variety of low tech. resources for stimulating invention and collaboration. The fundamental principles are helping students to think critically and creatively, to synthesise information, to organise their ideas convincingly and cohesively, and to communicate them effectively.

A major innovation is that the students using the studio are supported by “consultants” who are specifically trained graduates and undergraduates, drawn from all disciplines.

Some colleagues might say that this is an American model that does not fit with the UK system. But already in the UK there are already highly successful examples of similar innovative approaches to teaching and learning spaces. The Learning Grid at Warwick University supports students towards independent learning in a flexible integrated space with embedded technology. And increasingly undergraduate students are coming to City fresh from newly designed schools and academies, where integrated learning spaces are the norm, and many post graduate students are coming from learning institutions where they have been used to learning in innovative spaces.

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2 Responses

  1. Rae K

    January 18, 2012 10:58 am

    Hi Angela,

    Thanks for your vignette its really good to hear about other institutions and what they are up to. My research also looks at Warwick and there is an example where student and staff co-partnering together in their teaching really works!
    As we are approaching the stage where we want to consider how we capture our staff working in these new spaces I wondered whether you or others have any ideas on how we might do that.
    We feel capturing it in the form of a project board story would be suitable but it also depends on what we aim to capture. Primarily I see this project as one where staff and students can work in unison together but also where staff may be changing their practices in a small way.
    What do you and others think?
    This will also be raised at our next LSG group so feedback is always helpful. 🙂

  2. angela dove

    January 20, 2012 9:23 pm

    Hi Rae,
    The story board idea is great. I guess another idea (only of course with permission of all) would be to capture short video “vignettes” of teachers and students actually using the spaces.
    I agree that small but significant changes can be so important, and maybe an A4 sheet could be provided to students and teachers, asking for 3 bullet points on how, if at all, the pilot space changed their teaching and learning practices. To be filled in during the last 3 minutes of the class.


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