UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit: case studies
Inspiration and lessons learned from recent learning space projects and a model to follow in evaluating your own learning spaces and planning new developments.
This content was archived in September 2021
About this guide
About the case studies
The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit (view via Wayback Machine) was launched in 2016 to help staff from different professional services share best practice and work more effectively when creating learning spaces.
It is intended as a practical guide and a source of inspiration in the design of spaces that delight and motivate students, as well as meeting their functional needs.
This series of case studies complements the original toolkit and illustrates how a range of different institutions have applied the good practice in their own distinctive ways. This is not an exclusive list of projects but presents a series of examples of the variety of effective learning spaces projects being delivered across the UK. It is hoped this will be extended over time as more institutions evaluate the learning spaces projects they deliver.
The case studies were created using: a questionnaire to project champions, stakeholders and users; focused interviews with key stakeholders; talking heads videos; observation of space in use and existing post occupancy information.
The case studies themselves are a valuable source of inspiration and lessons learned for the sector. More than that, the approach we have taken provides you with a model you can use to evaluate your existing learning spaces and to approach new developments.
The format of each case study follows the chapter headings of the toolkit.
Professionals leading learning space projects need to work with a range of stakeholders across functional areas that are outside their day-to-day experience.
The Toolkit emphasises the importance of participatory approaches to stakeholder engagement from the beginning if you are to avoid costly mistakes and we suggest some techniques for gaining effective stakeholder participation.
The continued importance of physical learning spaces lies in supporting learning activities that are best undertaken collectively or which have a compelling reason for bringing students on campus and technology has an important role to play in this.
Our toolkit takes a broad look at digital technologies and other equipment used in learning spaces.
Learning space projects are often significant investments and you need to know that they are delivering the intended benefits.
Typical post-occupancy evaluation of a building focuses on technical and functional performance. The toolkit goes further than this and provides guidance on designing evaluations that measure whether the space is actually enhancing learning.
The STEM Ideas Factory is a flexible space for group and social learning within a new multidisciplinary laboratory complex.
The 221m² space is designed to be used for a variety of different activities, including group projects, showcase research, student-led conferences, and in particular, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) outreach activities.
The STEM Lab building (5314m²) is a suite of modern, appropriately equipped, laboratories created to significantly enhance the quality and breadth of provision in STEM subjects.
The multifunctional teaching laboratories were designed to exploit synergies between subjects and align with the university’s multidisciplinary research agenda.
The strategic intent is that the facilities will enhance the student experience by:
Creating space and infrastructure to support student projects
Creating a ‘home’ for STEM
Delivering a quality practical laboratory experience to larger student cohorts
Providing the ability to remain agile and flexible to respond to market demands
Permitting increased student numbers (+10%) and new programmes in subjects such as bio-engineering
Prior to this each subject had its own laboratories and students worked in isolation from other disciplines.
The aim of the space is to facilitate a blended learning model and ‘encourage students to learn by conversation not isolation.’
Partnership working was central to the design of the building and also to the operation of the Ideas Factory space.
The space has done away with the notion of individual ownership by specific disciplines. There is a building manager and one full time technician and timetabling is done via a central booking system. Support staff with discipline specific skills often work in the building but all space is shared.
The pro-vice chancellor for teaching acted as the project sponsor and there was also an academic champion and student programme representatives.
Extensive workshops and focus groups incorporating all stakeholders were held throughout the process (usually every four to six weeks).
The development process included:
Workshops to identify the needs
Development of a model
Building and equipping the space
Testing and simulation to see what students were actually doing in the space
Minor changes-to address practical issues
Further improvements and adjustment as an ongoing process
The Ideas Factory has been designed as a flexible space to facilitate cross discipline collaboration.
It is bright and spacious and glass internal walls increase its visibility and encourage students to use it as a drop in space.
It is available 24/7 when not booked for a subject specific teaching event.
Spaces work best when used as per the intended design.
This video wall is a great asset when used with a collaborative room layout but makes a poor presentation screen if students are seated in rows.
Facilities within the Ideas Factory include:
Five metre video wall
Three interactive touch screens
Touch down areas
ReVIEW lecture capture
Digital timetabling screen by the entrance doors to identify any timetabled activities
Student evaluation has been extremely positive both about the STEM building as a whole (eg the opportunity to use equipment in a wide range of laboratories) and about the Ideas Factory.
Designing multifunctional space isn't easy. The STEM Ideas Factory works well in many configurations but it can be difficult to see the bottom of the video wall when the cohort is very large or seated in rows.
There is a need to control the amount of solar gain room through the use of blinds.
Due to the multifunctional nature of the room there has been much debate about the balance of use between timetabled activities and informal study. This led to a review of activity and the need to define a set of principles to guide use.
Occupation and evaluation has provided the opportunity to review the flexible furniture requirements in the room and additional items have been purchased to enhance the user experience. This includes collaborative tables, comfy seating, bookshelves, a coffee bar and beanbags.
Don't dismiss more traditional approaches. One of the requests from the evaluation was for whiteboards in the space.
Change management and transition
The aim is to ensure that the learning space will enhance collaboration and cross-disciplinary learning and this relies on academics booking the space to use it in this way.
Some interviewees talked about it being a creative and interactive space and described lecturing in the Ideas Factory as 'misuse' of the space.
The university views changing practice as an ongoing project and estimates it may take up to three years to fully realise the vision for the space as awareness of its availability and affordances grows.
A new-build collaborative lecture theatre opened in September 2011.The 185 m² space has a maximum capacity of 148.
The development is part of a strategic approach to build capacity within the teaching space provision by maximising the quality, flexibility, utilisation and operational support of all learning space.
