6 strategies Australian Universities are using to design and develop collaborative and flexible learning spaces

Over the last decade learning spaces have evolved from traditional lecture style classrooms to technology-enabled environments that promote collaborative learning.

But no matter what stage you are at, designing and developing learning spaces is an ever evolving journey – and one that never stops.

As new technologies continue to emerge (think Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in more recent times), the way that students learn and engage is going to continue to change.

In order to keep up, universities must constantly look for new and innovative ways of teaching and focus on how to design environments that are flexible enough to accommodate and create a dynamic, flexible, technology-rich and collaborative style of learning.

With this in mind, we take a look at six key strategies universities across Australia are using to design and develop flexible and collaborative learning spaces to enhance the learning experience and improve learning outcomes.

Ahead of the7th Annual Learning Space Design Summit 2018, Macquarie University, Charles Sturt University and the University of Adelaide share insight into the top strategies needed to design and roll-out learning spaces that support 21st century learning.

  1. Involve students in the design process

“One thing that is really important when it comes to learning space design, is to start with a blank sheet. Start by asking your students: what is missing? What could we do to make your learning experience better?

Some of the information we gleaned from this processes was the frustration they had with current things we were providing. Our aim was to keep the slate clean, so students could provide ideas that nobody had ever thought about.

This was important, because we wanted students to feel free to talk to our student ambassadors about their ideas an concerns, which they might not have been comfortable to discuss with management or architects.

During the process, we also had a lot of communication with students via social media. We also ran workshops where we paid students to come and brainstorm ideas. It was a genuine process – not just a form of feedback, but an actual co-creation processes where we started from nothing and together we worked with the student to figure out what would work better.”

Pascale Quester, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Academic), University of Adelaide

2. Promote collaborative engagement

“At Macquarie University we’re moving into agile and responsive spaces that are based on the needs of learners. This creates the opportunity for collaborative engagement not only amongst students, but also for the educators working with them. Encouraging collaboration allows for project-based learning to occur in an authentic space.

For example, instead of having rows of desk and the knowledge standing at the front of a classroom, spaces are being adapted to promote collaborative engagement and in response to the needs of the learner rather than the teacher.

The learning space is changing as we move away from large theatres and lecture rooms to designing  rooms and spaces focused around facilitating collaboration.”

Professor Iain Hay, Director Professional, Learning and Engagement, Macquarie University

To read the remaining tips from Macquarie University, The University of Adelaide and Charles Sturt University download the full eBook here 


For more information about the 7th Annual New Generation Learning Space Design Summit 2018 check out the agenda here or visit http://designforlearning.iqpc.com.au 


Designing collaborative learning spaces that support digital at Massey University

There is no doubt learning is changing. New technologies – such as interactive whiteboards, mobile and high quality digital learning resources – are transforming the experiences and ambitions of learners.

In response to the evolving digital environment, the last decade has seen institutions across the New Zealand higher education sector creating and designing innovative spaces that support flexible teaching and learning, in a bid to improve learning outcomes, enhance digital literacy and optimize the student experience.

With the Ministry of Education recently reporting that approximately 90 per cent of New Zealand’s educational institutions are currently exploring the direct correlation between space and technology, it appears many universities are already realizing the benefits new learning styles, supported by good space design, can provide.

For Massey University, the concept of ‘new generation learning’ is not new. The University has for over fifty years been New Zealand’s leading distance provider of higher education and has kept pace with innovation, shifting from traditional learning modes through to a sophisticated digital platform. Since 2008, the University has been actively future-proofing its buildings to better engage students, staff and visitors through the use of innovative space design, along with technologically enabled pedagogies.

And while the journey so far has not been without challenges, the transition to new innovative learning spaces has been very popular among students from all academic disciplines, with an impressive 90 per cent satisfaction rate.

Ahead of New Generation Learning New Zealand 2016, we caught up with Professor Giselle Byrnes, Assistant Vice-Chancellor Research, Academic and Enterprise at Massey University, to find out how the University is creating learning environments that inspire and engage students, the tools they are using to align space with digital technology and the results that have been realized in terms of learning outcomes and student engagement.

