Learning Space Design at City, what students really want


In a very recent report from the Students Union to Senate, one of the 5 student community themes put forward concerned  Learning and Social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration.

“Students expect facilities which are fit for purpose, welcoming, comfortable and focused on their needs. We would like to see an Estates Strategy which looks at existing spaces as places where achievement is celebrated. The long term plans for new spaces should reflect students’ desires to come together to study, eat and socialise.”

There are some excellent learning spaces at City, however still far too few are distinctive enough to make a memorable impact on actual or prospective students. We may not be able to do much with our historic building stock, so it is all the more vital that new and refurbished spaces go out of their way to represent and reinforce the values of academic excellence the university now has committed to. Many of our spaces expect students to learn in a physical environment that is vastly different to the world in which they will be putting their knowledge to use: a world of collaboration, exploration, creative thinking, flexibility and ubiquitous digital resources and communication. Increasingly our students are coming from High Schools and Academies with world class design of physical learning spaces, their expectations of City in this respect are rightly high.

Students want learning and social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration. City students have also identified a set of key values that encouragingly resonate with the Universities strategic vision.

Interaction, opportunity, identity, energy, excitement, enrichment, buzz, pride, inspiration, belonging, personalisation, participation, boundary breaking, diversity, lifelong friendship.

If we take these key values and apply them to the design of learning spaces, City could achieve a distinctive vision for a menu of learning spaces that promotes and supports educational excellence. By Learning Spaces, we should include social spaces, both indoor and outdoor spaces, and Virtual Learning Spaces. Even corridors offer untold opportunities for learning, with student and staff curated exhibitions that celebrate their achievements and act as a forum for sharing knowledge and ideas. As an institution we are on the cusp of major space building and refurbishment, with the opportunity to enrich the students’ experience through ground breaking space design that reflects what the students really want.

The LDC’s Learning Space Project has done a considerable amount to engage staff and students in this process, with for example a very productive Space Design Forum, and the resulting two pilot spaces.  Feedback from students show that inspirational space is hugely important to their learning. Students are also looking for interaction in learning spaces. At City we have a greatly underused potential resource for interactive learning: the walls and vertical spaces. When refurbishing existing spaces or designing new ones, it is vital to view the walls as an interactive learning resource. Presently many existing classrooms and lecture halls have constraints over the use of walls and teachers and students are not allowed to use bluetac. The décor and treatment of walls takes precedence over learning.

Interactive use of walls in a research university (Southern England)

There is also an important emotional component to learning space, which can have a great impact on energising both students and teachers. This includes the air quality of the space, lighting, the use of colour, and flexible space with freedom of movement. Rather than the draining effects of rows of fixed tables and chairs.
All City Schools now subscribe to the principles of high engagement learning. Participation is a key principle, needing all our learning spaces designed to support and promote it. Forward facing classrooms, fixed rows of seating, lecture theatres that seem designed to prevent team working and collaboration between students, all work against participative learning
Students want a diversity of learning spaces, reflecting the diversity of their learning styles and needs. They also identify pride as key to being part of the City community. Imaginative, distinctive and memorable learning spaces are essential to communicating City’s vision for educational excellence.

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3 Responses

  1. pascalecolonna

    July 24, 2012 4:31 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this, Angela.
    It is rather common sense that environment will have an affect on learning- when does it not?
    I’m so pleased that people are finally waking up to this. I used to be rather frustrated to have to teach in rooms with rows of table. For years I argued that it not not right for teaching the interactive activities I was using.
    Fortunately I was finally able to book rooms where you could move the furniture more easily (conference chairs) but there weren’t enough of those rooms for the entire programme.
    Students have always enjoyed interactivity – it would be a shame not to tap into this.

  2. sianlindsay

    July 26, 2012 2:24 pm

    Hear hear! For too long learning spaces have been dull, uninspiring and I remember for me as a new undergraduate, pretty intimidating. I really think that your physical environment has a strong effect on how you feel, and how ready you feel to start learning and engaging in what is being taught. The challenge for us as lecturers in these new learning spaces comes down to how we adapt our teaching methods and approaches to work with them. Not that this challenge should be viewed in a negative way – I think it’ll be fun to consider how we might incorporate sticky walls / squiggle boards / pod chairs etc into our teaching!

  3. Ruth Valentine

    August 6, 2012 8:39 am

    I agree. For years I’ve taken it for granted that the first job of a teacher/trainer is to move the furniture! Rooms that are designed for students to look only at the teacher give precisely the wtrong message. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The enironment needs to looki as if the institution treats its learners with respect as reflective adults.


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