The university aims to ensure the ideal number, size, location and layout of learning spaces to fulfil all learning and teaching needs and enhance the student experience.
The space meets a number of the principles in the university's learning spaces strategy:
Encouragement of students to learn by conversation not isolation
Appropriate provision of learning and support technologies
Optimum quality and geographical stock of teaching space
Intuitive and consistent equipment across all teaching space
Appropriate environments to support blended learning
Future proofed teaching space to support emerging technologies
The space facilitates more interactive teaching sessions permitting the breaking up of a didactic approach with small group work.
Both staff and students like the fact that the lecturer can walk around and get closer to the students. Students do however still tend to gather at the back of the room and it can be difficult for the lecturer to get round all groups in the case of larger cohorts.
The success of the project owes much to the support of the academic champion who was the dean of school and who had a clear vision for a high quality and effective collaborative space.
The university worked in partnership with their architects on the design for the collaborative seating which was ground breaking at the time and which has since been replicated in a number of other universities.
As well as championing the project, the dean of school served as the client giving the project team a clear line of communication to the key decision maker.
The uniqueness of the space means that ongoing management of the space needs careful consideration. It is in high demand so timetabling has to be handled manually with staff requesting to book the space and specifying their needs via email.
The space is sometimes referred to as a 'Harvard hybrid' lecture theatre. It is very much a traditional auditorium but the seating is sofa style around tables. The sofas are of mixed sizes allowing for groups of 4 to 6 students.
There is no power supply to the student seating areas but the space is fully wifi-enabled.
The space has windows and can be accessed by doors at both back and front making it feel well connected to the outside world (and providing good access for both wheelchair users and late arrivals).
All seats have a clear line of sight to the front of the room. Attention has been paid to acoustics, lighting and temperature and users of the space describe it as very comfortable.
The original proposal for the design school auditorium was based on a school cohort of 160 but this could only be achieved using traditional rows. The academic champion refused to compromise on quality and wanted to create a traditional and collaborative space in one. The university found the new designed to be more 'space hungry' at over 1.20m² per student but nonetheless managed to achieve a capacity of 148 in the new space. The reduced capacity was felt to be a compromise well worth making.
In 2012 the Design School picked up three Royal Institute of British Architects' (RIBA) East Midlands regional awards for Client of the Year, Sustainability and Building of the Year, before winning one of the top accolades at the RIBA’s annual ceremony.
The space is technology-enabled without being particularly high-tech.
Technologies in use
ReVIEW lecture capture
Remotely accessible control for first-line support
Students come in all shapes and sizes so there is a need to consider leg room and available space for both larger and smaller students.
Quantitative and qualitative post occupancy evaluation has been undertaken on the project.
The university has an established process for the evaluation of learning spaces which includes stakeholder feedback and surveys. An example of this is the learning and teaching space survey entitled ‘Rate our Space’ which is undertaken annually.
The survey asks staff and students to rate the importance of various elements of learning and teaching spaces on a Likert Scale including: formal learning (timetabled teaching rooms), informal learning spaces (spaces designed for self-directed study) and IT labs.
A number of non-mandatory questions includes asking students to identify their favourite space and what they would like to see more or less of within the three categories. They are also asked a range of questions to rate quality factors including; illumination, room layout, IT provision and seating configuration against current provision.
Feedback from students on the space is overwhelmingly positive although feedback from lecturers is described as ‘marmite’ (you either love it or hate it).
Students recognise the importance of traditional tiered lecture theatres for effective delivery of content.
In the 2015 survey 72% stated that tiered lecture theatres were important or really important to the learning experience. This reinforces the need for a range of different spaces to support all pedagogical styles.
Change management and transition
Success brings its own set of issues. The existence of this unique, high-quality space has led to raised expectations which in turn means increasing dissatisfaction with less well designed spaces.
The design students are very proud of their building and as the lecture theatre is centrally managed and timetabled primarily based on capacity, students from other disciplines can use the space for teaching. This can cause conflict of ownership.
Changing teaching practice takes time. Lecturers who have embraced active learning approaches tend to like the space more than those who only want to deliver traditional lectures.
In 2016 and 2017 the university created two digitally enhanced learning spaces (DELS) to support collaborative and distributed learning.
The innovative spaces contain state-of-the-art technology that allows staff and students worldwide to lead and participate in learning activities with students on campus.
The university wanted an innovative combination of flexible furniture and state-of-the-art technology to optimise collaboration and create an excellent learning experience for geographically-dispersed students.
The rich array of available technologies supports the development and delivery of engaging learning activities which staff and students from all over the world can lead or be part of.
The spaces also provide opportunities for more authentic, work-related learning experiences. Through the use of video streaming software students can engage with activities going on in real-world work environments.
This approach accelerates learning by allowing students from the start of their course to experience workplace scenarios that previously would have been encountered much later in the course.
GP Live - digital learning brings GP surgery to the classroom
The university has developed GP Live video streaming allowing students to watch GP consultations moments after they happen.
Students in the DELS space are able to discuss the GP's approach and recommendations almost in real time.
The use of digital technology allows the lecturer to select consultations from a range of different GP practices, from remote rural areas to less affluent urban areas, to get an insight into the range of different challenges they face.
The technology also allows the students to work through a series of different consultations in a single session mimicking the different skills a practitioner may need to apply in a normal working day.
The university took its design inspiration from successful collaborative learning spaces created by its international partner Curtin University in Australia.
The ambitious project to deliver collaborative learning was founded on building on partnerships both internationally and regionally.
Teaching has been enriched by bringing in external expertise such as the video links with GP surgeries. This in turn has helped address national labour market priorities at a time when Scotland is facing a shortage of GPs.
