Key findings

Real innovation is rare. The research supports conventional knowledge about the increasing prevalence of social learning spaces to facilitate collaborative and independent learning. The development of teaching and learning spaces within this type of provision is incremental.

The case studies reveal the importance of creating service models to support teaching and learning spaces. These service models demonstrate how academics can use new teaching and learning spaces effectively, including how to make use of teaching technologies. The most progressive service models support high levels of responsibility among students for the management of teaching and learning spaces.

The most compelling new spaces are those that re-engineer the relationship between teaching and research. Spaces have been created to link teaching with research activity between undergraduates and postgraduates, and to facilitate collaboration between students and academics. These spaces mark the development from student centred learning to a research engaged teaching. These spaces support work on curriculum development across the sector, and are sometimes grounded in intellectual debates about the role and nature of higher education in the 21st century.

The research reveals the importance of charismatic individual leadership as a factor in the development of new teaching and learning spaces. In some institutions this role has been formalised as a type of ‘go-between’ management. The extent to which new academic spaces are based on the vision of a particular charismatic individual can undermine the sense of ownership and commitment by other academic staff.

Academic leadership in the development of academic spaces is distributed at all levels of HEIs. Academics are increasingly engaged in the development of new teaching and learning spaces, working with colleagues across disciplines and professions. HEIs are establishing relationships of trust between academics and other key stakeholders. These relationships are facilitated by institutional processes, e.g., ‘walk-arounds’, where groups of academics, IT and estates professionals meet on-site to share ideas about the design of teaching and learning spaces. There is a certain amount of negative stereotyping between academics and estates professionals, with a feeling that both groups speak in different languages and work in different paradigms.

The formal governance structures that characterize university decision – making are not the most appropriate frameworks for generating innovation. Yet committees provide the basis on which decisions are made, connecting teaching and learning objectives with estates priorities, ensuring that strategic objectives are aligned with the broader institutional agendas. The most progressive institutions provide programmes of formal planning that support strategic experimentation.

The research data reveals concern on an over-reliance on informality as a way of generating innovation and experimentation: ‘corridor conversations’ can work against good systems of communication and coherent project and campus planning.

The research reveals the importance of the student voice, yet students feel uncertain of their abilities to fully contribute to debates and discussions about new academic spaces. Students ask for more training and support so that they can be more effective in committees; and for Chairs of committees to be trained in how to work with students. Space does not register highly as an issue that students are much concerned about.

Universities have become very skilled at project management. There are a wide variety of project management models, from the very formal PRINCE2 to more experienced based and even ‘commonsensical’ approaches to project management. Where the expertise is not available in-house then use is made of external project managers.

Universities are well skilled in the use of Post Occupation Evaluations, yet could do more in the way of space evaluation. These evaluations need to look beyond utilisation and occupation to record the effectiveness of teaching and learning spaces, including the ways in which space improves the quality of the student experience as well as levels of student attainment and success.

Universities have established sound processes for user and client groups to contribute to the design of teaching and learning spaces. These groups provide academics with the opportunity to ensure that designs are based on pedagogical principles. Decisions on space design tend to be grounded in previous experience and a knowledge of provision elsewhere in the sector. New spaces are not designed in relation to research on what constitutes effective teaching and learning. The result is a tendency towards conservatism.

New academic spaces can facilitate progressive professional encounters, and be used to generate a greater sense of social engagement, informality and collegiality among staff.

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