From education to employment

Making space for learning

Matt Gallon is deputy manager and e-learning adviser at Jisc

Many of us have seen TV makeover programmes in which homes, community buildings or offices have been refurbished. To me one of the most interesting aspects is the owners’ reactions. The tears and laughter demonstrate the importance to us of the spaces we inhabit, to the ways we live and work.

There’s also a growing body of evidence emerging from colleges and universities showing that re-thinking and redesigning spaces in a learning environment can be genuinely transformative, boosting student experience and attainment levels.

At the recent Jisc Regional Support Centre (RSC) higher education (HE) conference, Jonathan Rhodes and Matthew Green from the University of Wolverhampton outlined their project to revamp a tired, under-utilised learning space which has had an impact on student grades. The changes made to the Learning and Teaching Test Environment (LaTTE) room include improved lighting, changing to flexible furniture and upgrading the technology to support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture. Students can now charge their devices as they work and innovations such as an interactive projector and digital pens have encouraged them to take a much more active role in their learning. The room is more flexible and teachers report that the balance of power in sessions has changed, with students being more engaged.

Project evaluation reveals some impressive figures: a 31% increase in the average grade compared with non-LaTTE room users. There has also been an 82% drop in the rate of non-submission of course work.

And this is just as important for FE as HE…

Over the last nine months, my colleagues and I have been helping learning providers re-think their learning spaces to enhance the student experience. We have visited more than a dozen providers to help them realise their goals and evaluate what needs to be done by carrying out a learning space review. We analyse the under-utilised space, talk to users (both staff and students), take photos and advise on what can practically be done with the budget that’s available. There are also useful resources which we signpost them towards. The provider can then decide how best to move forward, with a new understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the space, often leading to a complete refurbishment.

Sometimes, the review is challenging, because bringing recommendations to fruition can require fundamental culture change. Library staff, for example, may initially struggle with the idea of removing display space to make way for extra learning space, or they may be reticent at the thought of people working collaboratively and possibly noisily within the library area. But in cases like this, creative solutions can usually be found – prefabricated pod rooms in a designated library area can create discrete working areas quickly without the need for disruptive building works.

We’ve got lots of resources to help learning providers interested in getting better value out of their learning spaces. There are also some useful resources, details about the learning space review and information about the learning spaces infokit.

Learning spaces should be as flexible as possible. These makeovers are more Grand Designs for enhanced learning throughout colleges more than just Changing Rooms. Learning can take place anywhere – anywhere where there is easily moveable furniture, reliable WiFi coverage (even in the canteens and the corridors) and a more informal approach to what constitutes a learning opportunity and experience.

Matt Gallon is deputy manager and e-learning adviser (Learning Resources) at JISC’s West Midlands Regional Support Centre

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