The university set out to maximise stakeholder engagement from the start but it was not always easy to get the desired level of engagement, particularly from academics.
The project team organised forums for academics and students and ensured they were planned at sensible times of the day, and that they were well advertised and re-run on multiple occasions. Turnout was however very low. This ultimately delayed the start of the project until sufficient relevant stakeholders had input to the design.
Factors behind the challenges in getting stakeholder engagement may have included people not really knowing what they wanted from such an innovative project. There may also have been a fear that showing interest would result in additional work.
In future the university recommends open calls not only focusing on groups such as academic champions or student representatives. In the case of students it may help to go to them eg in the refectory.
DELS space MR028 is a 125 m² room consisting of seven group bays each with seven seats. This capacity of 49 seats can be easily extended with additional chairs.
DELS space Med-Chi Hall is a 100 m² room consisting of six group bays each with seven seats. This capacity of 42 seats can be easily extended with additional chairs. The room has a very neutral/natural colour scheme with light wood panelling.
In both of the spaces the layout is very open and the 'bays' are made up of a series of small tables, of varying shapes, pushed together.
The display screens and power supplies for each of the bays are wall mounted rather than integrated into the furniture.
Med-Chi Hall images
Evaluation suggests fewer, larger tables would be easier to move if there is a need to reconfigure the room quickly.
The learning spaces were designed to be rich in collaborative technologies.
The voice-tracker cameras and the fact that lecture capture can include the teacher and other students contribute to a situation where off campus students can feel part of a shared learning experience.
A wireless connection permits information from any user-owned device to any of the screens so teaching does not have to be tutor-centric. The high-tech environment can however be intimidating for students unused to this type of setting and they may need some preparation. Similarly, care needs to be taken so that students whose own devices are not state-of-the-art, do not feel disadvantaged.
There is good awareness of the potential tensions between extensive use of technology and inclusivity and lessons learned are used to enhance the design of future learning activities.
Technologies in use
Lecture capture - able to include screen, room, lecturer and students
Wireless connection from any user owned device to any screen
Each bay has a 55 inch display for group work
The main teaching wall has three 84 inch touchscreen monitors
Learning to use the new space to good effect requires a considerable investment of academic staff time at the start. This becomes easier once they are familiar with the space and its affordances and staff report that the effort is worth it for the improvement in student attainment.
Students who have become used to traditional teaching methods may find it harder to adapt than those who are taught in active, collaborative learning spaces from the beginning. Collaborative learning spaces can be noisy and students are free to move to other spaces, such as the library, when quiet concentration is needed.
The spaces have worked well in terms of integrating geographically dispersed students into classes and future plans include emphasising the need to think about online students when designing learning activities.
Students who use the spaces regularly will be better prepared than those who are using it for the first time.
Induction needs to be built into lesson plans and time can be saved when it is possible for students to preinstall software via apps.
Change management and transition
Learning spaces like this demand changes to teaching practice and staff need time to prepare for this. The space, and its technologies, needs to be handed over at a point that allows staff to try out and test ideas before teaching commences.
Currently booking of the spaces is done by a central online system. Staff apply to use the space and then have to wait to see whether their teaching meets the criteria for use of the space and will be timetabled there. The waiting period causes some stress and cuts down on the available planning time. Attending training is mandatory once use of the room has been approved.
If academic staff are to invest time in changing teaching practice, they also want to be certain that they can be guaranteed use of the room when they need it. This is an issue in many institutions who have a small number of innovative spaces.
In 2016 the university refurbished four classrooms for use as group learning and lecture space to better support active learning. The rooms (3x60 seat and 1x30 seat) were fitted out using different furniture and technology solutions to test ideas for a new learning and teaching hub due for completion in 2019.
Watch a short video about one of the new technology enhanced active learning spaces:
The common thread between the different approaches in each room was to better support active learning.
Active learning is rooted in social-constructivist pedagogy which says that learning is not something static that can be transferred from one person to another. Instead knowledge is constructed by each individual through their interactions with others. Teaching therefore focuses less on lectures and more on activities that involve group working.
The university is clear that it is not promoting these designs in order to prevent lecturing but simply to improve interaction. Academics can still lecture in the spaces but they also have the opportunity to walk around, observe and participate. Students are influenced and inspired by this type of contact.
The university considered all of the previous feedback from staff about the kind of environment they wanted to work in before even starting to think about design.
Academics and students were involved in the project from the very beginning. An academic champion prepared a paper that formed the basis for the design brief and a student intern worked on the project and was involved in decisions such as the choice of chairs.
Significant negotiation was involved in ensuring the plans were realistic.
Undertaking these pilots (further rooms were completed in 2017) has helped form a strong working partnership across a number of academic, support and student bodies which will set the university in good stead for creating its new learning and teaching hub in 2019.
User involvement and advocacy at the design stage is crucial. Engaging with a wide range of prospective users and specialist services will assist in future-proofing by anticipating inclusivity as a key element of design.
The university follows a simple process. The starting point for which is the design brief created with academic input:
Briefs delivered to the project team
Project team design the spaces
Project team work with IT/other support team
Learn from pilot rooms: some things to be maintained and some ‘failures’ to avoid
Open to constant review
The discussion/debate stage is crucial. These discussions can be both formal and informal and it is often helpful to ensure that the discussions take place in the space you are planning to refurbish.
The design brief stated that every room should be different in order to test multiple ideas and new technologies and accommodate a range of different needs. It also required the rooms to be flexible, inspiring and interactive.
The university spread the net widely when looking for sources of inspiration and did a literature review of worldwide universities with a strong focus on interaction and collaboration.
