Learning and Teaching Spaces Design Competition

In 200 – 300 words, describe your ideal teaching and learning space and how you would use it to engage your students in learning. Would it be Carslaw or the New Law school? A classroom or the lawn in the Quad? A lecture theatre or a library? A tutorial room or a studio space? An email chat room or a laboratory? A hospital room or a virtual world?

What would the space look like? What equipment would you want? How would you teach in the space? How would you and the students use it?


2011 Winners

The blackboard trophy for The Learning and Teaching Spaces competition was won by Roger Bourne of Health Sciences, with Thushara Dibley from Arts and Social Science winning the second prize. The judges, Mary-Helen Ward and Kathleen Donohoe from Sydney eLearning reported that the winning entries were student-focused and theorised as well as creative. You can view the word cloud from the winning entries here.

First Prize: Health Sciences - Roger Bourne

Contrary to some recent conceptions, university learning is a distinctly personal and individual intellectual process - emphasised by the facts that universities graduate individuals and employers hire individuals. This personal specificity is also inherent in the concept of Student Centred Teaching. In this context a learning space is the physical and intellectual environment in which personal learning occurs. In the modern university the teacher is not the sole learning resource, but instead facilitates a student's engagement with a diverse range of learning resources. When designing the physical aspects of a learning space we should aim to optimize both the ability of the student to interact effectively with the learning resources and the ability of the teacher to provide guidance that is tailored to the specific needs of individual students. A learning space may need to range across a continuum of personal interactivity -- from complete privacy, permitting a student to concentrate undisturbed, to the highly social, requiring the student to interact in a complex community of ideas. Traditional and modern teaching spaces tend to cater only for the extremes of this continuum, resulting in either isolation or distraction. A physical space that enables the required continuum of interactivity could be created as a central community area surrounded by shells of increasing privacy, with the learning resources available in each area appropriate to the acute temporal learning objective. Students and teachers would move through the space according to both immediate learning objectives and individual learning style. The integration of information technology would enable the teacher to monitor student learning and to provide student-specific guidance. For students the learning space would provide resources that continuously stimulate and test learning and the knowledge that major deviations from the learning objectives would be detected early and addressed in a timely manner through personalized guidance.

Second Prize: Arts and Social Sciences - Thushara Dibley

My ideal teaching space would be room that could be used for lectures, tutorials, seminars or for studying. It would have up to 10 small round tables that could seat a maximum of four students. On each of the four walls of the room there would be a smart board or projector screen, allowing students to see the screens from any position in the room and giving the lecturer or tutor the freedom to move around. On the desks would be computers or ipads that could connect to the projector screens. Students could use the computers to do research as part of in class group work or to present results of small groups discussions. The desks would also have plug points for students to plug in their laptops. When the room was not being used for teaching, the desks could be booked by students to use as a study space.

Arts and Social Sciences - Toni Borowsky

My idea space would be a lightly raked amphitheatre shaped room with capacity no larger than 60. The benches would be smaller (say 2 or 3 capacity each) and able to swivel to form a table with bench behind (hence the light rake rather than the usual more steep angle of such rooms. Each bench would be equipped with a tablet at each seat - tablets that have writable technology so they can function as computers as monitors and as 'slates'. The teacher will be able to choose to see the tablets and project individual tablets to the class. Students will be able to show their tablet as well as hide them. Tablets at 'tables' can be linked to each other for group work or kept individual. Students can write their class notes on the tablet and dowload the notes to a flash drive to take home, and also do calculations and analysis during tutorial or group discussion time.

Health Sciences - Corinne Caillaud

Imagine… Open your eyes and enter my teaching and learning… This space integrates both physical and virtual learning tools. First, come and visit the teaching and learning laboratory (Lab'): a series of open spaces offer cardio respiratory exercise testing workstations, muscle function testing laboratory and a biochemistry analysis room. All around, smaller rooms are available for patient interviews. All rooms connect to each other via corridors shaped around “learning nests”, allowing for spontaneous student discussion and work groups. Rooms designed for patients' interviews are equipped with video cameras so relevant staff can provide students with detailed feedback. First year students use the Lab' under close supervision. More mature students have increased freedom to organize their practical work and master their skills by doing more complex tasks and testing “standardized patients” that could be staff from the University or individuals from the community. The Lab' is set up to be functional at all times and staff and students use the Lab' through a booking system. People on duty in the Lab' include academics, clinical educators and students in their final UG year who must demonstrate practical skills and mentoring capacities. Now, come and enter the virtual learning space which connects students to academic support and expands the learning experience acquired in the Lab'. Computers and iPads set up in the Lab' provide access to the virtual portal that includes e-practical notes, e-scientific notes, videos and e-learning tools designed by advanced students. The e-portal also provides access to the virtual testing laboratory (e-Lab') the students use before undergoing real testing on individuals or to master practical skills. The Lab' also creates a Learning network including students and staff from different disciplines (Physiotherapy, Exercise and Sport Science, Occupational therapy, Medicine…), individuals from the community and a wider community via the virtual learning portal.

