The Design & Management of Learning Environments Conference 2017 #LECONF

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Conference venue: Kings Place, London.

The Design & Management of Learning Environments Conference attracts a friendly and loyal audience of directors and managers from HE Estates departments, designers, architects, academics and consultants.

This year the event ran on 28th June and showcased a wide variety of speakers, from architets to change managers through to educational technologists.

The day was opened by Mike Clark chair of AUDE, Director of Estate and Facilities Management at the University of Brighton.  He suggested that a new role had emerged within universities, that of a programme manager physical learning spaces, sounds promising.

Mike also read out a statistic that HEFCE is seeing a significant £17.8bn investment over the next 5 years, but that this is skewed by big university spends. Generally, we have to work hard to do a lot more with a lot less.

Nicholas Burwell. “Pedagogy and Modern Learning Space Design”

Burwell Deakins Architects

Lecture theatre designs using Race seating, referred to diagram of the T shaped man, vertical spike = Subject specific knowledge, data collection, and the horizontal breadth represented by critical thinking, transferable skills

Generation Y is 17-38 years old, generation Z, is aged 0-16. They are good at collaborating, pulling ideas form different areas, ‘pulse work’ – go off and do their own things, traditionalists good at detail and better at not being distracted. ‘Ambivert’ = as opposed to extravert and introvert, like a hermit crab, ‘Pulse’ nature of the way people learn.

Some research suggests people become less extrovert over time, are academics typical learners? More introverts in academia, who communicate in the way they know and their peers, unlike today’s students.

So learning styles and differences must be considered.

He defined the purpose of a lecture theatre, somewhere to learn without technology [based on church layout or theatre]

Burwell Deakins aims to allow for didactic pedagogy as well as by ‘doing’, with seating for discursive activity, based on cabaret kabuki style venues, BD also used the Giants Causeway as a metaphor for the seating design.

They recognise that architects need a strong champion at university.

Race seating takes up ideally 1.3msq pp, as you don’t need the breakout space, it keeps clutter to a minimum, has a shallow rake, need to show the torso for better interaction, with attention to viewing angles.

Hi tech version at University of Leeds, interactive, video conferencing, lecture capture, inbuilt desks, difficult to define quality of tech. Working with Neil Morris and Liz Brittan. Up to 170 people is over ideal maximum. Large touchscreen for academic facing the audience. Staff had 90 mins CPD session before with Ed Techs.

At Leeds – Student satisfaction up to 80% in these spaces.


Olivia Fox & Mo Pamplin  “Face-to-Face & Online Learning: Finding the right blend”

City, University of London

The question now is not whether to blend to not; it is how to design an effective blend.” Alammary et al. (2014, p.440).

Olivia – An effective blend is one which leverages the benefits of both the face-to-face and online environments to produce a cohesive learning experience for students.

It increases the opportunities for students to interact with module content outside of lectures and seminars. It should also engage students in active learning in both face-to-face and online environments.

Face to face and online learning, finding the right blend. Encourage holistic programme design with on line elements blended with active face to face teaching.

Help students structure time away from the classroom. Exciting opportunity to encourage new forms of interactive teaching delivery, a more inclusive curriculum, personalise and vary content.

Integration is key , refer to online content in class. 

Mo – Learning spaces at city, only recently integrated with online teaching activity. Mo talked about 1st generation flexible learning spaces, facilitate collaborative learning, less defined front, squiggle glass. 2nd generation flexible spaces with race seating, plectrums, turn and learn lecture the theatres.

Blended learning timeline merges with learning space designs in 2011 at City. Underpinned by Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles of effective learning and teaching. Blended learning challenges the role of the academic fundamentally, more of a facilitator, but it takes more time. Need to consider the time in lived and how much support they need.

A challenge for students in terms of their learning experience too. Polysynchronous Learning, i.e. the City IFSTAL project.

Big demand for learning spaces that promotes effective online learning, e.g. Purdue University.



Niamh Godley & Holly Sorce. “The Transition to Bush House: Change management and academic offices”

King’s College London

Holly – Transition to bush house, change management and academic offices Kings College. Bush House buildings, will double teaching capacity with 7,000 students and 650 staff moving in.

Keeping many iconic features, working with the historic nature of the building, glass box being built to undercroft for catering, teaching spaces designed by persons unknown.