One inspiration was the Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) concept originally developed at MIT. TEAL spaces are classrooms that have been adapted to encourage interactive learning in small groups supported by technology available to the students and staff.
Two of the university's pilot spaces are TEAL rooms. The Hugh Fraser room has a combination of six and eight seat media tables with dual screens and a central lectern with controls for the tutor.
The other rooms have less emphasis on technology but are nonetheless geared up for group working. In the Gannochy room, node chairs on wheels allow rapid change between students seated in rows traditional lecture style and reconfiguration into smaller groups. Portable whiteboards are also available for student use. All the rooms encourage active learning.
Hugh Fraser room
The Hugh Fraser room is a 60 seat TEAL room.
The Gannochy room is a 60 seat seminar/lecture room.
St Andrews room 202
St Andrews room 202 is a 30 seat seminar room.
St Andrews room 230
St Andrews room 230 is a 30 seat seminar room.
There was considerable negotiation between different stakeholder groups on the choice of technologies. There was also a fear of investing in technologies that could become outdated very quickly.
There were tensions in relation to the potential capabilities of technology and what could be put to effective use. The university takes the view that it cannot force staff to be trained in technology use so it needs to gauge how much to invest with a realistic view of what will actually be used. Rather than training the university is developing workshops and sharing discussions on active learning with or without technology.
There was considerable debate about the double screens for each table in the TEAL rooms and whether one larger screen would have been better. Now that it is in place students and lecturers find the double screens useful. However, this could have been supported with a larger split screen.
It is important to ensure that learning technology and AV support is readily available during the first couple of weeks of teaching.
Technologies in use
Top Tec media tables
Lecture capture system
Electronic voting system (EVS)
In general the pilots have been well received by both staff and students and many academics are enthusiastic about the opportunity to adjust their teaching style and course activities to good advantage. The primary focus of evaluation to date has been on the TEAL rooms.
One lecturer noted that once he moved teaching to the TEAL rooms, more students opted to do dissertations in his subject than in previous years which is a good indication of better engagement.
Some academics who have chosen to lecture in a static manner in the TEAL rooms find this approach does not work well because, by remaining at the lectern, they have their back to some of the students. This is the case in the room where the lectern is in the middle of the room.
Our experience has been that student collaboration has been as important as the technology.
The university’s Learning and Teaching Development Fund (LTFD) supported a project entitled ‘Evidence Based Co-Created Teaching Tips for TEAL Spaces’ which was led by Dr Susan Deeley in collaboration with Dr Wendy Alexander and two PG students as research assistants. This was to help alleviate the 'fear of the unknown' and help colleagues build greater confidence in using the new spaces by developing some teaching tips. Sources of evidence for the research include:
Reflective questionnaires from students
Focus groups with students and staff
Additional evidence, such as instructors’ notes
Questions to aid reflective evaluation
When have you felt most engaged with what was happening?
When have you felt most distanced from what was happening?
What have you found most puzzling or confusing?
What has surprised you the most?
(Sourced from Brookfield, S.D. (2012) Teaching for Critical Thinking San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)
Tips for teaching in TEAL spaces
Evidence-based, co-created teaching tips for TEAL spaces include:
Facilitate effective group work - the layout of a TEAL space is highly conducive to group work, which can increase students’ confidence and ability to work in a team
Be aware of group dynamics - the stationary nature of the inbuilt technology can lead the same students to take control of the keyboards each week. To ensure more inclusive learning opportunities for students, staff can encourage shared participatory roles within group work
Explain the rationalefor, and principles of, using TEAL spaces to students - class time can be wasted through not knowing why or how we are using technology. Staff should allocate time at the start of courses for students to explore the available technology with IT support
Understand how the technology works before teaching - knowing the nature of the technology and how it works in advance of a class means that staff can plan class activities with confidence and have a ‘back up’ plan if the technology fails
These tips are based on findings from a project supported by the University of Glasgow learning and teaching development fund (LTDF) and published on GUSTTO (Glasgow University's Teaching Tips Online) by Deeley, Anderson, Penney and Tully.
The tips are also included in: Deeley, S.J., Anderson, W., Penney, J. and Tully, J. 'A staff-student partnership in the co-creation of evidence based teaching tips for technology enhanced active learning (TEAL) spaces in higher education' (forthcoming)
Change management and transition
The rooms are managed through a central booking system. The decision to teach in one of the pilot spaces is largely self-motivated. Staff apply to use the rooms and class size is taken into account when deciding whether or not the application is successful.
Advance planning is crucial if the use of the space is to enhance learning and teaching practice. Staff need to familiarise themselves with the room and the technology and plan how they will redesign elements of their course in order to take advantage of the affordances of the space.
In the video below Dr Joseph Maguire talks about the transition to using TEAL spaces as a member of staff. He was well supported by the university and attended sessions on learning technology, teaching practice for active learning and use of the AV equipment before starting to use the new room.
Most importantly, he also had the opportunity to talk to staff and students who had already used the space.
In 2017 the university refurbished the specialist laboratory used for its physician associate course and introduced state of the art digital technology including an interactive digital anatomy table. the 156m² laboratory can be used by up to 30 students with facilitators.
The design of the space aligns with principles articulated in the university learning and teaching strategy including:
Active participation of students during learning activities
Empowering students to take responsibility for their own learning
Developing and enhancing effective and independent learners
The university recognises the use of digital technologies as an important enabler and its learning spaces strategy talks about 'Providing spaces and the accompanying technology that enable and empower students to become active partners in the development of their learning.'
