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Designs on the future

David Henderson Lecturers will force radical changes in the way their buildings are designed as they move from being the "sage on the stage" to the "guide by the side", a new publication from the Scottish Funding Council predicts.

Long, rectangular spaces with a teacher focus at one end are out and squarer shapes are in to allow students to be closer to the teacher and learn from each other.

New ways of e-learning and m-learning through mobile or digital technology will push designs still further, consultants employed by the council state.

There is little research on the best environments for learning but there is a need to ensure buildings are driven by learning and teaching strategies, they say. "Otherwise there is a danger that campus design is based too heavily on traditional modes of teaching, and perhaps unduly influenced by staff concerns about offices and car parking spaces."

In Scotland, designs are already moving. At the new east end campus of John Wheatley College in Glasgow, the strait-jacket of a narrow corridor feeding traditional classrooms is being broken by a central concourse. As the consultants note, this "incorporates wireless learning 'hot spots' with informal learning facilities including over 40 workstations".

Across the city, Strathclyde University has rearranged a small tiered lecture room so that students can swivel forward to see the lecturer and projection screen or back to work on a PC.

Moving east, the new campus of Edinburgh's Telford College includes two "learning streets" which service first floor classrooms. "The streets, generous circulation spaces, incorporate alcoves for 'purposeful socialisation' equipped with computer workstations, like the rest of the campus, and wireless data access," the consultants report.

Farther afield at Virginia Tech in the United States, a vast space for maths within a former department store is open 247, with 500 computers in pods of six. Activities include "lectureless" online learning with staff on hand 15 hours a day. Around the main emporium are spaces for one-to-one tuition, tutorial labs, regular lectures and refreshments.

The consultants say that such spaces must be fully equipped with the latest technology to offer "more active learning modes". Similarly, furniture must be able to be moved around to accommodate small group learning.

West Lothian College, for example, has established the "hub" - "a colourful, flexible space with fixed and mobile elements that can be reconfigured rapidly". At Perth College, students can use wireless laptops in the library or teaching spaces.

The consultants also address an issue that lecturers regularly complain about - poor air quality and the inadequate light and acoustics are bad for learning.

Looking ahead, "it is likely that relatively fewer seats will be provided in lecture rooms and classrooms. However, the area per seat will increase significantly, as will the cost especially for technology."

A survey of 16 colleges reveals the top trend is the application of IT and how to use multimedia technology. Among colleges and universities, the use of lecture-style teaching methods and the number of taught contact hours per student are the main downward trends.

Almost all institutions expect growth in wireless networking, including interactive classroom technology and "technology-enabled social learning spaces" - what people used to call cafes.

Colleges differ slightly from the university sector and many see learning taking place in yet more outreach centres with students completing their courses at more than one institution. They also see themselves playing a role in developing citizenship among their students.

Colleges further see a greater need for flexibility in rooms to allow for more than one teaching activity at the same time and the provision of large access computer rooms with fixed PCs.

Spaces for Learning is published by the Scottish Funding Council and was researched by architects Alexi Marmot Associates and haa design.

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