Posts Tagged ‘Learning Spaces Group’

Students come up with creative ideas for displaying their work

Helping a cohort of 52 business students to design and curate their exhibition of the 11 week Reflective Practitioner module provided an interesting opportunity for students to come up with imaginative ways of displaying their work.

Task   The exhibition design, artefacts and curation represented a piece of course work, and two streams of students were asked to make a joint exhibition. The two groups worked independently until week 10, only being able to liaise in week 11 and on the day of the event. Students elected to take on specific roles and tasks, and had responsibility for devising and making displays. A very large number of artefacts needed to be displayed.

Venue   The Drysdale Lecture Theatre, lobby area and boardroom. We had access one and a half hours ahead of the exhibition opening to the public.

Process   From week 2 students were introduced to the idea of the exhibition, and over the course momentum built, including a vital integrative workshop in week 10 when as many exhibits were prepared as possible. Students also worked in groups on a plan of the space, producing some excellent space designs. Students were mindful of providing a space that would enable up to 60 guests to circulate, plus a reception table, and space for visitors’ feedback.

How students came up with creative solutions

Living  Exhibits  Each student elected to wear a badge inviting guests to interact with them on a particular theme of the module.

Gazebo  For a fantastic central focus, the basic framework of a small garden gazebo was used to display 52 three-dimensional story cubes, representing the special qualities of each student but also, symbolically brought together into a single organisation.

Bathroom suckers We sourced plastic sucker “towel” hooks to suspend lines of cord, from which visitors added their handwritten feedback on luggage labels.

Boxes Large Cardboard boxes were designed by students to display quotes, images and photos.

Lessons Learned  

The opportunity to display their work afforded the learning from the module to be made visible to external guests, to the wider institution, and to prospective students and  parents (it coincided with an open day.) Our students have great ability to understand and collaborate together on designing and enhancing learning spaces. Given the success of this exhibition perhaps we should ensure that any future learning spaces build in to their design ways to display work. Simple ideas can turn a space into a display area, including hooks placed at the top of walls for hanging work, more flexible spot lighting that can be used to illuminate displays and better designed mobile display boards.



Artist helps students to visualise Learning Space design at City

January 16, 2013 1 comment
Artist Susie Howarth sketching student's learning space ideas

Artist Susie Howarth sketching students’ learning space ideas

Quick fire sketches of student's ideas for learning spaces

Susie Howarth’s quick-fire sketches of students’ ideas for City University learning spaces

 Dont Walk Away, Have Your Say! was an LDC event at the end of last term on the main walkway, aiming  to capture student views and promote three of the ongoing LDC projects. I invited artist Susie Howarth to visualise students ideas on learning space design. With major building work scheduled at City and imminent redesign of several existing spaces, this was an opportunity for students to put their views across.  So whilst I interviewed passing students, Susie did quick-fire real time sketches of their ideas. This created quite a buzz and interestingly a  high proportion of their ideas resonated with the LDC’s  design principles for all learning spaces at City. These include having a full menu of different, inviting, dynamic and flexible spaces that communicate the pride we have in learning at City University

Everyone  interviewed had strong ideas and feelings about our current and future learning spaces. Here is just a small sample:

Circular design of some classrooms and lecture spaces, so students can see each other and the lecturer is central, not on a distant stage.

Small outlets for snacks and drinks placed just outside large lecture theatres, for students who need to quickly get to the next class and have no time to queue in the refectory.

Circular tables, furniture on wheels and easily moved

Swivel chairs in lecture theatres, so we can do group work activities

All walls with write-on surfaces in classrooms

Comfortable seating

Public celebration of student excellence: students’ work displayed, either physically or on screens

More curves please! In walls and furniture, not just rectangular boxes

Bright contemporary lighting, maybe use lighting in some way to change the colour of the walls to reflect different types of learning activity: reflective, active etc.

Small soundproofed pods for quiet study and individual work

Having an artist present to make instant sketches gave the students a great stimulus to put their ideas forward and led to much  animated discussion on what is clearly a hot topic for students and paramount to their experience of being at City.

New Learning Spaces: Method of Evaluation

December 17, 2012 Leave a comment
Observation in evaluating learning spaces

Observation in evaluating learning spaces

This is a continuation of ideas being developed around the evaluation of learning spaces at City University London.

At City University London there is a need to better understand the effectiveness of new learning spaces that are being created. City University London is currently engaged in the redevelopment of its estate. A major part of this is the re-conceptualization of the Learning Spaces. The Learning Development Centre (LDC) is working closely with City’s Property and Facilities to ensure that pedagogical principles are considered in the redesigning of City University’s learning spaces.

