Sunday, February 23, 2014

Learning as process

I find myself again and again returning to Lennie Scott-Webber's seminal work on learning space design from 2004 in In Sync: Enviromental Behaviour Research and the Design of Learning Spaces. Whilst I have some difficulty with much behaviourist methodology (where it reduces diverse perceptions and experiences to the most simplistic cause and effect relationships) I think her outlines of learning give one of the best descriptions of the different kinds of processes involved, and their associated spaces:

Environments for Delivering Knowledge (formal, one to many)
Environments for Applying Knowledge (practice-based settings)
Environments for Creating Knowledge (development and process-based)
Environments for Communicating Knowledge (interactive, information-sharing)

I had the great privilege to meet Lennie in October last year, as part of a learning spaces in higher education book-writing project organised by LiHE . She and colleagues also gave us a tour of Steelcase University, part of the furniture manufacturer, where she works. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Talking furniture

Whilst we are talking furniture and fittings, since that is one of the things the experiments with so well, think of this as the beginning of an occasional series on re-thinking the kit. I have written elsewhere about my problem with resorting to beanbags and primary colours to 'signal' that innovative learning is taking place - rather than really understanding what processes and practices underpin that learning (and designing for that).

So, what does it mean to relate to a computer, standing up? 

Doing the

The at Stanford University is rightly famous for providing cross-course supplementary education in design thinking to all students studying degrees there. As Scott Doorley - one of the directors of d.schools Environment Collaborative - says, the place has a "culture of prototyping; a bias towards action, doing rather than thinking, doing as a way to think, we need to have spaces which people can think together in, make it very easy to embody thought - anything that makes it easy to experiment and express an idea." The Make Space: how to set the stage for creative collaboration book records some fabulous examples of how they have generated cheap, prototypical elements to let them 'play' with learning.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


And whilst we are looking at new resources on the web, came across the Learning Spaces Collaboratory recently, based in Washington DC. Looks like an organisation well worth watching.....

Image taken from the Learning Spaces Collaboratory website:

New space design methods

A new learning spaces toolkit has been launched, originating from North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries and its Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA) - partnering with  brightspot strategy and AECOM (which now includes DEGW). The resources aim to provide a model for the planning and design process of innovative new learning environments.

Have not yet had time to compare and contrast it to the 2005 JISC -developed Planning and Designing Technology Rich Learning Spaces Infokit - which it superficially resembles - but interesting to see that the development of methods remains a key issue for learning spaces in HE.

Exploring Spaces for Learning (in the sun)

Feeling quite flattered that the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association quotes me in their conference publicity:
" In Towards Creative Learning Spaces: Rethinking the Architecture of Post-Compulsory Education (2011), Jos Boys raises intriguing questions about changes in the spaces we use in higher education, pushing educators to think beyond traditional categories of “formal” and “informal” learning sites to imagine more complex relationships between our classrooms and the world beyond them. In the wake of increasing reliance on ever-expanding virtual learning spaces, greater emphasis on experiential learning, and a push toward the global classroom, leaders in higher education must consider their work from a wide range of perspectives."
Unfortunately dont think I will be able to afford to go! For those of you who can, the 2013 International HETL Conference is to be held at the University of Central Florida, in cooperation with the UCF Karen L. Smith Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. As they go on to say:
"We invite you to join colleagues from around the world in an exploration of innovative technologies, pedagogical strategies, and international collaborations being used to engage and retain students in the new millennium. Together we will discuss which models and approaches are most promising, how are they being used to engage and retain students, and how we can apply them to advance the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning."

Belated news from Stockholm

Never got it together to post about the Future Learning Environments - How Space impacts on Learning conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in July 2012, so just going to point you to a post by another conference delegate - Andrew Laing from DEGW.  Just received the final versions of the papers presented at the conference, which are great, and will be published in a special edition of the Journal of Inter-Professional Care  next year.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

More projects

Following a visit to the University of Brighton from Cathrine Schmidt and Hanne Airo from the Danish Ministry of Science, who are developing a new learning spaces briefing for science spaces in universities across Denmark (more to tell you soon I hope), they kindly also put us in touch with Jonas Nordquist, the manager for a project called Future Learning Environments - How Space Impacts on Learning run by Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm County Council. See their web site at

This feels like a really integrated, (relatively) large-scale project across both formal and informal learning environments, across three sites related to medical education; aiming to "develop and deliver a range of prototype environments to support new pedagogies within Karolinska Institutet s medical education programmes."