Taking a multi-disciplinary approach to revamping learning environments

“Over the past eight years, Massey has rolled-out a number of flexible learning environments, transitioning from large fixed seating to large flat floor collaborative spaces. We have transformed spaces that incorporate traditional learning environments to incorporate new elements of design, like tiered seating, where appropriate, and movable furniture. These kinds of spaces allow for more collaborative learning and more facilitated engagement to occur.”

“We have taken a multi-disciplinary approach to revamping our environment, particularly in the business school and veterinary science teaching spaces. Our focus here has been on the delivery type rather than what a specific discipline needs. We’re trying to be flexible in our approach to cater for different learning types. For example, in the business discipline there is more emphasis on dialogue, analysis and group work than there is typically in veterinary science and other laboratory-based subjects. It’s important to factor these requirements in during the design phase, both in terms of learning space and curriculum planning.

All of our large entry level programs also adopt a collaborative form of teaching, through the use of problem based learning, which as a format lends itself to the need to have co-working, collaborative spaces. We’re trying to accommodate on-campus dialogue amongst groups of students in the teaching space design, as well as providing digital spaces for collaboration to occur among our large cohort of online students.

Because we are a large online provider, we consider it vital to facilitate online collaboration through our learning management system so that every Massey University student – whether studying on campus, online or in a blended mode – has an equivalent learning experience.”

Aligning space with digital technology

“Every one of our refurbishments or new builds in terms incorporates digital learning in the space design.

For example, we have collaborative software tools that have been included in the design, so that any device can log onto the software app that is available in the space and project onto the screens in the room. These screens can be on all walls, not just one wall, which allows for students to bring their own devices and use the resources for self-directed learning.

As a multi-campus institution, we also have a need for our classes to work in conjunction with each other. For example, a cohort of students from one location will need to connect with a cohort of students from another. So we need the software solutions to allow that to happen and Adobe Connect is the main tool we are using to achieve this collaboration.

We also have a video link teaching project we are investing in, at both our Manawatu (Palmerston North) and Auckland (Albany) campuses. The rooms in these two campuses are identical – the students are in a virtual classroom and communicate completely as if they are in the same room. This is innovative and there has been strong support for this kind of teaching, both from the students and the teachers.

Our rich media project is another area where we are continuing to invest. Over the last two years we have invested considerably in installing lecture capture software and hardware across all of our campuses. This has given us the ability to allow students to engage either in real-time out of the classroom or participate in personalised viewing options through Stream (our online learning system or LMS). This has allowed students to connect with the lecture in real-time or post-lecture and has very positive impacts for both distance learners and our on-campus students.”

Transforming the roles between students and staff: moving away from institutional to constructional learning

“The most graphic example of constructional learning is the conversion of old fashioned spaces – such as immovable tables and chairs in a tiered lecture theatre  – to flat floor spaces. These new spaces provide much more flexibility as they allow greater emphasis on dialogue around collaborative and cooperative learning. This also means there is less emphasis on the lecturer as the disseminator of information and more emphasis on the teacher being the facilitator and curator of learning.

Many of our lecturers are also engaging with flipped classroom principles. For example, the lecture or the tutorial (or the ‘lectorial’ as these modes of teaching and engagement blend into one another) is a space where the teacher and students come together to interrogate ideas, primarily on the basis that the students have been, with guidance from their teacher, accessing the content outside of the formal lecture class. Content is still delivered during class, but there is greater emphasis on the analysis, interpretation and critique of the work during the contact class time.

There has also been a shift where the lecturer is no longer the didactic teacher, or ‘sage on the stage’ and has become more of a facilitator and coordinator of learning – more of a ‘guide on the side’. In fact, the best teachers we have at Massey University describe their role as being ‘partners with the students on their learning journey.’

The spaces at Massey University reflect this pedagogical shift and we are also using technology to facilitate this shift. Technology has enabled a much more disruptive structure of a lecture – for example, if you have screens on every wall you can pull up online clips easily and you might have the ability to connect with students in another location. It’s much more interactive and engaging than the traditional 50 minute lecture.”

