Monday, January 15, 2007

Learning Spaces

I am a fan of the Independent.
Indeed it is my newspaper of choice both on line and in its paper form. When ever I see a link to an article in the Independent I cannot help but follow it.

So imagine my delight to discover a pointer from Learning Zone to Lucy Hodges' article Universities: The learning mould is smashed.

The link was introduced with these words,
"There was a really interesting article on the way Warwick University are converting their learning spaces - getting rid of desks, lectures and moving to research-based learning."

I followed the link and found myself in strange, strange place.
" a large space, containing no table but, instead, a heated rubber floor on which you can loll, soft plastic squares on which you sit, a Le Corbusier reclining chair on which one person can lie, and a projector"

Why? "This is a place where students can work together, think, talk, write and be scholarly, using all the latest technology, and at the same time free up their minds to be original!"

As they come into the room, they are "handed a laptop and a tablet" and all is well.

Question. Why a laptop and a tablet? Are they not really the same thing? or are the tablets of the mind expanding nature?
I still don't understand the point of the reclining chair (but more of that later).

Dr. Neary director of the reinvention centre says
"Students are not very well prepared for their third-year project or dissertation, our initiative is about getting more research-like activity into the curriculum at an earlier moment so that students begin to think about what it is to do research, what it is to be, say, a sociologist."

Question. Why aren't they very well prepared for their final project or dissertation?
Answer. Put them in a room with no desks and a rubber floor.

Now we come to the crux of the article, Warick is applying itself to thinking about its curriculum, is thinking about research based learning, is thinking about new technologies. Excellent, but they're not getting rid of desks and lectures. They are undertaking research in one room. Research into a "progressive pedagogy". If we read the article we might believe that this minimalist teaching space is costing £2.5million, just how much does a Le Corbusier chair cost? There is much more to Warick's research than this one room.

Consider the next paragraph
"Those involved in designing the new room are determinedly idealistic. The designers took a deliberate decision not to have any tables in the room because tables force students to sit in one place and not move about. Tables create a barrier, according to Neary. Having no tables means that people can feel closer to one another. "This room is driven by the dynamics of the relationship of collaboration," says Dr Neary. "There's no place for the teacher. It's open and democratic and dynamic.""

Just remember that sentence........"there's no place for the teacher"

And now my favourite paragraph
"The centre has been acoustically designed too......It's architecture-literate, hence the Le Corbusier chair," says Dr Neary. "The room itself is challenging.""

"Its architecture-literate hence the chair"; tell me what does that mean? Who gets to sit in the chair?

I admire the research and work being undertaken at Warick but this article does them no favours. Neither does it do much to encourage practioners of teaching and learning in HE to reconsider their practice. Which is a shame.

The article continues to describe further innovations at Warick which should be commended, their Learning Grid or Library, or the work in their Capital Centre.
In fact the university's own materials do a far better job of describing their work than this sensationalist article does.

I am still a fan of the Independent and would recommend this leading article which offers a far more balanced view of the innovation at Warick.

Read it and don't throw away those desks yet.

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