Working with White architecture practice, they have already developed a Concept Manual to act as a design guide. Interestingly this work was also supported by an ethnographic study of students responses to their environment which is - unfortunately - currently only in Swedish. The next phase is to build prototypes and then to do a comparative evaluation. 

I may be wrong, but this is the first large scale, multi-space prototyping and evaluation research project that I have heard of. Of course the University of Melbourne has been developing a series of innovative learning spaces over several years; but as yet has no funds for evaluation, so the lessons for others are still difficult to learn.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Central Saint Martins move into their new home

In the early days of the CETL Learning Spaces research project, we were invited to be involved in early discussions/events at the University of the Arts, London - partly instigated to enable staff to participate in thinking what kinds of learning spaces were needed for art and design in the new facility being built at Kings Cross.

Well the students and staff have just moved in and here is  Jonathan Jones/Guardian's take on the space.

So, all comments welcome from actual participants in this new environment. Would be a great opportunity to do a before/after evaluation of students/staff experiences of their learning spaces - but assume that, as usual, no-one will have the time, energy or resources.....

Photo taken from Guardian website. Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris

Building Envelopes

Can't find out very much about developments on the TU Delft 'Building the Future' project - so any help here appreciated, in terms of how this work is affecting the design of the University itself.  Did find their Building Envelopes work, which looks at facade design more generally. The last conference in the series was called The Future Envelope 5 - Technology Transfer and was in May 201.  They have also produced a series of technical publications on facade design with IOS Press, Amsterdam in the series “Research in Architectural Engineering”. Maybe interesting to a few readers of this blog.

The difficulties of finding out about things

Had an email recently from someone working on the new University of Plymouth's Space Strategy; initially this will involve a consultation exercise and series of lectures/discussions. The project - which will be carried out by a team from the Architecture Department, and has a steering group from across the university (Estates and Facilities Management, Procurement and Sustainability, Strategic Planning and Teaching and Learning; the Education Department; and the Dean of Students) - seems like a potentially great model for learning spaces development.  So looking forward to keeping in touch with what they are doing.

But it also make me think how hard it is to find out what is going on at different universities and colleges, both in this country and elsewhere. There is no central place to 'catch' all the current learning spaces work going on. And because 'space' is such an amorphous word, doing an internet search throws up all sorts of - interesting yet miscellaneous - stuff. For example, Plymouth also has a SPACE project which is about inclusive assessment.... also very relevant to the subject of learning spaces, but - of course - not about re-designing the actual fabric. Similarly, Warwick has a project about 'opening up spaces' for student learning, that is, beyond the classroom setting. 

And I also came across an oldish post (from December 2010) about TU Delft, about a project called Building the Future. This was/is exploring specifically architectural education with the following aims:

- simplification of Bachelor´s education;
- reinforcement of design teaching and didactics;
- harmonisation of educational structure and alignment of the Master´s tracks;
- improvements to efficiency and assessment systems;

Which raises the related question (regularly explored on this blog) - where does learning spaces design begin and end? These kind of critical 're-locations' of what happens where and how in post-compulsory education also seem very important - particularly in the current climate, where universities and colleges are having to concentrate on how to make savings.  There are also major policy changes in the air in the UK that could offer opportunities to change the whole shape of post-compulsory education in quite critical and creative ways.  

Image from University of Plymouth's Architecture Department website

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Finland conference

Like the way the 7th annual Designs on E-learning 2011 conference, at the Aalto University in Helsinki (27 - 30 September 2011) thinks about learning space, in what feels like a very open-minded way:  
"The notion of space regains fresh momentum every time we interact with the world around us. As mobile devices weave into the fabric of everyday life, we are no longer confined to a specific location, time and place in accessing and interacting with communications technologies. Interfaces become more adaptable and fluid according to the user’s needs; capable of switching seamlessly between augmented, real and virtual information and communication techniques and practices.

The conference will be exploring future learning spaces, from four different perspectives, each led by an expert innovator: Michel Bauwens will visualise networked spaces. Ben Betts will envisage social spaces for dialog and debate. Stephanie Rothenberg will be exploring open experimental spaces. Mauri Ylä-Kotola will analyse institutional spaces."
For more details,  go their website. Also well worth going to the associated blog, where there are many interesting posts about how to re-think e-learning creatively. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Anne Taylor - 'Linking Architecture and Education'

Anne's book is aimed at architects and brings together issues around the developmental needs of  learners with ideas of seeing educational buildings as '3-dimensional textbooks.' You can read more about here approach here.

