The Design & Management of Learning Environments –The Student Experience

#LearnEnvConf Thursday 17 May 2018

Held at Kings College London, this event looked at the key topic of how a modern and diverse learning environment can attract, engage and retain its students and staff.

1.Sue Holmes, Director. of Estates at Oxford Brookes University and AUDE member.

Sue was the first speaker. Her talk called “JellyBean Learning, the future of the university campus” Key elements from Sue’s presentation began with ref. to a OBU survey that recognised estate quality is linked to student choice and expectations. She talked about the challenges of increasing costs and higher benchmarks. Her view is that students need to learn how to think and challenge more, as students today appear more accepting of facts.

She used an unquoted statistic, 80% of jobs in 2025 do not currently exist, Sue believes that more skills base learning is essential. In particular, the increase in the use of blended learning that is taking place at Oxford Brookes [not sure how much…] 

Sue considers that technology is helping improve teaching retention and lowering costs. Sue asked if our spaces should be more flexible? Seeing more UK universities are building super labs with flexible furniture, timetables and management. See here. 

Sue also quoted from an academic called Rafael Rief, at MIT,  “If we don’t know how we learn how on earth do we know how to teach?” [In the Q&A section, I asked Sue what impact this quote had on her view of learning spaces, an intriguing quote to bring to the conference, but it needed more explanation]

With relevance to our own LEAP project, she referred to the impact of new technologies and expectations. Apparently, 81% of first year students at Nottingham Trent University increased their study time when they saw their own engagement data. Referring to the need for students to be employment ready, as the sector is under pressure from Government. Results, engagement, improved output and support, the evidence shows that it makes a difference.

2.Niamh Godley & Holly Sorce, King’s College London. ‘From Concept to Post-Occupancy Evaluation: The Bush House Story’ 

Following last year’s presentation, KCL has increased by 50%, their teaching capacity for 650 staff and 7000 students. So far, only the Kings Business school students have given feedback, currently being evaluated, but so far it is very positive. If students have limited or no access to new and prestigious facilities then unsurprisingly they are less satisfied in terms of value for money. A Post Occupancy Evaluation survey is imminent.

Sinead O’Toole,  Sheffield Hallam University and Ian Ellison, 3edges. ‘A Toolkit Approach to Inclusive Place (not Space) Design’

Sinead had the aspiration of Co-creation. They asked themselves, why do so many workplaces projects fail?

  • Unclear objectives or scope
  • Inappropriate inadequate teams or leadership
  • Poor planning and controls
  • Lack of stakeholder communications and consultation
  • Placemaking opportunity from university aims

Ian from 3edges design agency, was engaged in creating participating tools for stakeholders, with a ‘home team’ ethos. Above all we “Need a repeatable scalable process to unlock key elements of different projects’ It was a genuine partnership, aiming for Gestalt impact, to

  • Take stock
  • Design solutions 
  • Test, learn, and refine

[no reference to evaluation, but perhaps inferred?]  ‘Obliquity’ goals achieved indirectly and engaging Online innovations such as Wiki surveys and Kialo.

A creation of a Workplace Engagement Toolkit, which includes sketches of activities. Very positive feedback so far. It has proved scalable and value outside of Sheffield Hallam, with interest welcomed via for contributioning institutions. Contact:

4. Christine Kohlert, RBSGROUP EU, ‘Challenges for Universities: Opportunity for forming a brand

Christine was the last speaker of the morning, here I have just highlighted some noteworthy observations from her work;

  • KIT Karlsruhe has automatic translation [captions on screen] in place in auditoriums for four courses
  • Mary Idema Pew library at Grand Valley State University is completely student focused, with ubiquitous white board spaces with stools, on large screens, 
  • At the University Hamm in Lippstadt, all library books have been digitised, over 37,000 books and all lectures are automatically recorded 
  • DTU Copenhagen Sky Lab, with innovative signage on the floors giving directions to different areas 
  • Maker spaces open to all students at the Bartlett School of Architecture, here in London at UCL 

I liked her minor point on the need to create spaces with character and that show trust, a key issue I believe.

