Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Creating better learning spaces

by René Meijer

 The Information Commons has long been a recognised success for the University. The reason for this I believe is twofold: firstly, it truly integrates services and departments into a single transparent facility; secondly a user centric design approach was (and is) taken to every aspect of the facility.

When the design for learning facilities in the Diamond started about 2 years ago, it was obvious that we wanted to take that same approach again. 

Work on the design of ‘The IC in the Diamond’ is progressing well, and we now have some trial furniture in the Flexispace on level 4 in the IC for staff and students to try to provide feedback. 

The process of designing the Diamond has also provided an opportunity to rethink learning spaces a bit more widely. Rather than replicate the success of the IC in a single new building, we should perhaps be looking to disseminate it across the campus. All our learning and teaching spaces are complex environments that bring together services and facilities from many departments. Improving the design and integration of those spaces is likely to be a good way to enhance all of them. 

So this is where we are now. I have taken a step back from the management of the Information Commons, and have temporarily taken up the role of ‘Learning Architect’. The idea behind this secondment is to bring together the departments that create and support our spaces, and work with students and academics to make sure the spaces are designed in the best way to suit their requirements. While some of the ideas on how to best do this are still very much in development, a few things are already on their way: 
  • One of the interns from the IC intern scheme is working on engaging with students on their learning spaces. So far we’ve had almost 1000 respondents to our survey and more then 100 people signed up for the workshops that will run early November. 
  • We’re working on an integral overview of all learning spaces (libraries, IT labs, departmental facilities). This will be published so that students can easily find a suitable space. The overview will also help us prioritise future developments of learning spaces. 
  • We’ve started a Strategic review of teaching spaces. Sessions with academic staff have started, helping us to better understand how they teach, and how our current spaces work for them. 
  • In semester 2 we will be opening a Teaching Lab, probably in the Hicks building. This will be a space where we (support staff and academics) can experiment with technology, furniture and other elements of the classroom. This will be an opportunity to make better informed choice when we design these spaces, and also a way to deliver training and share practice. 

Most importantly though, this is really about communication, so if you have a suggestion, a concern, or anything else you might want to contribute or discuss, please do get in touch! Email: r.meijer@sheffield.ac.uk