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The New Learning Space: Experiences of Three Different Classes

January 24, 2013 1 comment

My final blog post reflecting on newly implemented practices last year is a long-overdue write-up of my experiences teaching different classes in one of City’s innovative Learning Spaces, which have been much talked about recently on Educational Vignettes. I have followed the Learning Spaces project with interest since its inception, so I was delighted that in Summer Term, I was able to book one of the rooms, which have been heavily in demand all year.

In May and June 2012, I ran three classes conceived with the new space in mind, which, between them, covered a variety of different fields of study (study skills, popular music, and classical music) and types of teaching (tutorial, seminar, and lecture-based). My view is that it simply would not have been possible to have taught these classes in the same way in a traditional classroom, and that the new Learning Space enabled a more interactive, engaging, and stimulating manner of teaching.

(1) First-year tutor group on SWOT and Time Management, 14 May 2012

First-year tutor group on SWOT and Time ManagementFor this tutorial session, intended to deliver academic skills to first-year undergraduates to smooth the transition to tertiary education, I had prepared two tasks they were to complete in pairs. The one that especially benefitted from the Learning Space was the SWOT task, for which, having explained the basics, I asked the students to write down strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats on separate sticky labels which were then affixed on the wall-based glass panels under headings I had previously stuck to the wall. (We could have used the special pens on the glass instead of sticky notes, but when I tested this beforehand, the writing turned out to be not particularly visible.)

Given that students tend to love sitting behind tables and having the space to put everything on the surface in front of them, I was particularly interested to see that when they entered the classroom, they immediately arranged the chairs in a line, moving them away from the tables and towards the centre of the room (see picture, right). Despite having a relatively large space for such a small group, with several tables to choose from, when I asked them to split up and move to different tables, they all clustered around the same table to begin with and I had to encourage them to break out into pairs. Nonetheless, I suspect that more groupwork than pairwork surreptitiously took place…

The students did acknowledge that the chairs were not at quite the right heights for the tables, and that the two parts of the petal tables made for an awkward height difference for the person sat at the join. I also observed with interest that the student who sat on the highest chair was the one who took the lead in discussion!

(2) Second-year seminar on Television Talent Discovery Shows, 22 May 2012

In my next class in the Learning Space, I adopted a similar teaching method in commencing the seminar by inviting students, working in groups of 2-4, to write down on sticky notes as many acts associated with UK television talent discovery shows since 2000 as they could recall, and then to place them under the headings I had previously put up on the glass wall panels. I asked students to place sticky notes featuring the same name together in order easily to garner a sense of the number of students who had recollected a particular act. The photograph (below left) shows a few of the students in action, some affixing their sticky notes to the wall, others discussing in their small groups or verifying information online via their mobile devices.

Second-year seminar on Television Talent Discovery ShowsThe results of the task were rather revealing, and my feeling is that they could not have been achieved, nor could the ensuing discussion have been as effective, via any other teaching method. For instance, many students remembered recent winners such as Little Mix (The X Factor, 2011), but had more difficulty recollecting some of the winners in previous years’ competitions. Conversely, other notable acts from previous years who did not win their associated show (such as Susan Boyle [Britain’s Got Talent, 2009] or Jedward [The X Factor, 2009]) had evidently remained in their memory. There were other telling outcomes as well, which would have been difficult to predict: as an example, several students recalled The Cheeky Girls, but they could not match them to the correct show (Popstars: The Rivals, 2002).

During the class, I invited the students to walk around the room and look at the finished display on the wall panels for themselves. I had also prepared PowerPoint slides with more exhaustive information about the acts associated with particular television shows and seasons, with which we were able to fill in the gaps. Afterwards, I went round the room video-taping the display before it was taken down, and uploaded the video to Moodle as a permanent record of the session. The classroom’s swivel chairs also helpfully facilitated an impromptu re-enactment by four of us of the judges on The Voice UK!

(3) Second-year lecture on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, 29 May 2012

The final class was perhaps the most conventional, and one that I have presented several times in a classroom set out in lecture-format. Nonetheless, I wanted to use the new Learning Space to be able move the tables and chairs easily to create sufficient space for a live task undertaken by several unwitting student volunteers during the lecture. I do recall feeling much more exposed, standing in the centre of a comparatively wide space and speaking to students sitting at tables on the periphery, than I would have done in a room arranged as for a traditional lecture.

Possibly the highlight of the class was the attempt on the part of myself and several students to copy the original choreography of a particular passage of The Rite of Spring, in order to understand the challenges presented by the highly controversial dancing, the way in which it fits with the music, and the disjuncture between the composer’s intentions and the choreographer’s. Needless to say, the idea that ‘learning can be fun’ took on a whole new level. There is some video footage of this, taken by a student on her mobile device – not for the first time – but I very much hope it never surfaces!

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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.

Don’t walk away have your say: Learning Development Associates’ Event

January 16, 2013 2 comments

At the end of last year, the Learning Development Associates staged an event:  don’t walk away have your say. We spent a couple of hours collecting input into our projects by stopping students and asking them for their opinions as they walked along the main campus corridor. Participation was voluntary and rewards, in the form of a seasonal chocolate or pie, were optional.

My aim was to get a snapshot of thoughts on my project’s theme: the use of technology in physical learning environments. My hope was that any information gathered would feed into the case study evaluations I am planning for the new year. Read more…

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.

A Call for Learning Spaces Champions

November 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The Learning Spaces Group, running for the past year, brings together Academics and Central Services to discuss current and plan for future lecture room needs. We are calling for nominations for Space Champions – people who can give the topic of learning spaces greater prominence within their School, and bring their School needs to the attention of Central Services.

You can learn more about nominating yourself to be a champion by following this link.

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

November 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Image

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

Future Lecturing Spaces Design Forum, 20 Sept 2012

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The Learning Development Centre  and Property & Facilities  would like to invite staff and students to a drop in session to share ideas, thoughts and views on what you would like from future lecturing spaces at City. We want to hear from you about your lecturing, your learning, and how the spaces around you can better support you. We’re constructing the session so that people can dip in for a few minutes and give their ideas, or stay longer to talk to the architects or members of Properties and Facilities or the LDC about the wider topic of Learning Spaces.

The event will be held on Thursday 20 September 3pm – 5pm in A110 (College Building), over tea and cake. Please drop in to view the exhibition of exciting and innovative spaces from other institutions,  visuals of what some of our new spaces could look like together with  samples of furniture that may be used.  Please take the opportunity to talk to the  architect who is helping design our new spaces and talk to members of the Learning Spaces Group about the work they have done on lecture spaces and collaborative learning.   It should be a vibrant and inter-active session.

If you would like to attend for catering purposes please RSVP to Marcia Rose – Marcia.Rose.1.city.ac.uk

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