Session 2.

5.  Oliver Heath, Oliver Heath Design, Biophilic Design: Improving the human connection with nature in HE estates

Science and style of biophillic design is enhancing education environments, naturally.
Why? Stress accounts for 37% of all work related ill health and 45% of all sickness absence. [Source not captured] With 11-15 year old Children in the UK looking at screens for 7.5 hours per day.

  • Creating naturalised learning spaces for children that can enhance their cognitive abilities
  • References to our genetic heritage, the so-called Savannah Theory,
  • Constructs of biophillic design are, direct contact with nature, water, trees, plant, light
  • Natural analogues, evoking a sense of nature
  • Human spatial response, energising, relaxing and restorative places

Evidence based approach, based on our Circadian rhythm effect of natural light on the human body clock. Such as, natural wood panelling that helps to lower students’ heart beat
The ecological Valence Theory has been applied to the WWF Building in Woking with biophilic design approach.

The Garden School in London for autistic children, with hexagonal cocoon-like spaces with blue Interface carpets and dimmable LED lights that have interactive elements when children touch key parts in the space. link here.

Oliver touched on the Kaplan Attention Restoration Theory, with micro-recuperative workspaces, link here.

6. Colin Campbell, Ecophon Group & Nigel Oseland, Workplace Unlimited, ‘The Role of Psychoacoustics in Designing Learning Environments’

Hypothesis; how do people cope with noise in open plan learning spaces? Evidence shows that introverted teachers suffered more from voice strain. Big Five Inventory OCEAN, looking at personality profiles of teachers and found that introverts had to develop coping strategies.

Reference to a recent initiative called the ‘Innovative Learning Environments and Teachers Change’, a formative study in Australia, link here.

It looked at the impact of noise on teachers in a noisy classroom, with an average increase of 10 beats pm.

But also Nigel referred to the negative impact of noise on students, especially in terms of cognitive performance and behavioural issues.
Reference to Essex case study, improved sound to noise ratio, Canning and James, 2012.
Witzenhausen school case study, used sound traps, acoustic treatment to ceiling and floor.

I liked the design idea of providing visual clues, such as people lowering their voice when they walked into areas with books. The library hush!

7. Ziona Strelitz, ZZA Responsive User Environments, Informal Student Environments: Learning from POEs of the LSE’s Saw Swee Hock Student Centre and LSE LIFE

‘To know the cause of things’ [The talk did not resonate in any great detail]

8. Andrew Harrison, Spaces That Work. ‘Libraries at the heart of the student experience’

Andrew referred to libraries as, a place for people to be passionate about knowledge. He cited Massimo Riva, 2012, with a quote on a blended space, of the virtual and physical. We need to consider the changing nature of scholarship, changing technologies, changes to researcher expectations, new research methods, proliferation of digital information.

Information behaviour of the researcher of the future, tech. savvy but critical thinking isn’t so easy, no age difference to zero tolerance of searching online, less patience with greater technology – a paradigm here that I have heard elsewhere!

Libraries of the future 2011. Sconul and Jisc. Andrew said its sadly a depressing read! Such as a recent USA study showing a 72% decrease in book loan. But as we know full well, libraries supporting new ways of learning, they require different types of space, and are in many ways a learning hub, 

Example shared, Kent State University in Ohio, has a maker space within their academic learning commons.

The future library Andrew argued, is an intersection spanning the physical and the virtual, with 3 areas, Private, invited access, open access, i.e. Digital humanities bringing diverse data sets together, like digitisation of old scrolls that can’t be handled even in a museum, 

So what type of spaces do we need?  Certainly access to advanced data sets, and rights, video conference spaces, video studios for blended learning content creation. Such as the Immersive Spaces Cave at Monash University in Melbourne.





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