Ensuring staff are on board with new teaching and learning styles

“It is important to provide staff with sufficient support and development when rolling out new learning technology and designing spaces to support engaged learning. We have done this by having a strong academic development program to ensure staff feel supported. This program is also presented as part of their professional development and engagement.

We very much value teaching at Massey University, given that (along with research) it is one of the core types of work undertaken by our research-active academics. We reflect these values in our promotions policy and the ways in which staff are recognized and rewarded for their teaching quality and innovation, as well as providing supportive academic development.

For example, we run courses from the centre of the university around teaching development and design and are always looking for good ways to push our new ideas around best practice and peer-to-peer. It is important to ensure staff feel that innovative and new ways of teaching are supported by the University.

The new approach to learning can also be potentially a little threatening to the traditional role of the lecturer and the professional identity of the university academic, but the academic still has a very important role in the process: to guide, advise and co-construct the learning experience. In essence, there will always be a role for the teacher, but new learning spaces and technology makes learning more of a mutual discovery process.”

Interested in learning more?

Join Giselle at New Generation Learning New Zealand 2016, where she will further explore Massey’s success and the following:

  • How can we create learning environments that serve to inspire and engage our students and staff? 
  • The move from “instructional” teaching to “constructional” teaching, and how has this changed teacher and student roles 
  • Why do we need to align space design with digital technology? 
  • The innovative design and refresh of programs within an LMS and virtual learning environment 
  • Tailoring spaces and technology to suit teachers and their preferred pedagogies 
  • Providing adequate professional development and realigning pedagogical practice to optimize learning and teaching

For more information download the brochure here




A glimpse into the school of the future

It’s no secret that schools and universities of the future are going to look very different to how they do today.

As new technologies continue to transform the way students learn and engage with each other, learning spaces must continue to evolve and be designed to cater for new innovative styles of learning.

The UTS Ku-ring-gai site is undergoing an innovative transformation to become a new school which will cater for ‘stage not age’ learning.

The UTS building in Lindfield, which won the prestigious Sulman medal for architecture in 1978, will be redesigned to include a P-12 school which may eventually include university-level subjects.

With potential to cater for up to 2000 students, the new model is being designed by BVN Architecture, along with the NSW Department of Education and with the help of world leader in learning, British academic Professor Stephen Heppell.

Ahead of New Generation Learning Space Design 2015, Fiona Young, Architect at BVN Architecture, explores the elements that make the Lindfield school a unique learning environment, the process behind establishing a ‘stage not age’ learning model and how the space has been designed to foster innovation and cater for a new approach to learning.

Developing and choosing a new educational model

The Lindfield project has been unique in its approach, involving the public in the development and decision-making process for the new educational model. BVN and the Department undertook a series of community consultation workshops with Heppell, to allow the community to participate in and provide feedback on the project.

With the first stage of public consultations now closed, Fiona Young says that it was the collaboration with the public and the internal project team which has helped foster innovation and create a new approach to learning.

“This is the most collaborative project I’ve ever been part of. It is largely due to the way that the public consultation strategy was focused, and the visionary nature of the public workshops facilitated by Stephen Heppell. These workshops allowed him to share his research on innovative schools from around the world which opened the community’s mind to new possibilities,” she says.

The other unique element of the engagement process was the technologies used to involve the public in the process.

“We used a virtual consultation tool which was an incredible way to engage the community in a genuine, two-way process. We also used social media to engage the community as well,” says Young.

The consultation site was used to ask the public questions about their aspirations and visions for the site and for schooling, and learning into the future. During the consultation process three educational models were developed and shared on the project’s official website for the public to comment and vote on.

Young says this was a unique way to involve the community in the design process and has helped them to design a school which caters for the needs of the community.

“The community was a part of designing this model. They were given three options and people voted on which model they liked or didn’t like, the majority of feedback was that people liked elements of all three models. So the final model could easily have been a hybrid of the three and that’s the direction we’ve taken,” she says.

Download the full article Learning better and teaching smarter to read more about how the Lindfield Learning project team paved the way for ‘stage not age learning’ and how the space has been designed to match this new style of learning.