Arts and Social Sciences - Katherine Cassis

Although the term ‘learning process' suggests an emphasis on the temporal duration of the learning experience, learning tends to be prescriptive and mechanistic (within a rigid time-frame and classroom to which students and educators submit their personal time) and, therefore, is usually understood as process in a spatial rather than temporal sense. Since lessons are perceived as a sequence of knowledge- or skill-acquisition segments occurring within fixed spaces and aimed at the attainment of a job-worthy qualification, each learning experience is not perceived from within as a unique unfolding of personal duration and self-possibilities, but rather from without as a colourless succession of moments that cumulatively give content and gravity to the final qualification. My “learning space” would translate process into a creative duration, whereby an educator-catalyst would encourage students to engage with ideas audio-visually, virtually as well as through the written word, and to discuss their understanding of concepts in the context of their life experiences, aspirations and concerns. The educator-catalyst and students, in the absence of a course outline, would be thrown into contingent engagement, so that learning revolves around spontaneous reactions to a diverse range of stimuli. Such reactions would reveal to student and teacher alike the unique learning styles, personalities and psychological states of all students, thus facilitating a fusion of static knowledge with evolving self-knowledge. The learning inscape would ideally unfold on an empty stage in an amphitheatre. Random images, sounds and words would provide the backdrop and props for the reactions of students and educators to stimuli and to each other. Each reaction would form a mask, a snapshot of a participant's mental state, while the script would be an a posteriori transcription of the interplay of masks on stage rather than an a priori course outline. The maskscripts could subsequently function as personal evolution markers for educators and students and should demonstrate that ultimately time creates the learning space.

Sydney Medical School - Spring Cooper

My ideal teaching space would be a large open space. The room would contain unstructured areas of: 1) desks, 2) couches and coffee tables, 3) yoga mats and bolsters, 4) computers connecting to the rest of the world, and 5) a full wall of sliding glass doors opening on to a large open balcony with greens and life. Students need to be comfortable, stimulated, and able to express creativity to most effectively learn, and this room caters to those needs. For those students who need quiet at times, away from other students, we'd have wireless, noise-cancelling headphones that could be worn in the classroom, with the student's choice of music. Announcements would be able to be heard over the headphones, though, in case of emergency or when an allowed "quiet time" was coming to a close. To encourage sustainability, the room would have solar panels for power, would have composting on the balcony, would have recycling bins for everything recyclable, and would use recycled materials in its development wherever possible. The room would be all-inclusive: accessible to those with any physical disabilities, as well as welcoming to those with any intellectual or learning disabilities. Finally, it would be easily morphed. Students’ suggestions would be continuously accepted so that the classroom was a participatory and constantly evolving environment.

Arts and Social Sciences - Peter Hobbins

The essence of my ideal teaching space is freedom of movement and opportunities to interact. Anything else is window dressing. Provided that they aren’t fusty, I prefer poky rooms to large spaces – they encourage us to crowd together and enhance audibility for shyer students. Such intimate teaching spaces require good ventilation and lighting, and most humans respond naturally to windows (I guess that applies to undergraduates too). Oblong rooms and data projectors structure an obvious hierarchy which sets the front of the room apart from the class. My ideal classroom would be circular, or at least hexagonal, with walls constructed of whiteboard material. How about a roof-mounted data projector on a swivelling arm so it can be pointed in any direction? It could even double as a spotlight for speakers or ‘deathray’ to pick out students who amble in late. On that note, a clock is essential and a whiteboard useful, while a blackboard is an anachronism (I keep wanting to run my fingernails down it, but I’m led to believe that it’s not pedagogical best practice). A key logistical limitation to flexible learning is the use of tables and chairs, which often require major re-organisation to facilitate breakout discussions. I’d prefer tutorial rooms to be equipped with standalone chairs with fold-down desktops, so that students can take their seat with them however we decide to use our space. The occasional table in the room is useful, though, for activities such as spreading out artefacts and discussion materials, or for demonstrating dance steps (how else will I teach my students to Charleston?). I’ll just have to remember not to bang my head on the data projector. If the room is circular, the table should be as well. In fact, why not make the table a clock? Is Godot here yet?

