New Learning Avenues
September 5, 2012 \ Creative Workspace
by Karen Pickering
Our third ‘Creative Workspace’ hosted evening seminar began with Karen Pickering of PagePark giving a condensed visual history of learning spaces. It served as a reminder of the interdependency of teaching style and learning environment, from the open-air gymnasium of ancient Greece, through the enclosed cloisters and courtyards of Oxford and Cambridge to the public spectacle of Enlightenment lectures, each a physical embodiment an approach to teaching. Karen finished with a quote from Confucius,
“Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.”
and asked, can our contemporary learning environments help students find the other three corners?
Dr Vicky Gunn of University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Centre gave us an insight into the shifting academic landscape and asserted that architecture should be subordinate to scholastic requirements. By the early 20th century the Gilbert Scott building was deemed unfit for purpose and yet this neo-gothic pile is now an important element attracting students to study at Glasgow.
Acknowledging the important role digital technology will play in how courses are delivered, Vicky made a plea for the enduring power of a good teacher delivering an engaging lecture. Massive open online courses, (MOOCs) have the potential to widen access enormously but do we have the technological interfaces to support them?
The clear dividing lines between subject areas, between teacher, researcher and practitioner are being eroded as the problems we face demand multi-disciplinary solutions. Architecturally, can we think of two hearts? the individual subject heart and the social heart where interactions take place.
Students need support to adapt what they learn in the classroom to apply it outside University, and to learn how to be and act in open plan, informal environments. She ended with a cautionary word that taking away academics’ garrets would see a drop in productivity of research output!
Callum Robertson of University of Edinburgh Estates and Buildings reported from the front line of implementation and delivery and started with some number crunching. Edinburgh University have invested £80m in their estate in the last 5 years, largely improving the informal study spaces and areas for group work that form the glue between the core teaching spaces. We have to solve the existing buildings as well as getting the new ones right, and this means opening up social spaces at the heart of teaching clusters, creating break-out spaces in the circulation areas.
Ana Cristobal of PagePark and Val Clugston of Nomad RDC then closed off the evening with a lively run through the work they have done on the University of Stirling Atrium project. They described the feedback loop from the micro focus on interior space, out to a landscape masterplan and zooming back in again on the details of the interior.
Field research formed the basis of their approach, observing how students currently use the space, informal interviews and cognitive maps were also employed to dig into how the space actually works. This soft data was compared to the architectural analysis and in many cases a root connection was found between physical environment and user behaviour. Building on the current life of the atrium space, the proposals included spaces to perch, sit, talk and study and most importantly a new lantern and window connecting the interior world back to the landscape setting so highly valued by the students.
The discussion afterwards touched on that Estates department perennial of utilisation and occupancy, how can we get more out of these expensive investments? More multi-disciplinary use of centralised facilities? Or might civic engagement between the university and their communities offer a way to get more out of our learning environments? And finally do we need a user guide for these new social learning spaces to give permission to ‘write on the walls’? Hopefully if the design is working we won’t need an instruction manual.