At the Wolfsonian

Having an amazing time at the Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach which is a design museum and part of Florida International University (FIU). Been invited to give a talk on learning spaces, together with Anne Taylor, who is director of the Institute for Environmental Education at the University of New Mexico.

The collection here is that extraordinary combination you get with a private collector - important everyday artefacts from America and across Europe (mainly from the 1880s - 1940s), together with much which can only be called 'miscellaneous'. We have been talking a lot about how collections like this can support both conventional scholarly study and other kinds of creative activities, through the unexpected juxtapositions they enable. This, of course, raises tensions around accessibility, curation and conservation - similar to the ones that CETLD researchers found on projects like Behind the Scenes at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Wolfsonian is planning some new educational spaces and already discussing just what kinds of access and what kinds of learning can be best supported here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A quick promo

A reminder that the next reLIVE conference has currently got a call out for papers. It is called Creative Solutions for New Futures and is being held at the Open University, Milton Keynes from  21st – 22nd September 2011. As they write:

"Innovation in teaching and learning through virtual worlds was a major theme of ReLIVE08, the first conference to bring together researchers and educators in this field. In the three years since this event, our understanding of what it means to work, play and learn in these spaces has increased significantly, generating a rapidly growing body of academic knowledge. Whilst virtual worlds are providing us with platforms for innovation, and new opportunities to understand and address the needs of learners in the 21st century, we are under more pressure than ever not only to continue demonstrating innovation, but to do this at scale, for less money, whilst increasing efficiency and productivity. The challenge for us all is to contribute to a future where innovations meet these requirements whilst keeping learners, and learning, at the core of all that we do.

With a nod to recycling we have therefore decided that ReLIVE11 will revisit some of the themes of ReLIVE08, but from the fresh perspective of using all that we have learned in between to explore how virtual worlds can help us and our learners to find creative solutions for new futures."

Which reminded me that I recently came across this website listing '100 educational virtual tours' - not virtual learning environments per se, but still an amazing educational resource. (I got there because I found myself avidly watching a realtime train journey on the Trans-Siberian railway...)

Education for the public good?

Another key theme that came out of the Reshaping Learning anthology, has been that thinking about learning spaces actually demands engaging with the whole 'shape' of education. At the post-compulsory level this is first about re-thinking what, where and how we learn, teach and research. Second it is about how space (conceptual, physical, virtual, social, personal)  matters in these processes. And, third, it is about generating creative and critical networks beyond the university so as to interact with other ideas and types of adult education, such as museums and other forms of public culture.

Many of the contributors to this book start from a position that higher education is under threat from pressures towards an over-riding emphasis on employability. And they look to re-valuing education as an important public service. 

I noticed that the upcoming American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in New Orleans is called "Inciting the Social Imagination: Education Research for the Public Good." As Kris D. Gutiérrez and Joanne Larson write: "We are in the midst of a vibrant and troubling education paradox. On the one hand, it is a time of remarkable interest in education, with increased attention to reform policies, unprecedented educational legislation, and money from all sectors devoted to these efforts. In public discourse, education remains foundational to opening up a range of opportunities: to achieve social and economic mobility, to gain and secure employment, and to develop future life skills. Politicians refer to the knowledge society, economists write about the new economy, and the proliferation of innovative technologies demands new forms of learning in an unparalleled knowledge economy. Yet the path or shape that these efforts take is toward technocratic and market-driven solutions to the everyday issues schools, teachers, and students experience."

The conference will therefore explore how educational research might help deal with these challenges, particularly in enabling us to better re-imagine what an education for the public good might look like.

So ... I typed 'education for the public good' into Google and found a whole lot of stuff.....

The image here is of the Checkland Building, Falmer Campus, University of Brighton and is taken from a webpage advertising an upcoming pubic debate at the University entitled The future of university education? to be held on Saturday 30th April 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Where is the theory?

Have been working (with my colleague Anne Boddington) on editing a collection of research papers about learning spaces, this time bringing together educationalists with designers and estate managers, and also others from areas like anthropology, computer science and museum education.

What has been interesting is how all the contributors are looking for ways - theoretically and methodologically - that do not reduce the incredible complexity of thinking about learning and space; and at the same time offer the potential for saying something rigorous and useful, which can take debates forward.