Shared office space for academics, open plan is causing great concern with academics, JRA architects, three different office layouts for staff to chose , linear metres of storage, 19m2 pp.

PMO sits corporately aside from Estates, sponsor is Provost and Senior VP for Arts and Sciences. Never and Holly are the only ones involved in change management.

What’s important is how they feel about the space, emotion, culture, etc. Not just pragmatic PM of Estates.

Key components; sponsorship, comms, coaching support, stakeholder management, resistance management, training. They use Prosciutto PCT Model for change management. Also coaching their own sponsor. 

Neve – connecting change management to business results. SCARF Model by David Rock. Found that academic idea is a loss of status, uncertainty.

Factors impacting academic life, from Brexit to TEF and estate. The developed a show space, help them to visualise with 3D graphics virtual tour, academics chose back to back layout, got to choose type of furniture. Personalisation of dept. School spaces to retain identity, a chance for ownership of space.

Academic ways of working, who shares with who, sharing agreement, governance and house keeping, using TRAC data, what will be different based on questionnaire with staff, Case study with depts. with high NSS scores, like Law. How to meet students? Where? Support students on how they will meet students and implications for Personal tutoring policies, a week in the life of a a academic into shared spaces.

Lessons learned, meaningful relationships with estates, need to motivate and engage people to move into Bush House. Changes into how professional services work and support staff and students, they too need support in change.


James Rutherford. “The UK HE Learning Space Toolkit”

City, University of London

I spoke about the Learnign Spaces Toolkit, a collaboration between SCHOMS, UCISA and AUDE. Two excellent international resources inspired the creation of the Toolkit. The first was the audio visual design guidelines from the Association for Audio Visual and Education Technology Management (AETM), Australia, and the second, FLEXspace which is an open access repository populated with examples of learning space images and related information from institutions worldwide.

Learning space developments whether new build or refurbishment, are complex projects that tend to happen infrequently and represent a substantial financial investment with a significant lifespan. No one professional group has enough knowledge to make the best decisions alone. This Toolkit is intended to help professionals to work more effectively together and with other stakeholders to deliver outcomes that have a significant transformative effect for their institutions.

  • Design decisions should be guided by a set of educational principles and articulating these principles clearly and simply will aid dialogue and understanding between different stakeholders involved in a learning space project.
  • We need to design for a diversity of pedagogic approaches bearing in mind a strong prevailing tendency towards a socio-constructivist approach that emphasises participatory and collaborative activities wherever appropriate.
  • We should think about entire campuses as learning spaces and consider the seamless flow of different types of learning activity as well as the overall range of provision.

Learning is above all a social process. The physical environment of a university should create a sense of being part of a learning community. A well designed campus allows seamless integration between different types of learning activity: between formal and informal learning and between group and individual learning.And we must always consider diversity and inclusivity for our learners.

This Toolkit has a focus on helping those in Estates, IT and audio visual support to work effectively together – but a successful project will need to involve a much wider range of stakeholders.

A strong desire to meet deadlines and manage a tight budget may encourage project leaders to want to get on with the build and solve any outstanding issues later. I would highlight the importance of ensuring that stakeholder voices especially academics, students and support staff are heard and acted upon from the beginning of the project if costly mistakes are to be avoided. Project teams should be aiming for highly participatory approaches to stakeholder engagement rather than token information giving.

Learning Space designers should be looking to stimulate creative thinking if we are to go beyond simply recreating new versions of what we already have. There are many simple approaches that can be used effectively to help stakeholders understand each other’s viewpoints and to work collectively to make better decisions.

“Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. Taking more time at the outset in forming the design brief and focusing on what the activities are can lead to a much better set of outcomes.” – my quote.

Typically the elements of a learning space project will consist of the RIBA stages, which apply to any large scale project. University staff will be likely to find themselves working with a wide range of professional advisers, which can be complex and drawn out over months and often years.

Frequently we are trying to do something that has not been done before and the experience of most other types of build are far better established than some of the more experimental learning spaces that we are developing. Frameworks and models undoubtedly help but only to the extent that they must not constrain thinking about what is unique about each particular project. The Toolkit advises on the use of a structured methodology but it is one that gives a holistic view. With all learning spaces it is fundamentally important to understand the activities that will be going on, in order to determine the room design and functional specification. It may be either innovative or low tech but it needs to be appropriate for the learning activities taking place. Usability and comfort is a key design principle for all learning spaces.