Everything you need to know about designing polysynchronous learning spaces

For awhile now, online learning has long been accepted in higher education as a tangible learning platform for students. The emergence of online resources such as virtual discussion boards, wikis and course management systems have paved the way for MOOCs, ultimately changing the way students interact and engage when learning.

But this asynchronous style of learning is being disrupted by new technologies and mobile devices, presenting new opportunities for face-to-face students to engage in new ways with teachers, peers and content during and after class.

The increased demand from students for flexibility in the ways in which they undertake learning, has resulted in the emergence of a new approach: poly synchronous learning.

So what exactly is polysynchronous learining? And what are factors that need to be considered when designing a polysynchronous learning space?

Ahead of New Generation Learning Space Design 2015, Barney Dalgarno, Co-Director uImagine Digital Learning Laboratory and Associate Dean, Faculty of Education at Charles Sturt University, explores everything you need to know about polysynchronous learning, and the benefits it can have for student experience and engagement.

What is polysynchronous learning?

“The term polysynchronous learning encompasses the new learning opportunities afforded by contemporary online learning technologies. It can be used to refer to learning situations which blend multiple channels of face-to-face asynchronous and synchronous online communication.

Polysynchronous learning is taking blended learning to a new level, because you’re blending the face-to-face and the online, but you’re also blending the synchronous and the asynchronous.”

What are the benefits?

“Co-participation by students in different locations is a key benefit of polysynchronous learning. It provides the ability for students unavailable at the time of class to participate through interaction with a recording and then follow-up discussions with other students.

This leads to increased engagement in interaction because of the concurrent learner-teacher, learner-learner and learner-content interactions.

There’s a much greater level of engagement compared to the typical face-to-face scenario where students might only have a minute of engaging with audio in an hour long class due to turn taking. Using polysynchronous learning means the whole class is engaged the whole time.”

The Design: Integrating the virtual with the physical

“The design of the physical space is really important to the success of polysynchronous learning and the benefits it can have for students. It’s important that the physical space is integrated with the virtual learning space seamlessly, but this is sometimes easier said than done.

There’s the challenge of having face-to-face students being able to interact seamlessly with remote students. Part of this revolves around the difficulty of making sure that they get the benefits of face-to-face communication with the students around hem, while still being able to interact with remote students virtually.

One way to solve this is giving every student in the face-to-face setting a device. For example you could give each of them their own microphone and headset. As a result you’re enabling all students to communicate in the same way, whether they’re face-to-face or remote.

The other approach is to use room-based microphones, large projection screens and speakers which allows face-to-face discussion to be easily captured so all students (remote and in class) can communicate on the same level.

This requires rooms to be designed in a way that facilitates these new types of technologies. So rather than a plain Vanilla classroom, polysynchronous spaces need to be open and designed to foster collaboration.”

The challenges

  1. Limited Technology Skill-set

“The technology skills of both the students and the teaching staff are a key issue. If people are not familiar with the software that they are using then it can cause constraint. It’s important to allow both staff and students to develop an understanding of how to use new software in online learning.

Teacher experience in designing learning experiences that capitalise on the affordances of polysynchronous  environments is also important. Even if a teacher has a good understanding of the software, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve grasped what kind of learning experiences can actually work in a blended learning context.”

  1. Increased cognitive load for teachers

“There’s an increased cognitive load in managing the interface of polysynchronous learning for teachers.
Interactions are coming from all angles – questions from students that need to be answered not only in the physical space face-to-face, but also via audio or replied to in written form in the online forum. The teacher needs to juggle all of these platforms in addition to delivering their content.”

How do we know it’s effective?

“It’s not always easy to connect learning outcomes to the learning process, but there are a range of factors that can be considered the impact polysynchronous environments can have on student learning.

If you’re trying to increase student engagement, one measurement is a questionnaire on engagement. Another option is monitoring what is actually occurring during the class via learning analytics. There are also questionnaires that can be used to measure cognitive load of both students and teachers. These can be used to examine whether the extra complexity of the polysynchronous environment is interfering with students’ abilities to actually engage with the content.”