Sydney Medical School - Kimberley Ivory

I am interested in teaching medical students to work effectively with cultural diversity (with culture defined in the broadest terms). I have found one of the best ways to do this is to train people to look at the similarities and differences within their own groups, and to see how we interact with difference all the time and bring our own attitudes and values (our own culture) to all those interactions. My ideal classroom would be an open public area like Eastern Avenue where I would run laughter yoga sessions for medical students to extend more didactic sessions on cultural diversity. One of the aims of these sessions is to help break down our acculturated resistance to direct eye contact and physical connection with strangers and to understand that laughter and body language are among our earliest and most basic forms of communication. There is also good evidence to suggest that laughter has positive, quantifiable physiological and psychological effects on certain aspects of health with negligible side effects, though a laughter-induced syncope has been reported. In particular, laughter: • reduces stress, promotes psychological well-being and counteracts symptoms of depression • elevates mood, self-esteem, and energy • enhances memory, creative thinking and problem-solving • improves interpersonal interaction • builds group identity and cohesiveness • improves quality of life and patient care • intensifies mirth • is contagious. (Mora-Ripoll, 2011) For all these reasons, laughter sessions would be an important adjunct to the rigors of medical training. These classes require no infrastructure or resources except willingness to participate. By using a public open space as a classroom, the sessions would also attract and engage passers by and the benefits would flow to the wider university community. (Ref: Mora-Ripoll, R. (2011). "Potential health benefits of simulated laughter: A narrative review of the literature and recommendations for future research." Complementary Therapies in Medicine 19(3): 170-177.)

Sydney Medical School - Daniel Lin

Best learning space: "In the real world". Students now have so much on offer in various learning environments both in the real and virtual worlds. The feedback from students and teachers is that the best learning space that closet to their working environment. The hospital ward/ outpatient clinic and consulting room. The hospital setting with real patients supported with well equiped tutorial rooms with access to on line support learning that allows continuation of discussion and feedback. The online support would allow the student to go to a learning space that allows the student to individulise their own learning program with access to teachers both from the basic sciences and clinical sciences.

Arts and Social Sciences - Benjamin Miller

Imagine the Sydney eLearning iPad/tablet App. (Of course, to solve equity issues, a generous philanthropist would donate iPads to all students, and wireless internet would be widely available on campus. Students who do not have access to the internet at home, or who do not want to use their home download quotas, can plan to access course material on campus). Students could be lounging in the Quad, sitting on a train, in their lounge rooms, or in the library when they log-in to the App and select my unit. There would be a 'in your own time' section where students access readings, course material, study notes, practice quizzes and discussion boards. There would also be a 'compulsory activities' section where students log-in to real-time, live class discussions (Skype-like, with options for text, audio or video streaming). 'Live' lectures would stream to a student's iPad, with options for individual students to be asked questions or to ask questions. There would be chat rooms for interactive break-out sessions during lectures and collaboratively authored documents could be shared with the entire course for 'live' feedback and discussion. The main innovation here is to integrate individual, asynchronous online learning with collaborative, synchronous learning. Real-time, collaborative activities are essential for forming communities of learners who can help each other work through a unit. To date, a real challenge has been developing a sense of community in online teaching. Being able to stream live content would bring people together in time and space, with interactive features to allow students to talk to each other: lively, real-time communication - the essence of lively, real-life communities.

Science - Glenda Wardle

“ The highly innovative Nerve Centre” (ThiNC) Engaged learning flows from a combination of ‘time to think quietly’ interspersed with listening to how others tackled the same problem. An issue for delivering this format is that most rooms cannot serve as both a venue for the large collective of groups to report back and also provide quiet isolated space for discussions among small teams or individuals. The Nerve Centre would be a flexible, connected set of soundproof spaces that would enhance the interactivity among groups of various sizes. The learning environment would take the best of self-directed learning, tutorials and lectures and deliver it in one venue that could include on-line participation. Think of how the theatre-in-the-round delivers interactive and entertaining participation. The design is based on a honeycomb or spider web. A central hexagonal hub is surrounded by six small flat rooms, which in turn fan out into six broad sloping lecture-size rooms with seating in graceful arcs and sidewalls angled like spokes of a wheel. The circular eco-friendly building would sit under a geodesic dome roof. The high-tech internal walls of the pods would be soundproof glass, which could be switched on to be opaque and automatically lowered to connect the spaces into one. The spaces would have Wi-Fi, large screens, interactive boards, and audio/video. Each “pod’ could be the focus for reporting back with effective use of lighting and audio feeds. Screens could show composites of work being completed in the other pods and live-stream content into connecting lecture theatres, singly or collectively. The use of the space would be decided by competitive proposals that make best use of the unique features of the spaces and technologies. An annual ‘artist in residence’ could be commissioned and the space would become a desirable workshop or conference venue in the non-teaching periods.