The LDC learning spaces project, directed by Rae Karimjee, is centred on finding out what students want in terms of innovative physical space that will enhance their learning. My role as Learning Development Associate for learning environments has been to support this process of engaging teachers, faculty and students in putting forwards their ideas, and resulted in two pilot spaces. The process has included
- Engaging faculty and teachers across schools in the Learning Spaces Forum, with regular meetings and discussions.
- Designing and facilitating a Learning Space workshop where students and faculty worked together.
- Opportunities for students to put forward their design ideas for a new type of learning space at City.
We now have two interesting pilot spaces; purpose designed to incorporate some of the features that students have asked for. These include a range of modern and flexible seating, of varying heights: node chairs on wheels with arm tables for laptops, lightweight circular tables, that can be broken down into separate components. There are glass wall panels or “Squiggle Glass” where students can use the vertical space to write and draw , for group learning. Teaching staff have been asked to try out these spaces and feed back to the project. So here are some observations of teaching a two hour session in the Pilot Space Room A109.
The learning session was a Reflective Practitioner first year elective module for UG Management students. It is normally taught in a standard classroom. The room was arranged for the previous session and the wheeled chairs and light tables were easily moved.
The lighting levels were very good, bright, but not glaring and a great contrast to the rather dingy lighting of the normal classroom. The heating level/ air quality was also good. In previous sessions in the normal classroom I have had to either open as many windows as possible, or students have sat in their coats. As students arrived they sat at different configurations of the flexible round “petal” tables. I noticed that:
- Students tended to sit with colleagues that they did not usually sit next to when in the usual class room; which is arranged in uniform rows.
- A couple of slightly late students did not have to disrupt the session by moving along rows of seated students, but quickly and quietly joined a table- based group.
The sightlines felt immediately better, it was easier to see and communicate with all the students (some sitting on higher stools towards the back). Whereas in the normal classroom, one is faced by either a wide angle of long rows of students, or the opposite, with rows of students stretching to the back of a narrow room. And the students one needs to try and engage more do in this type of space, tend to sit at the back.
This more organic space arrangement of groups made it possible to come out from behind the pod and move easily around the room and between clusters of tables. In Q and A sessions in a standard forward facing classroom the students very often have trouble seeing and sometimes hearing the student asking the question. This space arrangement and swivel chairs allowed them to interact far more with each other, and the teacher, encouraging dialogue.
Another major benefit is the increased amount of vertical space available for learning opportunities. Three walls feature large panels of glass, which can be written and drawn on, and have an additional magnetic property. Paper materials, index cards, images etc. can be displayed using magnets, and easily moved around, without fiddling with blue- tac.
It is also possible to quickly rearrange the clusters of tables and chairs actually during the session, causing minimum disruption, and no heavy lifting.
For group work and paired activities, I could more easily give support, rather than having to clamber over rows of students to get to the group on the inside, or wall end of the row.
A visualiser is a useful tool for students to present their ideas, however this space also
allowed a more collaborative approach, with students presenting their ideas on paper and freely circulating around each group table, viewing the work and discussing it.