Earlier this week I attended a conference in London on “Next Generation Learning Spaces”. It proved a really interesting couple of days and I came away with a number of ideas for how we might improve our learning spaces and the campus environment more generally at Abertay. A notion which really struck a chord with me was that of the “sticky campus” which is a phrase emerging from Australasia. The idea is to create an environment will students will want to come to and to stay. The University should not be seen as simply a place where students come to for formal classes and then leave, instead it should be somewhere they can study in private or in groups, relax, meet their friends, grab a coffee etc. The academic literature is clear that students who have a strong sense of belonging and feel part of the University community are more likely to do better academically, former closer relationships with their peers and academic staff and are more likely to complete their studies (see e.g. the work of Tinto). Active, collaborative learning is key to forming so-called learning communities and social participation is another key factor (Wenger).
The learning spaces (formal and informal) which the University provides are key to creating the right environment for the “sticky campus” and at Abertay we are undertaking a major initiative to upgrade our Estate over the next three years, beginning with a refurbishment of our science labs this summer. A lot of our students have to commute into the University and have commitments outside of their formal studies (e.g. part-time jobs, caring responsibilities etc) which can occasionally impact upon class attendance, however, there is also evidence to suggest that our students are studying in Dundee when not in class but not on campus. Just look in any Costa Coffee in the city centre!
We are in the early stages of developing plans for reinvigorating our learning spaces and a number of ideas and suggestions were raised by staff at the March TLE seminar. We will be running a similar workshop with students after the spring break. It is clear that we wish to create more of a “sticky campus” for our students, to make it more attractive for formal and informal study as well as socialising, networking etc. We will be looking at ways we can make more teaching spaces which promote active, collaborative learning which encourages higher student engagement and, ultimately, better learning outcomes thereby helping our students to maximise their potential (as per our 2015-20 strategic plan). Active learning environments may not be as space efficient as, say, lectures i.e. the room’s capacity is reduced, however, they have the potential to be used more by students for informal learning outside of class time. Something which cannot be said of our traditional lecture theatres. The lecture theatre still has a place in modern day campuses but again, there is a trend towards creating spaces with low angle seating tiers, seating in groups with tables, curved set ups which may be used in didactic or collaborative learning modes.
Technology is key and trends include improved connectivity, bring your own device, “flipped classroom” (links with active learning), online and blended learning, lecture capture (especially short video summaries rather than full blown lecture recording) and learning analytics. Interactive smartboards are excellent tools to promote collaboration and creativity between instructor and students or in team meetings.
Finally, it is important to recognise that students and staff are more productive in an environment which promotes well-being. Sour our developments will also take into consideration a number of environmental factors such as air quality, lighting, temperature, acoustics and smell! Also the need to factor in spaces which facilitate brief interactions/ chance meetings, circulation routes through buildings, areas which promote collaboration and flexibility of set ups.
If you have ideas on how you think we can make our campus and learning spaces better, please get in touch. We want to create a sticky campus but we are not looking for simply sticking plasters!
Director of Teaching and Learning Enhancement