As learning and teaching practice develops we should not necessarily be constrained by the assumption that all spaces used for teaching should have a defined front and we need to understand the implications of new types of collaborative learning for those supplying audio visual technology and other teaching facilities.

Evaluation is an integral part of any learning space development and should be considered from the outset of any project. Indeed, Post-occupancy evaluation is well established within the higher education estates management function and AUDE has collaborated on producing guidance published by HEFCE (2006) But the danger is that we sometimes use the old measures to determine new spaces and as a result we often find them wanting…

  • We need to be able to evaluate the learning taking place as well as more readily quantifiable measures of usage of the space and technology.
  • We need to develop measures of success that relate to the activities and behaviours of students and how they communicate and collaborate within the space.
  • We need to use a range of qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods.
  • We need to ensure the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders including learners.

If we accept that learning space projects are change projects then there needs to be careful consideration of how we can measure the success of such space.

Quantitative data is relatively easy to gather these days but really needs to be supplemented by observational and behavioural analysis to gain any real insights into student and tutor practices in new learning spaces, such as ethnographic studies for example.

We must ensure that educational technologies are appropriate for the types of learning going on in the space; that the user interfaces are simple and intuitive and that lecturers are supported in making effective use of technology.

  • Lecture capture for example – lecture capture makes possible interesting new developments such as the concept of the flipped classroom whereby a tutor makes the lecture recording available for students to view in advance so that the class time can be used in interactive discussion about material with which students should already be familiar.
  • Hi tech – Voting systems, such as the Poll Everywhere app for mobile devices, and before that clickers for audience response in lectures.
  • Low tech – some of the equipment that best supports collaboration in learning spaces does not have to be complex. Writable surfaces in learning spaces are highly conducive to collaboration, participation and active learning, something I discovered in my own research study a few years ago, with whiteboards and glass writing surfaces being highly rated by all users.

We shouldn’t underestimate the time and resources that need to go into change management activities;

An Estates project manager with a background in construction won’t necessarily be a specialist in change management: they will need expert support. Effective change is collaborative but it needs to be led. Senior management leadership and support should be robust and visible.

There is also a significant amount of research into change management that identifies transition as distinct from change and suggests that it is often the pain of transition rather than the actual change itself that people tend to resist. I find you even need counselling skills as a lot of time is spent giving reassurance and walking people through change.Academic staff are sometimes very uncomfortable about moving away from didactic delivery in class, they don’t always have the skills required to deliver in new ways in our more progressive spaces.

One idea I have found to be highly effective is horizon scanning or bench marking. Ideally you want to take representative academics on visits to see how other universities are doing things differently (although seeing what other people get wrong is useful as well). Sharing best practice with other academics is very important and something that most staff are familiar with and they do seem to find it helpful.

The rationale for phase 2 is to bring the toolkit to life with recent case studies to provide an evidence base to underpin good practice and to demonstrate the experience of the range of professionals required to contribute to a successful learning space project.

Many will be familiar with AUDE, UCISA and SCHOMS,who are the current collaborators. Phase 2 will also involve colleagues from the Higher Education Design Quality Forum, its aim is to advance higher education through high-quality design and planning of buildings and facilities, along with SCONUL The Society of College, National and University Libraries which represents all university libraries in the UK and Ireland. We also welcome the Heads of E-Learning Forum along with JISC, which is the UK higher, further education and skills sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions.

Phase 2 will be focusing on four categories of space, from traditional lecture theatres to collaborative spaces, study lounges, as well as more specialist spaces.These are the different parameters that phase 2 will feature, some new, such as a closer look at pedagogy, informal learning, and budgets as well as some re- applied from the original Toolkit.

The methodology is very interesting for phase 2, with a different focus for its investigation, and with challenging questions with a greater emphasis on strategic learning and teaching objectives and an investigation into pedagogic led approaches.

