Flexibility is key: learning from campus developments in the Netherlands

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by Gillian Hunter, Residences Officer in Estates and Campus Services.

I was recently awarded funding by the Robbie Ewen Fellowship to visit three very forward thinking institutions in the Netherlands to learn how they are redeveloping their campuses. Their philosophy is that any space on campus can be a potential learning space. This message, and their innovations, are inspirational and could inform our own ongoing campus redevelopment.

In a world of wireless connectivity – hybrid laptops, tablets and smartphones – our ability to interact with the world around us is quite literally at our fingertips.  This interconnected ‘always on’ culture is having a positive impact on the educational establishment.  Learning spaces are rapidly evolving in this digital era and are encouraging new pedagogical approaches that acknowledge this shift in the way students interact with knowledge, and the world around them.

Institutions in the Netherlands are very aware of the importance of employability, and forging the link between education, research and entrepreneurship is something that is profoundly influencing their campus redevelopments. They are providing facilities that encourage core entrepreneurial skills such as teamwork, partnership forming and flexible working – in a sense mimicking the environment of many workplaces. The new facilities on offer range from touchdown spaces (informal areas that encourage short duration working), upgraded project rooms and lecture theatres that enable collaborative working. Their new library facilities have a focus on a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture, transforming libraries into learning centres and focusing on the needs of students. Bold use of design is turning formerly ‘dead’ corridor spaces into vibrant circulation areas that not only encourage social interaction but are also used for informal meetings. Staff, students and external partners are using these spaces in ways that promote creative teamwork and improve the learning and teaching experience for students and staff alike.

One of the key things that emerged from my conversations with these institutions was that planning may not accurately capture the various ways in which students actually use these spaces, so the design must be left with enough flexibility so it can organically expand through student usage.  It was also clear that a mix of flexible spaces allow for the best opportunities to learn.

Abertay is currently undertaking an exciting programme of redevelopment and we can certainly learn something from the example of the Netherlands. Indeed, the new active learning space and the redevelopment of several new laboratories shows that we were already moving in the same direction as these world-leading and innovative institutions.

 

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