The room was designed/built to meet the needs of specific subjects including anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology. These are subjects with complicated terminology (including Latin and Greek terms) and a lot of content that is difficult to remember. Traditionally, investigation of the human body has been undertaken by dissecting cadavers which brings many practical and ethical issues that can act as barriers to learning.
The new space has been designed so that all of the equipment and learning content for the course is available in one place. The whole group can work together on the central interactive table and practice immediately afterwards in pairs or small groups.
An example of how this works in practice is that students first explore a topic, such as the position of cranial nerves, using the interactive digital anatomy table and then move to the clinical couches to practice how to test the cranial nerves. Each workstation is equipped with a computer so that students have access all of the learning content immediately at hand.
The fact that students stand together around the anatomy table encourages them to talk and engage - one member of staff compared it to sitting round a campfire. The touch-screen nature of the table encourages exploration and participation.
The university has learned from previous learning space projects and understands the importance of getting the right people involved from the start and ensuring that academic and student voices are heard.
The project was delivered through collaboration between the university estates and facilities directorate; faculty of education, health and wellbeing; college of learning and teaching and IT services.
Academic staff bring their ideas to the table and can rely on the estates department to assess the practicality and feasibility of their suggestions.
The staff teaching on the course come from both academic and industry backgrounds and bring a wide range of different perspectives about how to approach teaching this very specialised subject. The project team also had access to feedback from previous students.
Because of the high-tech nature of this development the university involved an external IT company to provide consultancy and technical support.
From the outset emphasis was made on involving the key stakeholders in the briefing and design stages of the project to allow an understanding of end-user requirements and expectations to be gathered; which were then utilised to inform the final design. All parties were encouraged to challenge ideas to try and provide an innovative solution.
It was evident during the design stage the existing teaching space was not sufficient and additional space would be required to accommodate the desired fixtures, fittings and equipment. Additional space from an adjacent store room was requested and granted which provided an opportunity to include a fully functional sink in to the design.
Due to delays in receiving approval of the budget, the overall construction programme was reduced by four weeks to six weeks, this put pressure on the project team to deliver in time for the start of the academic year and led to specification items with shorter lead in times to be selected. During the construction phase of the project key stakeholders were invited to visit the works area to make sure the vision for the project was being achieved.
As the building was an operational and live environment there were a number of constraints which prevented construction being completed as originally envisaged; noise and dust generating works were completed out of hours to prevent any disruption to students taking exams and staff working in adjacent rooms; and to accommodate the undergraduate open days.
Given the constraints the project was delivered within budget and on time with the exception of the AV installation. Unfortunately due to issues with the supply of some AV equipment not all the technology was available for the start of the academic year.
The room was designed as a response to feedback about the fragmented nature of anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology when taught didactically and with a vision for a digital solution.
The design bridges the gap between theory and practice and enables students to learn within a collective or small group setting.
The interactive digital anatomy table (also known as a virtual dissection table) is positioned centrally in the space. Around the edges of the room are a series of workstations each with a clinical couch and its own wall mounted touch screen.
The decoration in the room is very minimalist - the walls are bright white to avoid creating any distractions.
The room has been designed with controllable energy efficient lighting to enable glare free viewing which is also bright enough when conducting clinical examinations. Environmental controls include internal noise suppression via the use of acoustic baffles and full air-conditioning.
The room entrance doors were changed from traditional timber doors to glazed doors to allow observers to see the space being utilised. The doors have door access control installed which have been programmed to allow all students on the relevant courses free access to the space to learn on their own.
The floor is slip-resistant vinyl floor that can be easily cleaned and maintained.
Each couch has power socket outlets to allow students to charge devices.
Each station has bring your own device capabilities.
The use of digital technology offers many benefits in this subject area and gets round many barriers to learning that exist in the traditional approach to anatomical dissection using cadavers:
It is very cost-effective
It avoids the health and safety and legislative issues associated with the use of cadavers
It eliminates barriers arising from use of unpleasant smelling chemicals needed to preserve the body
The touch-screen nature of the table encourages exploration and participation to a far greater extent than is possible with an actual cadaver
Students can explore the relationships between different organs, veins, nerves etc in complex ways that are not possible when you are simply removing parts from a cadaver
It enables students to use their own digital devices which are banned from traditional anatomy rooms due to ethical considerations
The quality of the viewing experience is greatly enhanced
The examples can be ready-made to suit the specific needs of the particular class
Screenshots can be taken at any time and easily linked to other learning resources in the VLE
Technologies in use
Interactive digital anatomy table: the 'Anatomage' table. The table works like a large tablet computer. It displays life-size male and female bodies and allows users to virtually ‘peel back’ layers of tissue to reveal underlying structures. Users can rotate the bodies, zoom in on specific areas and isolate particular organs or physical structures for closer examination. It runs Windows-based software with an extensive library of high resolution, digital pathological examples. There is also the option to upload real patient scans with appropriate ethics approval.
Images from the anatomy table can be sent to a HD projector and to wall mounted display screens around the room
Each of the display screens is a touch screen computer to support individual work or access to the virtual learning environment
Each workstation has a computer controlled Electro Cardiogram (ECG) facility with ECG interpretation software
Students are able to bring and attach their own devices
Feedback on the new space has been generally very positive. Both staff and students are enthusiastic about how it has benefited the learning experience.
The laboratory is a windowless room with air conditioning and the main issue causing frustration for users of the space is the lack of temperature controls within the room. The space frequently becomes very cold; users have to make a call to have the temperature adjusted and this often results in subsequent overheating.
Improvements to be made as a result of user evaluation include the addition of lockers for storage of students' property.
Change management and transition
The space lends itself to problem solving and enigma-based learning and this is offered as a bold and innovative solution to immerse students.
