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Built for success

Creating one of the most advanced learning centres in Europe, if not the world, has given Les Watson invaluable experience in learning, ICT and buildings

How do you measure success with ubiquitous, technology-supported learning? How about the number of learners engaged with it? The last time I checked, the Glasgow Real learning network had 111,000 registered learners. With a city population of around 700,000, that's almost every sixth person enrolled as a learner. This success is a tribute to the consortium of Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, the Glasgow City Library Service, the universities, further education colleges, and Learning and Teaching Scotland in promoting lifelong learning in the city.

These partners have worked relentlessly since 1999 to promote learning to Glasgow. Every city library has a Real Learning Centre where members use technology to access learning opportunities. Real has developed an infrastructure of technology-equipped learning centres, online resources and support that has resulted in one of the most successful "Learning City"

projects in the world.

At Glasgow Caledonian University, involvement in the Real learning network has stimulated our thinking about learning space and how technology can be used to promote learning. The lessons we have learnt are equally relevant for schools and the Building Schools for the Future programme.

The educational paradigm that works in our Learning Cafe, Real@Caledonian, the flagship Real Learning Centre on Caledonian's City Campus, is that learning starts with conversation. Cafe culture and its associated conversation is a powerful medium. Technology is present in the cafe, but does not dominate it. Technology that is always on, always available and can be used when needed is key to the cafe's success. This success prompted the university to invest in a building that takes social learning environments to a new level.

In February 2006 Glasgow Caledonian University will open the Saltire Centre (right). This 10,500 square metre building cost pound;20.1m, plus a further pound;2m for equipment. The Saltire Centre builds on the experience of Real@Caledonian and has a ground-floor, 600-seat Learning Cafe providing a range of formal and informal study space.

What's key to this space is that it not only has a range of study space from formal to informal, but also access to our existing book stock combined with technology to access the wealth of information and resources available online.

The world of information, and access to it, is in transition, so we will have fixed, wired desktop machines in the Saltire Centre, and laptops and other portable devices that can be borrowed which will make use of the 54g wireless network in the building.

It is not only devices and networks that are in transition, information is also in a hybrid state. To make the legacy of paper-based information available to learners in the Saltire Centre, without reducing the space for people, we are making extensive use of compact, user-accessible shelving.

Two thirds of the book stock will be stored in the compact shelving, enabling us to double our seats for people from 900 in the current library to 1,800 in the Saltire Centre.

But the Saltire Centre is not just about access to learning, information and technology. It is also about providing users of the building with easy access to services. Technology is key to this. Most organisations form around the functions they believe they need to provide, resulting in separated departmental roles - silos. At Glasgow Caledonian we have looked closely at this and revised the way in which we deliver our services to users. Why should they have to understand our silo structure to access our services?

As a result we have capitalised on the potential of technology and taken much of our information and many of our transactions online. This frees staff to deal face to face with the things that matter. These integrated services include careers advice, administrative services, counselling, learning support and financial advice, which will be provided from one desk in the new building. This will make the ground floor a social learning space where users can get one-stop access to everything they need.

Some users of the Saltire Centre will need silent, reflective, study space.

This is provided on the top floor of the five-storey building. Between the silent top floor and the interactive ground floor, there is a gradient of activity ensuring there is something for everyone, with ICT truly ubiquitous meeting the wide variety of learner needs.

Les Watson is pro vice chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University


* Learners are people. People are diverse. Their learning needs are diverse, so don't assume that technology is a one-size-fits-all answer

* All learning starts with conversation (John Seely-Brown), so do everything you can to enable conversation in your learning space developments

* Acknowledge that we are in transition. Don't throw the chapter out for the chip or the Ethernet for the ether. Capitalise on all the opportunities offered by new and old technology simultaneously


* Find out all you need to know about the Real learning network in Glasgow

* there is a description of the Learning Cafe Real@Caledonian that includes a six-minute video introduced by Magnus Magnusson, the Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University, and giving the views of a wide range of students

* out more about the campus development at Glasgow Caledonian University, including a computer-generated walkthrough of the Saltire Centre

* Electronic versions of the magazine Synergy produced by Learning Services at Glasgow Caledonian University. Each issue has articles on technology in education and the Saltire Centre

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