Learning spaces

George has asked the queston – ‘Do we still need physical spaces (buildings) for teaching and learning?’

This question has made me think about where I learn and how I learn. Many of my most powerful learning experiences have been in outdoor physical spaces – not buildings – so, for example, my first real experience of cooperation, collaboration and team work was at a young and vulnerable age in the Welsh mountains on an Outward Bound course. Then, I learned how to speak French by working on a voluntary summer camp constructing a mountain path high in the Pyrenees. I learned about the ecology of rock pools from a field trip to the shoreline of the north-east coast of England. I learned the joys of gardening at the age of eight by being given a small patch of ground in my school’s garden in which to plant radishes and carrots. So if I think about it, I have had many learning experiences, both formal and informal, out of ‘buildings’.

I have also had many teaching experiences out of buildings. I have taken children on many field trips, to woodland, to the canal and the coast and so on. And I have taken students abroad, one of the most memorable trips being to Rhode Island. On that trip I learned how to drive a hire bus out of Boston airport!

But as Janet has pointed out in the Moodle forum this week there are still many teaching and learning experiences for which we need buildings. Practically, it is not always possible to teach and learn ‘outdoors’, and even if we can avoid the traditional classroom through online learning, the online environment cannot satisfy all the senses. For touch, taste and smell we need to be offline.

So what do we mean by physical space? Even if you are working from your computer you are still in a physical space and it’s an interesting exercise to ask distance students to describe their working environment. We need to think not so much about whether or not we need physcial spaces/ ‘buildings’, but more about what those physical spaces could or should be like. The JISC has funded interesting projects on the design of learning spaces http://www.jisc.ac.uk/eli_learningspaces.html and perhaps this is the area where there needs to be still more focus.

The trouble with designing physical spaces though is being able to see far enough into the future, to be able to design something that won’t quickly be out of date.

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