Understanding the effectiveness of new learning spaces is crucial for two reasons: to evaluate the effectiveness of a space newly created and to prepare better for future learning spaces design and construction. As such, this formal evaluation will be a ‘post-occupancy evaluation’ of the space. It is this stage of the evaluation cycle that presents the greatest challenges in aligning the evaluation method with the rational and practical outcomes that drove design intent. However, it is also crucial as the formative model for a full design and evaluation process, and as a source of data for new informal and collaborative spaces (Lee, 2009 in Radcliffe et al, 2009).

At a broad level, it is important for educational developers and education researchers to better understand how lecturers and students relate to the new built environment and what this means for the exchange of knowledge. To this purpose, it is understood that efforts to develop more effective learning spaces need to be informed by the extensive research into environmental behaviour and psychology (Jamieson, 2007).

To this end, I am found that the observation method is a popular tool in evaluating new learning spaces (Radcliffe et al, 2009).  Observations are builds on the principle that for research into the use and effectiveness of the new learning spaces, it is best to observe what actually happens in the natural setting (Descomber, 2003) rather than to ask for thoughts retrospectively.

In line with the epistemology of participating observation, this study would enable the research team to participate in natural learning situations, enabling better understanding of the learning processes involved in the new spaces. The observations will take place in the natural learning spaces as the research team is interested in the effects of the environment on learning as it happens, rather than they happen under artificially created conditions. This allows the research team to record information as it happens and record critical incidents as they occur (Creswell, 2009).

The observation method has a number of characteristics which cannot be found in other education research methods and which are better suited in understanding the new learning spaces. These include:

  1. It directly records what the user does in the space, as distinct from what they say they do are their perception of the room.
  2. Observation is well matched with other research methods being applied in understanding the SLE and learning spaces. As it is more about the behaviour it complements well other research methods that rely mainly on sharing thoughts.
  3. When combined with contextual information, which will be the case here, observation can give significant insight on the effects of the learning space on behaviour.

We are continually working on developing our research methods for evaluating the learning spaces. Please do share your thoughts and experiences of evaluating learning spaces.

Think, create, innovate: new types of learning space in listed buildings

November 16, 2012 Leave a comment


Like many universities, City University has a number of listed buildings and spaces.  When learning spaces are at a premium the question is what best to do with these spaces within the strictures of say a Grade 2 listing.

The Grade1 listed Anatomy Theatre and Museum at King’s College is a case in point.  Part of their Strand campus these historic spaces were refurbished in 2009 by Overbury. Converted to an atmospheric and multifunctional learning space, this suite of rooms has retained a distinctive quality.

They are used for talks, lectures, research and exhibitions and have state of the art audio visual equipment that allows transmission to other locations. The original iron galleries are retained, with five large suspended screens beneath. The five digital projectors also drop down from the ceiling on expanding pantograph scissor arms, similar to those used for lighting in television studios.

These linked spaces are also used for public events and ongoing research into what part performance plays across disciplines and practices, and how digital innovation can enhance scholarship.

The aims for these spaces could be considered as a benchmark for some of the proposed new and refurbished learning spaces at City.  The listing of an historic space is no bar to innovation in its design and use.

Exploring and inspiring performance and e-research across disciplines and domains

Support existing and stimulate new communities of practice

Think, create, innovate

Collaborate and communicate

Conduct world class teaching, learning and research

Engage with the public and bring new audiences to King’s

Learning Space Design at City, what students really want

July 20, 2012 3 comments

In a very recent report from the Students Union to Senate, one of the 5 student community themes put forward concerned  Learning and Social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration.

“Students expect facilities which are fit for purpose, welcoming, comfortable and focused on their needs. We would like to see an Estates Strategy which looks at existing spaces as places where achievement is celebrated. The long term plans for new spaces should reflect students’ desires to come together to study, eat and socialise.”

There are some excellent learning spaces at City, however still far too few are distinctive enough to make a memorable impact on actual or prospective students. We may not be able to do much with our historic building stock, so it is all the more vital that new and refurbished spaces go out of their way to represent and reinforce the values of academic excellence the university now has committed to. Many of our spaces expect students to learn in a physical environment that is vastly different to the world in which they will be putting their knowledge to use: a world of collaboration, exploration, creative thinking, flexibility and ubiquitous digital resources and communication. Increasingly our students are coming from High Schools and Academies with world class design of physical learning spaces, their expectations of City in this respect are rightly high.