Changing practice is however challenging and one solution the university is considering is developing student ambassadors to become experts in the many aspects of the room. With the support of academic staff, student will then be able to challenge themselves to engage in deep learning experiences, based upon their own learning needs.
The laboratory is available to book through the university's central booking system and allocation is based on class needs. Most of the AV support is provided by the university's central support team although specialist technical issues are dealt with by the supplier.
Most of the equipment in the room is very straightforward for both staff and students to use and only the anatomy table requires training to be able to use it to full effect.
It takes time for staff to adapt to new working practices and there have been some comments from students to the effect that the anatomy table has not been used as much as they would have expected so the university will be offering more staff training on this.
Currently the facility is only available for students to use during facilitated teaching sessions and there is demand for more open access so the university is looking at options such as allowing access via a smart card.
The library reading room is a 24-hour study space suited to group and individual learning. The 577 m² space was refurbished in 2017 and can accommodate up to 156 students.
The space has been developed as part of the university's 'whole campus' approach to creating varied study spaces.
Earlier developments had focused on collaborative space and student feedback showed that there was still a high demand for quiet, individual study space.
The university has a strong tradition of student engagement and involved students in the project from the start. The emphasis was on students as the primary clients since, apart from the training room, the space is not used for teaching. The project team found the students made good clients and were very clear about what they wanted.
Good communications between library, estates and IT staff was essential as the project had to be delivered to a tight budget which involved negotiation on what IT facilities to include.
Respect other people's knowledge. Look to your various central services to offer solutions and be prepared to put your trust in them.
The approach to project governance was fairly new to those involved. It generally worked well although some of the initial project documentation was found to be complicated and confusing by those without previous experience of this type of project.
Once the project was under way reporting was 'by exception'. This is a standard approach in many project management methodologies meaning you only report on things that aren't going according to plan. This led some stakeholders to question why everything had gone quiet and to wonder what was happening.
The whole design process was very much oriented towards student needs. The LEGO serious play methodology was used and students were asked to build models showing challenges they faced in study spaces and models of what their ideal study space would be like.
The space is divided into individual study space, IT study space and a training room. The training room has glass walls to maintain a light, airy feel and this also serves to advertise the training offer as other library users can readily see what is going on in the room.
Student requirements for study space
Desks with a surface area large enough to accommodate books, papers, computer, printer and drinks
Dividers between the desks to give the impression of individual space
Plugs in the desks
Quiet space - moderated by librarians when necessary
Before and after
There are 32 IT study places with fixed PCs provided and 104 places geared to BYOD with plugs in each of the desks in response to student feedback.
There is also a 20 seat training room with fixed PCs.
The university has undertaken formal evaluation of the space by means of a student survey and observation by a researcher.
Once the reading room had been open for a few weeks a survey was released to students. This was initially planned as an 'exit' survey ie asking students leaving the reading room to complete a questionnaire. This approach achieved very few results so the survey was advertised to various groups on Facebook. The revised approach achieved more results with the caveat that it cannot be guaranteed all respondents had actually visited the space since it had been refurbished.
88% of respondents liked the new space and expectations of dos and don'ts in the space were broadly in line with the current rules. 65% of respondents were aware that the space was designated as a 'Whisper Zone' but only 35% were aware that there is a text line that can be contacted if the noise level is too high.
Currently only hot and cold drinks are allowed in the space and many students would like cold food to be permitted as well.
Future developments as a result of feedback gathered so far will include:
Lockers for the storage of student belongings
More flexible furniture eg chairs on wheels
Sometimes student needs are quite traditional. They want guaranteed space in a supervised environment with basic functionality that works well all the time.
Change management and transition
There was little call for change management in this project as it is a relatively traditional learning space.
Some changes to existing practices were nonetheless needed to manage the effective use of the space and 24/7 access. The reading room is open 24/7 with smart card access in the evenings. There is however still a time gap between the closure of the main library at 9pm and the reopening of the space.
The university is looking to implement a centralised booking system so that students will be able to book the training room for themselves.
LSE LIFE is a new academic, personal and professional development centre for undergraduate and taught master’s students. The 1200m² space (total capacity 350), opened in 2016, integrates the many development opportunities offered by different departments and services.
In the LSE LIFE space students can develop academic, communication, numeracy and research skills, get advice on personal effectiveness and in making life choices, and gain insights into graduate recruitment and career paths.
The space was designed with the educational experiences of LSE's undergraduate and taught master’s students at its heart. The space supports particular aspirations in the LSE education strategy 2015 to 2020 namely that:
LSE graduates be critical, analytically sophisticated and globally employable
That students be provided with opportunities to develop skills that will prepare them, academically, personally and professionally, for life at LSE and beyond
That students and staff together benefit from the School's vibrant intellectual culture
The idea is to offer a space where students can learn more about themselves, and develop key areas that they are interested in – be it skills to help with their studies, with their future plans, or with their personal interests.
Within the LSE LIFE space these goals are supported through self-study, one-to-one sessions and a plethora of group workshops.
As the name suggests, this is about a rounded approach and the idea of building a learning community. The space is focused on personal development and clearly distinguished from student services that deal with administrative matters.
There was a very strong emphasis on partnership working throughout the project and this has continued into active use.
Devising the programme of activities and providing students with the support they need involves partnership between the LSE LIFE team and:
LSE volunteer service
LSE language centre
Information management and technology
Student services centre
Student well-being service
Students and academics were consulted both formally and informally. There was a student representative on the project group and student feedback was obtained through the library conducting internal studies and surveys.
The space is situated on the ground floor of the library. It has succeeded in being distinctive but integrative ie it is very much part of the library but with its own unique character.