These questions build on the knowledge and experience of developing the original Toolkit, and I think demonstrate a greater sense of confidence in asking the right questions. A recognition that it is the academic intent and vision that should be equally important as the pragmatic need to refurbish and refresh the university estate. The following is an update from Eleanor Magennis, one of the lead collaborators representing AUDE;

  • Shortlisted case studies, institutions informed
  • Researcher appointed
  • Survey issued late July/early August
  • Site visits arranged
  • JISC on board and will host new toolkit
  • Additional funding from HEDQF and SCONOL
  • Publication date to be confirmed


Maria Nesdale was the afternoon chair, an architect from Genser.

Kerstin Sailer. “Learning from Hogwarts: What Harry Potter can teach us about successful learning environments in Higher Education”

Bartlett School of Architecture

Social and spatial interaction, UCL, . Harry Potter teach of successful learning environments. Robin Evans quote 1997 ‘Figures, doors and passages’  match pedagogy with spatial layout and learning activities.

The example is Snape’s lab at Hogwarts. Categorised 418 episodes of learning, Full space syntax model to analyse space, Isovists maps 360deg of what I can see, strategic visibility shown in red, integrated the most shown as most used, metric plotted called mean depth, research shows 42% of learning happens outside classrooms, Pedagogy is strongly framed outdated pedagogy, lots of hierarchy, socialability any building orders people into categories, who do you belong to, Hillier and Hanson 1984, your house will be like your family, Prof. McGonagall.  Student Weijie Zong 2015, studied UCL Cruciform, spatial analysis of visibility.

Collaborative booths most used spaces, 2,000 students observed weekends as well as weekdays. More activity recorded in rows of computer seating.

Room of Requirements, closing thought, a personal space where you can choose and hide things, challenges how students learn or what they’ll use.

Q. Syntax space analysis could be overplayed with acoustic geometric mapping?

Matt Tarlin. “Student Accommodation: Embracing the shift towards blended living and the Learning Environment”

Stride Treglown

He discussed embracing the shift towards blended living and learning environments, Student accommodation in 30 universities.

91% of Students communicate by social media [Student com] where do students study in halls, most on the bed…games areas are important, 53% students confirm individual study is important in halls, group study less important. Case studies. Private providers developing more hotel type places, eg Cardiff. Town house typology with couples rooms, separate areas, holistic design ideas with more of a community feel, house cat or dog in each hall, welcoming reception, PG at Bath Uni. accommodation for couples, with communal social spaces, cafe.

Sense of belonging, supportive environment, create community, range of spaces, identity is importance. Average rent £125 pw, up to £200!!  


Peter Heaslip. “Grangegorman- A Mixed Bag”

Dublin Institue of Technology

Grangegorman development – a mixed bag,  Site has a Historical bad reputation, mental hospital , women and children deported to Tasmania…used to have a wall around the 72 acres. Connected by DART rail link. Phoenix Care Centre 2013, on site for local mental health support. Community relishes kids playground, but estates team struggle with anti social behaviour.


Martin Anderson. “Talent Retention and Wellbeing in Higher Education”


Design, talent retention and well being in the workplace, Biophilic design. 140,000 students gave up on university. Wild Urbanism, such as Dubai.

Design is key, students are studying in uncertain times, bring nature in and home comforts, to boost engagement and sense of well being, improves frame of mind.

Influence, Changi Airport for well being in stressful situation, Biophilic design is a commercial element. Google HQ in California, open spaces under glass dome, daylight with view to nature, or colours that recreate natural elements, Scarlet Opus. Slow skills. Textiles, natural elements have a calming and restorative quality, affects cognitive ability, we need tactile experiences, , 24 hours useage, lighting important, digital Nomads are Generation Y and z, up sticks, tech savvy, collaborative, applying tech with a craft mindset, will represent 75% of managers by 2030.

Colour palette is vibrant, energetic but grounded. Provide a safe place for bikes, storage in well lit places.

Collaboration is the way forward, peer to peer learning, togetherness, positive disruption of work, social informal social networks improve productivity, express yourselves on writing walls, replicate domestic spaces.

Privacy is king, 74% of people say it’s a concern more than 10 years ago, Harvard B Sch.

More people use headphones in offices, biggest issue in life according to students, cocooning, concealing and revealing.

Influence. Colour palette needs to change in privacy space. Nutshell, a real product, we find it hard to say leave me alone, use signs?

Headphones. Always think about texture and colour and shapes.

Conference ended with networking and drinks.

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