This is very exciting for me, that so many people are addressing questions of theory and practice simultaneously, and from a broad range of perspectives. Some overlapping influences are Henri Lefebrve's The Production of Space, Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory and Etienne Wenger's Communities of Practice work. Of course, what is also interesting is what different disciplines take from these authors, and the range of conclusions the various contributors have drawn.

The forthcoming book is called Reshaping Learning: A Critical Reader. The future of learning spaces in post-compulsory education and will be published by Sense in July this year. Contributors include Ronald Barnett, Paul Temple, Maggi Savin-Baden and Etienne Wenger.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's out!

The book I have been writing - Towards Creative Learning Spaces - is out this week, published by Routledge. Available on Amazon.

Looking forward (anxiously) to comments......

Re-shaping Learning - the conference (and the book)

The Re-Shaping Learning conference at the University of Brighton in July 2010 aimed to bring together the best researchers around Learning Spaces - who are usually separated because they work across the different disciplines of educational theory, design teaching, architecture and estates management. One of the things we have been interested in is how to make the best work more easily accessible (since it is scattered across many subjects and locations). So it is great news that Sense want to publish a book collection for us.

The conference was also one of the last events of CETLD, at the end of its five  year life, and - as with the other CETLs - it  is only now that some crucial emerging themes are becoming clear. A key concern of the conference was to widen debate about Learning Spaces beyond building some new innovative informal learning spaces. Many contributors agreed that it also urgently needs to include theoretical research and development, cross-disciplinary critical debate, improved methodologies for designing and evaluating spaces and a much more focussed engagement with the 'big' issues of learning as a social and spatial practice; that is, both unravelling the assumptions about where, how, why and for whom different forms of education are patterned in space and time, and how these might be better organised.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Design and Management of Learning Spaces conference

This one day conference in mid-June was sub-titled Changing Minds and offered an interestingly eclectic set of speakers across architecture, education and estates.

The person who stood out for me though was Simon Austin from Loughborough, one of the partners in the recent HEFCE -funded project on Academic Workspace. As he summarises:

"Many universities have tried to create new types of academic office environments that foster collaboration and knowledge flow between occupants, in a bid to increase creativity and innovation in teaching and research. However, core aspects of academic work also require privacy and opportunity for quiet reflection. A common strategy to address this tension is the provision of multiple work settings, which provide occupants with a mixture of private and social/shared environments. This presentation introduces the concept of default location and, with reference to two in-depth case studies, argues that this plays a critical role in the success of multi-setting office environments."

So, through rigorous comparative study, the research was able to show real qualitative differences in the experiences of academic staff/usability of space between having private offices with a shared area; and sharing an open-plan office with bookable 'seminar/private' spaces off. Most importantly this was not just a matter of functionality; it was how they felt they might be perceived by others if 'took up' space in particular ways.

Just great to see a well evidenced study, with clear and usable outcomes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The 'shape' of online learning resources

I have been thinking a bit lately about how online learning resources are changing - in terms of what and how these are provided. Some time ago, I explored 'distributed creativity' , that is, websites that are increasingly blurring boundaries between teaching and learning, and quite often shift easily backwards and forwards across virtual and material spaces (see sidebar for a list - other suggestions always welcome).

Now, I keep finding examples which are offering more specialist learning resources, centred around not just materials but also tools, networking and other services. The Urban Design London Learning Space , for example, offers "a basic introduction to the theories, tricks and tools you can use to help create well-designed places.
  • We'll explain the words we can use to define the qualities of well-designed places
  • We'll describe processes and tools you can use to achieve good design
  • We'll talk about the theories and policies you can use to deliver good design
  • We'll help you learn by using pictures, stories, examples and activities"
which you can also develop through face-to-face courses. I have also been asked to be participate in a series of parallel workshops across over 70 universities globally, organised by Madrid Design Net. This is part of plans to develop new ideas for the urban development of Madrid, by both importing and exporting suggestions from other cities. It is based on a set of themes, a designed 'kit' and a structured workshop programme, supported by a website for sharing possibilities worldwide.

These kinds of resources suggest an increasing maturity in well-thought out and managed materials and activities online. Both are much more than either putting lecture notes on the web, or just 'sharing' through a blog/social network. They are serious and well-designed resources. Interestingly, in both cases the developments don't come from a university setting alone, but from a partnership with (and sponsorship from) other private and public organisations.