The design was intended to promote interactivity and to permit a range of uses.
The furniture is modular and easily movable, with lightweight chairs and small tessellated tables, permitting ad hoc configuration to suit the needs of individuals and groups.
The furniture can also be easily cleared to allow large-scale events such as careers fairs.
The space incorporates subtle zoning for different purposes. Whilst there are some partitions, colour is also used to provide easy navigation to parts of the room, dark blue, green walls etc. Zoning is predominantly achieved through the furniture by layout and type as well as the more explicit use of mobile acoustic writable boards.
The idea of using writable whiteboard material for the doors of storage cupboards was mooted but ultimately rejected in case any sensitive information was displayed there.
There can be a tension between inclusion and privacy when designing this type of learning space:
Open spaces are more inclusive and students are more likely to book the services when they can see the advisers
On the other hand, if students are upset and emotional, privacy is appreciated
The space is fully technology-enabled without being particularly high-tech.
It is wifi-enabled and designed for BYOD. The demand for access to power supplies created a possible conflict with the idea of modular and easily movable furniture. However the use of power towers has successfully addressed this issue.
A key tension for universities, such as LSE situated in central London, is developing new types of collaborative learning environment whilst meeting student demands for more library places within a very tight space envelope.
This project has been particularly successful because the design has increased the overall capacity of the library building by 70 places whilst still managing to deliver a new type of learning environment.
The space was designed with accessibility in mind but there were some concerns about possible tensions between accessibility and flexibility. Staff were particularly concerned that, during busy periods, students moving tables around and trailing power cables could inadvertently cause difficulties for wheelchair users. One frequent user has however said they find this the most accessible space on campus.
Student feedback has also been positive about aspects such as:
Large windows so lots of natural light
Good availability of power supplies
Ease of moving furniture
Choice of environment eg silent zone, group zone etc
Requests for enhancements include more water coolers and creating another cafe nearby.
Change management and transition
LSE has been extremely proactive in creating a support team and a programme of activities to ensure that the space achieves its objectives.
There are a total of 14 staff involved in supporting the space including learning developers, student advisers and administrators. This team is on hand to help with queries, concerns or just conversation, Monday to Friday, 10:00 - 18:00.
During term-time students can book an appointment with a study adviser for help with any study-related issue such as essay writing, reading, time management, or note-taking. Each student can book up to four 30 minute appointments per term.
There are also a wide range of activities on topic areas including writing, reading, referencing and being organised. These activities take the form of talks, workshops and drop-in sessions.
When the space is not in use for LSE LIFE events, it is freely available for others to use on a first come first served basis. Booking is managed very simply via a whiteboard on the door. Certain larger rooms, suitable for events and presentations, are bookable through the LSE LIFE centre.
Study booths are bookable to ensure a ‘fair for all’ policy as are group rooms on other levels. The design also helps with management as carefully placed glass openings around the 'workspace' area allow students to see at a glance when events are taking place.
Kingston University has a rolling project to refurbish a series of classrooms for use as pilot teaching rooms. The project is now in its fourth phase and, on a budget of c.£500k per annum, has refurbished between four and six classrooms every year since 2014. The rooms are spread across the campus and vary in capacity.
This is an ongoing project to pilot the latest thinking in teaching room design. The pilots help ensure that all refurbishment projects are informed by up-to-date and effective pedagogy.
Key themes featuring in the designs include:
Supporting skills development to improve student employability
Supporting widening participation including attracting more females into STEM subjects
The pilot developments are backed up by extensive programmes of induction and continuing professional development on active, collaborative pedagogies within the context of the university's Inclusive Curriculum Framework.
Key to successful use of the space is getting the right type of learning activity in each space. In order to help with this, those responsible for timetabling have looked carefully at how the spaces are classified in the booking system.
The university formed a Learning Spaces Advisory Group (LSAG) so that academic colleagues can provide a pedagogic steer to which designers respond by providing design ideas for consideration by the LSAG. The group has only two formal meetings per year but meets virtually whenever necessary.
The LSAG represents a creative collaboration between students, academics, IT/AV services, timetabling, estates and external design teams. The group is chaired by the pro vice-chancellor (learning and teaching) and the fact that it is academically led is fundamental to its success.
The university puts a lot of emphasis on making sure the student voice is heard and representatives from the Union of Kingston Students meet with the deputy director of estates every month.
The university also recognises the value of collaboration across the sector. Decision-making has been informed by surveying the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) community and visiting a range of learning spaces in other institutions.
There is a tight window for development during the main summer vacation period (from the end of May to the end of August) so careful planning is required.
In the past some stakeholders were brought into projects too late in the day for their input to be really useful. Now, with advice from LSAG, the university can be confident it consults the right people at the right time.
The consultant architect for the Teaching Room Pilot Project Phase 4 (2017-2018) was impressed to receive a thorough brief outlining what the university wanted and including lessons learned from previous pilot projects.
The design ethos is that the spaces should be stimulating and provocative whilst avoiding 'gimmicky' decoration or furniture. The university has opted for a neutral colour palette and is increasingly looking towards use of natural materials and circadian lighting.
The university has had to accept that it is designing each space for a particular set of purposes and 'total flexibility' is not possible. For example, some of the group working spaces are not suitable for exams.
Designing for flipped learning and collaboration usually means the refurbished space will have a lower maximum capacity than the previous classroom. The university has found that making educated assumptions about actual occupancy when timetabling has allowed them to manage this and support the new pedagogy.
One of the more unusual spaces is the 'Lab in a lorry'. Kingston has invested in two mobile laboratories to undertake outreach activities with schools, colleges and community groups such as girl guides. The lorries are used to provide STEM taster sessions on topics including nutrition, forensic science and health and exercise.
