Knowledge has always been at the centre of all learning. And despite decades of continuous change across all sectors of education, that premise hasn’t changed. What has changed are the current opportunities for architects and designers to provide higher education with far more than just four walls and enough space for PowerPoint slides to appear. Now is the time for architects, and the universities that commission their expertise, to step outside comfort zones and put the student first.
Why? Because alongside developments in academic delivery, a new statutory assessment of both teaching quality and learning spaces has come into place. Think of it as Ofsted for universities, and you now understand why not all universities are comfortable with this change. So why this need for change?
Throughout all levels of education, improved learning outcomes occur when students are in smaller groups. Developing larger spaces to act like smaller spaces will not only produce these better educational outcomes, but will help combat current low levels of room occupancy and raise average capacity usage. Creating new environments that improve on existing models will find many willing commissions and grateful students.
Wireless digital technology is enabling undergraduates to learn from a new curriculum delivery that inspires and engages them in ways that were not previously possible. For this to be effective, for this to enable learning to take place in different ways, learning spaces must support a wide range of learning activities. Think of a traditional lecture space. How else can it be used effectively other than for the didactic transmission of information (not knowledge) from one to many?
Learning not teaching
New learning space designs, facilitating students to work actively together in small teams enabled by wireless digital technologies, are changing the way in which curriculums are designed and delivered.
If such a concept as the ‘average student’ exists, then the experiences and abilities of today’s ‘average student’ bears no resemblance to just two generations ago. Consequently, the needs of today’s students are massively different and we now expect a university education to equip students for both their working lives and to be valuable citizens. This starts with students taking responsibility for their own learning, to learn how to learn, and to create their own knowledge that will provide them with a deeper subject understanding and give them the opportunities to apply that knowledge in many other scenarios.
Understand – Innovate – Build
The TEF assessment of university teaching quality and learning spaces will require the build and refurbishment of learning spaces for many years to come. Universities are at the stage of experimenting with new implementations, and those providers who better understand the back-story to this will be able to offer critical advice.
The same socially and emotionally inclusive facilities for small group learning are required across the campus. These spaces must be enabled with the same technology, irrespective of their location, so that the process between thinking and doing is not interrupted.
Going for gold
Whilst traditional classrooms and lecture theatres only support one front-of-class usage within their walls, universities now want any space on campus to support collaborative learning, and from 2017 onwards their effectiveness is subject to this new rigorous independent assessment that will grade them as Gold, Silver or Bronze.
Does this matter? Students will naturally be attracted to universities with ‘Gold’ status for teaching as their own employment prospects are more likely to benefit. The belief is that universities with ‘Gold’ status will also attract higher levels of government funding, and will also be able to raise their levels of student fees.
For those architects and designers able to meet or exceed these new educational expectations, the future looks very bright indeed.
Duncan Peberdy www.digitalclassroomroadshow.co.uk