Tools for Designing Learning Spaces
The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit, produced through the collaboration of SCHOMS, AUDE and UCISA, provides a robust set of tools for designing learning spaces for the 21st century and a conceptual framework for approaching design differently as well as designing different kinds of spaces.
The toolkit is organized around a seven-step design process, the first step of which is mainly conceptual and the remainder technical and procedural. It is written primarily for members of professional groups that provide architectural and design services, information technology, and media services in higher education. The hope is that individuals from these groups, which are traditionally quite separate in our universities, will achieve better outcomes through facilitated and informed collaboration. The toolkit is a sort of roadmap for this collaboration, integrating the particular requirements of successful design and construction projects from these different points of view and sets of expertise.
The first step is to understand the changes that are taking place in our theoretical understanding of learning and our approach to facilitating it. As the authors of the toolkit note, this is a challenging step for people whose responsibilities and experience may not entail much knowledge of learning theory or pedagogy. Nevertheless, they call for participants in design projects to understand that learning is more and more viewed as a process by which people in a social nexus build their knowledge through engaging in such activities as investigating, listening, talking, reading, writing, experimenting, and practicing, and not just listening to lectures and reading texts. Older classrooms and lecture halls with their seats in rows facing the professor encode an older view of learning: that knowledge was deposited into the learner. The authors suggest that the design of new learning spaces should be guided by this newer, constructivist understanding of the learning process.
Subsequent steps of the process relate to more practical, nuts-and-bolts matters. There are sections devoted to constituting a team and managing a project. The guide also addresses ways of managing change, which entails its own set of challenges. Additional sections take up such issues as making sure construction is up to standard and finished spaces incorporate appropriate learning and information technologies. Reflections on past projects by people in the field illuminate and also enliven these sections.
This toolkit can be very helpful across the campus. For college and university administrators, it offers practical advice. For practitioners, it supports successful collaboration. For those in the library, it provides both a resource for construction and renovation projects and an opportunity to consider the place of the library in its full institutional setting. As the authors write,
Whilst it is true that students often want clearly identifiable places, such as libraries, for learning, the constructivist learning paradigm supported by ubiquitous technology leads to a more holistic, connected view of the university campus. Rather than consisting of discrete locations where learning is constrained in time and space, we start to think of the whole campus as a place where a continuous flow of formal and informal learning can take place (p. 9).
More and more libraries are asking how their resources, spaces, and services can be tied into the curriculum and the teaching and learning needs of their students and teaching faculty. More faculty members, whether on their own or as part of an institution-wide initiative, are exploring online and hybrid courses, flipped classrooms, and other such classroom approaches. As this continues, all campus spaces associated with teaching and learning are up for reconsideration. This toolkit can serve as a source of information for a range of these projects, since it is geared to the technical side of design and construction but is also particularly canny about the broader issues.
 SCHOMS is the Standing Conference for Heads of Media Services; AUDE is the Association of University Directors of Estates; and UCISA is the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association.