In Search of Relevant Learning Spaces

In Search of Relevant Learning Spaces

Greg Powell (La Trobe University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6202-5.ch007
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This chapter examines the shifting landscape in higher education in terms of the physical design and the establishment of learning spaces to meet the needs of the 21st-century student. The discussion examines issues associated with maintaining the traditional higher education value of providing a social setting for sharing knowledge and skills whist creating learning spaces that reflect the changing teaching and learning landscape.
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Traditionally, higher education institutional teaching has taken place in lecture theatres, tutorial rooms and laboratories. The physical environment (size and structure) of such theatres and rooms is integral to the lecturing process and is bound to play a significant role (Jamieson, 2003; Wolff, 2003). However, in the last decade such traditional images have been dramatically transformed and conflicts have arisen due to the demands of an external world on which universities have become more reliant (Coaldrake & Stedman, 1999). With the ever–increasing demands made upon higher educational institutions that are market–driven, and reliant upon increased numbers of international students, the provision of technologies, the need for specialized knowledge and skills, and the expectations of the twenty–first century learner all impact upon the learning space and have ramifications for future designs.

It would be naive to think that the focus upon learning spaces for higher education institutions is a new concept. In the UK during the 1960s, large lecture theatres were built to cater for the increasing numbers of students, with one of the largest of these being centered at the University of Leeds. This was in response to changes in teaching patterns that were once delivered in individual rooms controlled by academic departments (Taylor, 1974). In the US, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy New York (Educational Facilities Laboratories) from 1956 to 1962 a project called ‘Reward’ developed a number of designs for large group instructional spaces which were built to make maximum use of available instructional technology (Taylor, 1970). The SUNY program (1960s) at Albany, Buffalo, Cortland, Fedonia, Geneseo, Oneonta, Oswego and Stonybrook developed Learning Resources Centers and replaced the word lecture with ‘large group learning’ or multi–media instructional’ spaces. The University of Miami experimental classroom designs of octagonal design were also built (1961), while Penn State University (1965) and Southern Illinois University (1966) were also involved in developments based upon large group instructional spaces. But with the development of better audio–visual technologies, many US higher education institutions began downsizing in the 1970s, providing for small group and self–instructional spaces (Taylor, 1970).

Since the 1990s, the mass and universal systems have become online, digital, collaborative and virtual, enabling ubiquitous, immersive learning and teaching where learners are controlling their own learning in terms of time and space. Information and communication technologies (ICT) have made it possible for new modalities of online learning and research, providing flexibility and collaboration by enabling students to share content, participate in forums, and engage with each other via chat, email, Blogs and WIKIs. With the advent of mobile technologies enabling remote access for users, the barriers of physical location, technology and access have been removed. The learning spaces of higher education institutions afford active knowledge environments that reflect collaborative, integrated and social settings.

A further shift from formal lecture theatres towards social–learning spaces, rich in technology and based on learner centered pedagogy, has meant a rethink of the designs for physical learning spaces being built to match such teaching and learning requirements for a modern twenty–first century curriculum (Jamieson, et al., 2000; Long, 2005; Valenti, 2002). It is widely recognized that student learning outcomes and behaviors are strongly influenced by their learning environments (Walker, Brooks & Baepler, 2011). The changing social patterns and generational changes are also factors in twenty–first century higher education constructivist pedagogical approaches in use today. These approaches promote independence and interdependence and collaboration, as well as providing students with opportunities for self–directed learning based on developing deep levels of thinking.

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