What really matters, though, is to see if they can get over the problem - particularly in post-compulsory education - of take-up; that is, will such resources and tools actually get used by a big enough constituency to make the amount of development work worth while?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A different kind of learning space

Met Jan Sellers at the Learning Landscapes conference: she is a National Teaching Fellow and her project is exploring labyrinths as a teaching tool. As she says:

"She began to explore the need for quietness, and time and space for reflection. She was aware of an increasing sense of stress, pressure and haste amongst students in their academic lives, and to some extent, a loss of joy in learning. (...)

The labyrinth works at a number of different levels. At its simplest the labyrinth provides a quiet, peaceful walk: a structured opportunity for reflection. The narrow path requires concentration to follow, thus offering a focus on the present; this may result in an experience akin to a walking meditation."

This led to the installation of the Canterbury Labyrinth at the University of Kent in 2008, as part of the Creative Campus Initiative (CCI). A team of facilitators at Kent are now working with this and other, temporary and portable, labyrinths, leading events including team-building, confidence building and workshops to foster creativity and deepen reflection within and across academic disciplines.

For more information, click here.

Image shows Canterbury Labyrinth in Winter: photograph by Jim Higham, University of Kent

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The problem with names

Learning Landscapes conference has been written up in the Times Higher Ed by Matthew Reisz, under the title "

"Lingua franca needed to shape cutting-edge pedagogic spaces".

What is most perhaps most interesting is the (one) response to date, which I will quote in full:

"Lingua franca needed? We could do with a little more plain English too. Pedagogic spaces indeed! And what on earth does "ways in which the academic voice can be fully articulated within the decision-making processes at all levels of the design and development of teaching and learning spaces" mean?"

So whilst Mike Neary, the co-ordinator of the project, is calling for more academic involvement in, and reflection on, learning space design - especially through deeper engagements with the idea of the university - here is an academic who doesn't even know what he is talking about. I have also interviewed many tutors who didn't think the concept of learning spaces means much that is useful or interesting to them.

This isn't to say that academics are the problem. Rather it raises three issues. First, both educational theory and architectural design still have little purchase on many post-compulsory academic disciplines; theory because it seems obscure and unrelated to the specialist expertise of different subjects, and architecture because outside of art and design it tends to be treated as something which is obvious, but which architects somehow fail to get 'right'. Second, there is no such thing as a shared language about learning spaces - what we urgently need to do instead is improve our understandings of the relationships between space and its occupation; and to open these up for wider debate. Third, we have to start from where academics and their colleagues are, that is, by accepting the tensions and complexities of existing communities of practice within and across universities and colleges, and not expecting consensus or even acceptance that here is an area worth considering. And to do that we need to make better arguments....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Talking spaces

Just back from the Learning Landscapes conference at Queen Mary's College London, which was to launch their final HEFCE-funded report and tools. I gave a paper (called "where is the theory?") and also listened to an interesting and varied range of other speakers. Very full day - 10 speakers in total - so not much audience participation possible, but good in that the speakers were selected to open up debate, rather than merely describe the project report.

Left with a mixture of optimism about the vital potential of bringing together estate managers, architects and educationalists perspectives on learning spaces; and frustrated that we still have - despite the work of the groups like Learning Landscapes at the University of Lincoln - very few approaches or methods which offer a firm purchase on relationships between architectural design, teaching and learning encounters, and space/resource development and management. Or rather we have several, but which are being generated piecemeal across the sector, from across both academic and commercial locations.

So we are left to choose between - if we can even find the work - say, the LL approach based on a better understanding of the history of universities as a building type, or (from the Institute of Education in London) Paul Temple's ideas about thinking 'place' rather than 'space'; or even my own argument which is that we need to build better conceptual frameworks and research methods, preferrably on the best contemporary theoretical work across architecture, education and the social sciences.... the core argument behind the Towards Creative Learning Spaces book.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Picture this!

Getting close to my deadline for handing the manuscript of Towards Creative Learning Spaces: re-thinking the architecture of post-compulsory education into Routledge, the publishers, which is exciting and terrifying at the same time!

One of the interesting but difficult things has been thinking about illustrations. There are already many well-known examples of good practice out there - particularly represented by shifts towards informal learning and more hybrid research spaces respectively - across the UK, US and Australia. But these examples tend not to overlap much with the kinds of building designs for post-compulsory learning spaces which architects and architectural students look at. And what about closely related building types like new forms of creative offices and educational spaces in museums and galleries?

There is no way I can be comprehensive with a relatively small number of (B&W) images. So my intention is to go for less well known spaces, but which illustrate some of the key issues and questions. Which could upset both learning spaces design specialists when their good work is not included and architects/students looking for pretty pictures. Ahh well....