Take a moment to think about all spaces in which you learn. Whilst certainly not an exhaustive list, here are a few I could think of:
|Formal (on campus)
|Informal (on campus)
|Virtual learning environment (VLE)
|Massive open online course (MOOC)
Do you have a favourite space? What have I missed?
We must also consider learning spaces from the point of view of our own minds. Are we, at all times in the right ‘headspace’ for learning. What if we are in debt, struggling to pay the bills, have a newborn at home, or have a hangover from the night before? Maslow tells us that in these situations, it would be futile to attempt any of the 4 C’s of modern education; creating, critical thinking, collaborating and communicating.
My question, which spurred my thoughts for this post, is: how do the above spaces support each of the four c’s? How does a lecture theatre support collaboration and communication? Not particularly well. Yet new buildings at universities can be found installing ‘modern’ lecture theatres. How are they modernised? They have plugs in the benches…
A hypothetical question for you. If we were to design an educational institution now from scratch without any prior system existing, given the technological resources, the years of learning theory and the global stage, how would it look? Would we design a lecture theatre and cookie cutter seminar rooms? I’m not sure that we would. The question then, is, what would we design?
Space, the final frontier.
So, let us suppose we were to kill the traditional campus and make the most of the inevitable march of an always online society, think Ready Player One (great book) meets The Circle (good book, terrible film). After all, the campus with its strict timetables, physical limitations, financial costs and hierarchy is a throwback to pre-internet days, when we couldn’t as easily collaborate around the world, we couldn’t sit in a virtual lab and mix virtual chemicals or make our case in a virtual court. We can do these things now. In just a few seconds I can go from writing this blog post to being on the International Space Station. To continue the Star Trek theme, why don’t our educational institutions exist in Holodecks already?
What is it that the campus gives, does it have a purpose and if so what is it’s purpose in the modern world?
I feel there are two hugely important benefits to the modern campus, community and incidental learning. A campus, first and foremost is a community for research and learning, one in which there is a collegiate and supportive environment. A campus is a place where curious minds can come to meet liked minded people and push the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. So why then are most of us in single occupancy offices? Why are our biggest teaching spaces set up for one way communication and zero collaboration? How does a community build without communication? What about our minds? Does mindfulness have a place in the modern university curriculum?
I mentioned incidental learning, because those water cooler conversations are not easily replicated in a virtual environment. The nuances of human interaction are yet to be ported to the virtual. There aren’t many online learning environments where you happen across a colleague in the kitchen and strike up the start of a new project or idea. Virtual environments have the flexibility of when and where you can access information. But they don’t have the benefits of a campus community, yet.
So if we can’t (and don’t want to) kill the campus. If online distance learning and virtual reality is not going to be the place where education exclusively takes place, then what? How does the campus modernise? How do these seemingly opposed paradigms of education coexist? If the answer isn’t simply putting power sockets in lecture hall benches, what does a modern campus look like? Are we designing new spaces that support communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking or are we designing spaces that fit the mould we’ve used so many times before? As I mentioned earlier, people vary in when and where they are most receptive to learning. There are institutions looking at this very issue, LSE for example has completed a project, Teaching & Learning Spaces and how they make the most out of the physical limitations of the old buildings.
We need a radical rethink on how we install and create spaces for learning on a campus. I feel the technology of a modern campus does not need to be elaborated on at this stage, it’s a given that they will be smart, accessible by design, connected, always on, there will be AI, machine learning, learning analytics and so on. Jisc have recently blogged about the ‘Intelligent Campus’. But most importantly at a fundamental level, they need to be spaces that marry the virtual, the distant and the community. The modern, intelligent campus, needs to be one that adapts to its community and continues to make education as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible. Because what is education for if it isn’t for all?
The campus we know is dead, long live the campus.
Snap, back to reality.
So to bring this post (and myself) back to earth, I have a call to action and some information about an upcoming resource.
Firstly, I want to ask you the reader, what your favourite space is. What your preferred learning space is and what does it look like? Do you prefer to learn online? Do you like the lecture theatre? Do you have a favourite spot in the library? Or are you like me and seem to be most creative when the clock strikes midnight?
Finally, we in TEL want to support academics to make the most of their learning spaces and the resources available. With that in mind we are developing a new resource that will help share examples of how to make the most of our current learning spaces, be it a lecture theatre or seminar room. How do we create meaningful, collaborative and creative learning experiences in these often static spaces? Watch this space for more information on these resources.
As ever if you would like support for teaching and learning, want to start a collaborative project, or just have a crazy idea you’d like to share then please get in touch at the usual places.