Students want learning and social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration. City students have also identified a set of key values that encouragingly resonate with the Universities strategic vision.

Interaction, opportunity, identity, energy, excitement, enrichment, buzz, pride, inspiration, belonging, personalisation, participation, boundary breaking, diversity, lifelong friendship.

If we take these key values and apply them to the design of learning spaces, City could achieve a distinctive vision for a menu of learning spaces that promotes and supports educational excellence. By Learning Spaces, we should include social spaces, both indoor and outdoor spaces, and Virtual Learning Spaces. Even corridors offer untold opportunities for learning, with student and staff curated exhibitions that celebrate their achievements and act as a forum for sharing knowledge and ideas. As an institution we are on the cusp of major space building and refurbishment, with the opportunity to enrich the students’ experience through ground breaking space design that reflects what the students really want.

The LDC’s Learning Space Project has done a considerable amount to engage staff and students in this process, with for example a very productive Space Design Forum, and the resulting two pilot spaces.  Feedback from students show that inspirational space is hugely important to their learning. Students are also looking for interaction in learning spaces. At City we have a greatly underused potential resource for interactive learning: the walls and vertical spaces. When refurbishing existing spaces or designing new ones, it is vital to view the walls as an interactive learning resource. Presently many existing classrooms and lecture halls have constraints over the use of walls and teachers and students are not allowed to use bluetac. The décor and treatment of walls takes precedence over learning.

Interactive use of walls in a research university (Southern England)

There is also an important emotional component to learning space, which can have a great impact on energising both students and teachers. This includes the air quality of the space, lighting, the use of colour, and flexible space with freedom of movement. Rather than the draining effects of rows of fixed tables and chairs.
All City Schools now subscribe to the principles of high engagement learning. Participation is a key principle, needing all our learning spaces designed to support and promote it. Forward facing classrooms, fixed rows of seating, lecture theatres that seem designed to prevent team working and collaboration between students, all work against participative learning
Students want a diversity of learning spaces, reflecting the diversity of their learning styles and needs. They also identify pride as key to being part of the City community. Imaginative, distinctive and memorable learning spaces are essential to communicating City’s vision for educational excellence.

Piloting Innovative and Excellent Teaching and Learning Spaces

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

LDC in consultation with the Learning Spaces Group(LSG) has recently had a Business Case approved to review rooms that are under-utilised within the campus. The LDC will be leading on redesigning a number of rooms in College Building, Northampton Square Campus to create spaces for students and staff which promote active and highly interactive learning  To find out more about learning space design please click here

We have engaged all groups and most importantly the students, and have now got their views and input via interviews and the Forum. We now intend to act on these in setting up these two pilot spaces. Here is a collage of some of the views from staff and students.

In summary, the design forum established a range of outcomes. The design of an individual teaching and learning space needs to be:

-flexible; to accommodate both current and evolving pedagogies

– future-proofed; to enable space to be re-allocated and reconfigured

– student centered & inclusive; to develop the potential of all learners

– creative; to energise and inspire learners and tutors

– enterprising; to make each space capable of supporting different purposes

This project is about innovation and the emergence of innovative and indeed excellent Teaching & Learning Spaces at City University London.

If you are keen on being involved in teaching in these rooms  or have students in your programme that may need spaces to conduct project/teamwork then please contact us.

Please do get involved at the earliest opportunity! Contact the LDC for more information.

A day in the life of a Teaching Pod

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Its been an interesting journey for the Pod.

It all started way back in 2006 when a Classroom Experience initiative brought in over £1.4M to purchase over 80 Pods for the Northampton Square campus!

Over the years, these pods became problematic and a number of issues were being reported through the Classroom Experience Steering Group.  The group at that time, consisted of a range of mainly IT staff and so a re-haul of the group was put into action. In addition, a Pod Evaluation was undertaken in 2011. The aim of the evaluation was to demonstrate what our staff use and their experiences. The evaluation was also connected to the Strategic Learning Environment(SLE)  & has been used to help inform the design of learning environment at City in the future.

Meanwhile the Classroom Experience Steering group had been renamed to Learning Spaces group which now consists of academic staff from all schools, students, Student Union, IT senior members for eg IS and AV Support. The Pod Evaluation ran between Feb. – Mar. 2011. and included a mixed method approach. This consisted of a survey followed by semi-structured Interviews with a number of staff.