This is an exceprt from the article Designing Polysynchronous Learning Spaces: Engaging students in virtual and physical environmentsDownload the full article by Barney here

For more information about New Generation Learning Space Design 2015 visit www.designforlearning.com.au or join in the conversation online @HigherEdIQ #NGL15 or follow Higher Ed IQ on LinkedIn

Four reasons why UNSW’s new learning space is improving student learning outcomes

UNSW’s Business School has introduced a new approach to campus learning throughout their new learning space ‘The Place’ – Peer Learning and Creative Exchange.

‘The Place’ is based on the flipped learning model and has transformed the traditional classroom where teachers are taking on the role of facilitators rather than lecturers and enabling students to work in teams to solve new problems, apply  their knowledge and develop the skills needed to be successful in today’s workforce.

Since the introduction and opening of the ‘The Place’ in early 2014, student learning outcomes have improved significantly, as well as overwhelming positive feedback from students and staff about the new learning style.

Ahead of New Generation Learning Space Design, Nick Wailes, Associate Dean (Digital and Innovation) at UNSW Business School, shares four reasons why ‘The Place’ is improving learning outcomes:

1. The unique design facilities collaborative learning

‘The Place’ is really about bringing students together to work with each other to solve problems. The set up of the tables enables creative exchange because when students are at the tables they are facing each other – not facing a lecturer. They are essentially part of a group, which is a really important element.

There are also screens for each of those group areas. Each workspace (or table) has a screen, which are then surrounded by whiteboards. So there is an area to collectively come together and share ideas.

The other design element which enhances peer to peer learning is the different levels in these rooms. In some of the spaces students stand up, some of them they sit down and it encourages active interactions. So people are getting up and down and walking around and it’s that flexibility and the idea of being able to reconfigure and bring great ideas together, that’s really the heart of peer led learning.

2. The space fosters creativity

Since the opening of ‘The Place’ we have spent a lot of time speaking to students about what the experience is like have discovered two things. The first is they feel like they get to know their classmates a lot better because rather than sitting passively side by side of you, they’re actually working with others and that’s enhancing their cross-cultural confidence to work with other students.

The second thing we’ve found is students are able to generate ideas easier, because they actually have to apply knowledge – they actually have to work out solutions to challenges within teams. As a result the learning experience is really enhanced.

3. Technology has been incorporated into design

During the design process, we wanted to make sure there is room for future proofing. We spent a lot of time thinking how we are going to use the technology to meet the needs to students not only now, but in the future as well.

Another important element is ensuring that there is enough bandwidth for every single student to have a half a dozen devices and for them still to have a fast connection. In the spaces, there are PC’s built in to every table and there’s a hardware switching solution which means faculty can show the same screen all the way around the room, or they can unplug all those screens so that individual screens with individual work.

Another technological element that has worked really well is voice amplification. We’ve got quite good audio, which means you can walk around the room and be in a conversation rather than just being shouted at. There are lots of little tricks and I think it’s really great to work with professionals who have an understanding of adult learning as well as an understating of design.

4. The results speak for themselves

We’re using various tools to measure the impact and effectiveness the place is having on student learning. One very raw measure of effectiveness is capacity utilization, which means wherever possible, staff will run their classes. We’re already at 100 per cent capacity which is great because it means the spaces are actually working.

Student attendance is another interesting metric. Like a lot of institutions, all our lectures are available through eco360 and students don’t necessarily need to come here to learn. But what we’re finding is when a class is run in one of these rooms, everybody shows up because they know they’re actually getting something out of the experience of being in the classroom. For us, that’s a really strong metric.

We also interviewed Nick at ‘The Place’ – you can watch the full exclusive video interview here or download the full interview transcript here.

Nick will be leading a site-visit at New Generation Learning Spaces 2015 where he will further explore and demonstrate how the new learning space at UNSW Business School has been specially designed to facilitate a new style of teaching and learning.

Early Bird rates end this Friday 19th Decemberregister now and save up to $1100.00.

For more information visit www.designforlearning.com.au or call +61 2 9229 1000 or drop us an email on enquire@iqpc.com.au