The inaugural meeting of LUNAR@LLS (LUNchtime Academic Reading) took place on Friday 25th October.  As someone who has only been to social reading groups before, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the conversations and discussions flowed in this more academic context and how emotional I found myself getting about some of the points that were discussed!  (Yes, weird I know!)

For staff who weren’t there (but who are nevertheless interested in what we discussed), here is a short summary of the key points …

The three papers were Chapters 3, 9 and 13 of Oblinger, D. G. (2006) Learning Spaces (available as a free e-book):

  • Chapter 3. Seriously Cool Places: The Future of Learning-Centered Built Environments by William Dittoe  (View: HTML | PDF)
  •  Chapter 9. Trends in Learning Space Design by Malcolm Brown and Phillip D. Long (View: HTML | PDF)
  •  Chapter 13. Assessing Learning Spaces by Sawyer Hunley and Molly Schaller (View: HTML | PDF)

Dittoe’s paper followed a hypothetical scenario where student living and learning environments were seamlessly entwined.  While initially the idea of turning up to a day of learning ‘experiences’ in your slippers (and presumably your onesie!) initially sounded quite attractive, there were feelings of being cocooned and isolated away from the real world.  However, the flexible and creative use of spaces, offering quiet reflection, social involvement and social learning, active engagement with learning materials and the presence of tutors in the learning (as opposed to teaching) environment suggest an environment vastly different to that currently experienced in most HE settings.  The author cited Kuh’s key features for this type of learning space as being a space that encourages student-tutor interaction and one which permits a high degree of effort on academic tasks.

Brown and Long considered trends in learning space design, adopting a constructivist approach that focusses on the whole campus as a potential learning space and where the focus on the learner provides an environment for people that fundamentally changes current approaches to teaching and learning.  Their three main trends were: (1) Design based on learning principles resulting in intentional support for social and active learning strategies; (2) Emphasis on human-centred design; and (3) an increasing ownership of diverse devices that enrich learning.  With my learning technology hat on, the discussion in both these chapters on device agnosticism and the fact that although the technology will change between now and our move to Waterside, the way in which we learn won’t, mirrors the discussions that we have been having as a team in recent months.

The focus on the learner requires a fundamental shift however from a teacher-centric, pedagogical approach to teaching and the delivery of information that may well be better obtained elsewhere, to a learner-centred approach that encourages individuals to take increased ownership of their own learning journey and where the tutor is but one tool among many that the learner can draw upon in order to further and deepen their own learning.  It presupposes a collaboration between architecture and technology and the provision of a seamless, robust IT infrastructure and also requires that classroom spaces are built with a defined client base in mind in order to prevent the development of spaces that meet no-one’s needs optimally.

Hunley and Schaller adopted an assessment-based approach to the topic of learning spaces, comparing both formal and informal learning in terms of environment, time, structure and content, as well as looking at the interaction between people and their environments.  They assessed the need for learning spaces by the level of student engagement.  Academic engagement was shown to be enhanced where the environment is comfortable, open flexible and appealing and decreased in more formal settings.  They concluded that a balanced approach between the two was still required and that the key was good assessment design of learning spaces with the enhancement of student learning being the ultimate goal.

So … having briefly summarised the papers, what did we actually talk about?

Not surprisingly, our discussions did focus considerably on the implications of the move to Waterside where there will be around 40% less space.  There was a strong recognition of what has been achieved in the library as it currently is, with lots of different learning spaces and this idea of a learning commons (hopefully still called a Library) remaining at the heart of the new campus, with learning taking on a more social aspect and becoming more informal.

Probably the single most important strand was around the extent to which there would need to be a culture change for academic staff around space, its use and ownership, the corollary being a considerable change in pedagogy.  In this regard, a recent article that I read by Thomas Cochrane and Vickel Narayan from AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand, had some interesting insights particularly in considering how staff transform their role, moving from a heavily pedagogical approach, through andragogy, to heutagogy (student-directed learning).  This requires lecturers to undergo a reconceptualization of their role and to take advantage of the mobility offered by the various Web 2.0 tools (including Twitter, blogs, wikis and Skype etc).  For more on this article, please read my (first ever) blog posting!

The implications of this change do need to be considered as soon as possible, and steps taken sooner rather than later to enable staff to grow into this new approach, providing them with the confidence to learn new approaches and to try things out because, ultimately, space really does matter to people.

If you would like to come along to LUNAR, it is held on the last Friday of every month* from 1-2pm in the Tpod in the Library at Park.  You can bring your lunch and tea and coffee is provided.

Suggestions for papers to read prior to the next meeting on Friday 29th November are still needed.  We would like to explore topics of interest for each of the teams within LLS so if you have some ideas of hot topics (even if you don’t have any actual papers to read) please let me know.

*December’s meeting will be on Friday 20th as we will all be on holiday on the 27th!

Hope to see you there!