The areas identified as problematic within the Pod Evaluation were speed of the Pods, poorly maintained equipment or insufficient knowledge.  The recommendations that followed were:

  1. to establish the reasons behind the slow speed of Pods and to assess whether it’s down to old equipment or configuration problems.
  2. to put in place a strategy to ensure all Pods remain up to date with software versions and working hardware.
  3. to develop a strategy for raising awareness on what the Pod can do through the school liaison model.  The support available needs to be joined up between schools, the Learning Development Centre and the AV Support.

The evaluation was raised at all the formal committees including Strategy & Governance and wheels were set into motion for ensuring we develop the recommendations via the Learning Spaces group. The Learning Spaces Group (LSG) have since then developed & tested the Pod to make it faster, more intuitive and help staff get to grips with the changes.  The Teaching Pod has two guides:

  1. Pod1Pager
  2. PodGuide

Oh my Pod sessions have been run across the Northampton Square site in Sep. & Oct 2011 to ensure staff are being trained on the pods.  This evaluation has led to a business case to review the current offering for not only teaching equipment but also to think more widely about our learning spaces within the campus to ensure a consistent teaching and learning experience for all staff and students.

If you’d like to know more about this project, please contact the ldc.

Do’s and Dont’s on constructing a learning space for our students

September 20, 2011 1 comment

I recently attended a SCHOMS run Spaces Design workshop held @ the University of Birmingham. The ‘Active Learning classroom pictures’ are seen below. This was run by Peter Jamieson who’s a celeb in the Spaces world! The end result was to assist in the development of a resource/work tool which will help when considering learning space design.

The delegates were teachers, estates staff, librarians, architects, technologists and learning environment designers, so a wide range of influence and experience was represented.

The main objective of the day was to review the space the workshop was held in. Having experienced  it in the morning session we broke up into teams to consider all the questions and considerations that would need to be asked when designing such a space. The list of considerations will be collated and  form part of a template that can be used in learning environment design . It is hoped that the template will be of assistance to those designing spaces. More on that soon!

A similar workshop that ran last year, found that a 3 staged educationalist process was needed. This process would be informed by data rich accounts of other projects involving educationally driven evaluation process. The current project process in many Institutions is management heavy and risk averse leaving little scope for dreaming and creating massive uncertainty. Little information is available regarding other projects and there is no extensive archive.


Questions were raised on why evaluation on new learning environments were needed. Whilst it was seen as important to evaluate spaces on fitness for purpose and collect rich experiences using story telling, there was no reason why the evaluation process couldn’t occur before, during and after the project. We were provided with single images and asked to consider the learning environment and any misconceptions and there were many! As I’m undertaking the work on learning spaces, I began to realise that these were the type of conversations we were all having. The number of times I had approached my colleagues to suggest that we must go down and take a look at the learning space at X university..?!!

The main issues that we should consider when constructing a learning space are:

  1. Space
  2. Comfort
  3. Colour
  4. Materials
  5. Feeling
  6. Atmosphere
  7. Character
  8. Experience
  9. Ownership
  10. Occupy
  11. Travel
  12. Project brief
  13. Expectations

The University of  Birmingham wanted to engage students in critical discussions & challenge their thinking. So they designed the room around that ethos and I would agree that it does exactly that.  The 3 tiered classroom(photos above) engages people to move around and sit where they might feel most comfortable, the acoustics are fantastic, the tables fold are of different sizes and fold over each other to make one from two and there are chairs that can be wheeled around as well as other IKEA type of seat boxes. Even the stairs are designed so you can sit on them. This is what a learning space should be about!



What I will take back to City

I have lots of ideas on how we can translate the project process at City. Understanding what makes an effective design is important. The best are likely to assist all within the Institution to work more productively and to produce learners who are confident, adpatable, independent and inspired to learn. In short, the design of our learning spaces should become a physical representation of the Institution’s vision and strategy for learning – responsive, inclusive and supportive of attainment by all.

I have included our project process in a form of a story board so you can see the range of factors that should be taken into consideration.






Why should we provide uniformity in our classrooms when our students are so diverse?

Peter has designed what used to be a gym into an active learning space where the students are responsible for configuring the space. This learning space has carpet cut outs which act as a measuring stick, and the desks are made of particle boards which can be stored away. This space is now being used to educate a range of masters courses. It was also agreed that climate control and light encourages learning too, which often get sidelined! I will be linking to his story when its available.

What I am learning about learning and teaching design including, but not always,the use of technology in the design process.

What’s stopping us designing spaces where there is no technology in there whatsoever. In schools, a range of classrooms have beanbags as its understood that teenage boys, who can be distracted easily, actually perform better in that type of learning space.

Last but not least, here is a useful article which really helped me to consider our learning space in its entirety.

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