The university also has an Outreach Centre hosting a diverse range of people from the Women’s Institute to primary school children. The activities undertaken here are wide-ranging for example molecular biology and flight testing of model planes. This means that storage and ease of changing the room set up are important features of the design.
Landscape rather than portrait orientation for teaching wall
Avoid long narrow rooms where possible
Entry points at back of teaching space preferred by staff and students
Ensure a good base level of lighting and climatic comfort
Use intuitive technology which doesn’t dominate
Plenty of writable surfaces
Storage away from student seats is not really used (eg white boards which doubled as storage units with chargers.)
Ceilings should be high enough not to feel oppressive
Table shape is important: plectrum tables have had mixed reviews (particularly the very large ones) and tessellated tables generally work better.
Use a standard lectern design regardless of room size
Increased investment in chairs is worthwhile in terms of benefit to learning
Think about incorporating more natural materials and circadian lighting
Take account of additional heat gain from computers
The university's design philosophy is to have intuitive technology that is not intrusive. Understandably they have found that teaching staff require initial support in familiarising themselves with the technologies and also understanding their potential for use in teaching.
Induction sessions are run before the start of term. The university has found that timing is key and that it is important that the sessions are led and facilitated by academics.
Each teaching space has a camera and a phone so staff can call for help and IT/AV can fix the issue remotely and or offer guidance.
Technologies in use
The Outreach Centre features a device for floor projection. An example of its use is projecting the periodic table onto the floor as a basis for an interactive game about elements for primary school science
SOLSTICE software to facilitate collaborative discussions by enabling wireless casting from any electronic device has been piloted. Initial trials, in a room of 90 capacity with circular tables, ran into teething troubles due to insufficient testing but nonetheless inspired further roll-out the following year
For the pilot rooms refurbished in 2018 the university is introducing some PCs integrated into desks which can be folded away when not in use for a clutter free / flexible surface enabling rapid change from individual to group working
Other technologies in use include: lecture capture system (eg recording, processing and distribution), electronic voting system (EVS), visualisers, wifi apps, interactive surfaces and writing technologies
Evaluation is built into the project governance structure. The LSAG meets twice a year in November and April. The November meeting reviews lessons learned from previous summer’s pilot teaching rooms and confirms the following year’s pilot rooms. The April meeting agrees final layouts/ designs for the pilot rooms.
Feedback from students has been very positive and shows that both flipped teaching approaches and the new spaces are preferred to the traditional didactic pedagogy and layout.
Negative feedback from staff almost invariably comes from those who have not attended the training sessions. The university has had some problems with poor attendance at training and has realised that the need to get the timing right is key.
One room was re-designed and reconfigured as a result of feedback from students and staff. The room had been designed in grouped table layout with a centrally located lectern ‘in-the-round’. This was negatively received and the lectern was returned to the front of the room.
The university is seeing an upturn in recruitment and feels that the changes to pedagogy, reflected in the new learning spaces are playing a part in this. Projects such as the outreach space will take time to show impact but the university is convinced that the results will be positive.
The estates directorate monitors social media channels to pick up on student comments about learning spaces in order to learn lessons. They have also set up a special hashtag for feedback.
Change management and transition
Projects undertaken prior to the creation of the LSAG tended to replicate traditional didactic teaching space layouts. Now, by bringing the right people together to guide the process, they are delivering the kind of teaching spaces that truly support new ways of learning and teaching.
It is important to ensure the use of the pilots spaces is properly managed. The pilot rooms are open to booking by all departments and this is managed through a central timetabling system.
Ensuring the pilot rooms are used to best effect means matching the right kind of learning activities with the right space. It has sometimes been challenging to reflect this in the booking system, eg one room has a capacity of 36 if using fixed PCs but 50 if doing other forms of group work, so the university has put considerable thought into coding and classification on the booking system.
Communicating the rationale behind the pilot spaces and giving people sufficient preparation time to adapt their teaching practice is essential. This also applies when scaling up the successful pilots as the university found when it converted 60 didactic spaces to collaborative learning layouts over one summer.
Although the project is about delivering small-scale pilots, and not all will be equally successful, it plays an important role in relation to student engagement and motivation.
A swivel-seat lecture theatre, designed to foster active and collaborative learning, which can be used for traditional lectures, interactive lectures and group work.
The development forms part of a larger strategic plan to convert existing rooms into new types of teaching space, intended to promote collaboration, dialogue and a different, active approach to teaching and learning.
The interactive lecture theatre was designed to enhance student engagement and move beyond the traditional transmissive lecture theatre.
City encourages active learning and is using the space to develop new and innovative pedagogic practices, including peer to peer, active learning and the flipped classroom, so that students have received prepared information and tasks for study before the lecture which enables the face-to-face time to be used for more interactively.
The layout of the space and the facilities available allow tutors to design learning experiences that involve communication, social interaction, group work and problem solving with or without the use of technology.
The use of lecture capture technology means that students do not have to make extensive notes during the lecture itself and are free to participate more actively in the lecture by asking more questions or thinking more deeply about the subject matter.
City’s professional services departments work in partnership to enhance a range of learning spaces. Under the Designing Active Learning Initiative (DALI) all City’s centrally timetabled spaces are being enhanced with new educational technology.
Members of learning enhancement and development, property and facilities and information technology work together to improve learning spaces across the City, University of London’s campuses.
The collaborative approach continues beyond individual refurbishment projects by encouraging staff to write and share case studies about how they are enhancing their learning and teaching practice using the new spaces.
Learning Enhancement and Development (LEaD) in collaboration with the properties and facilities department (PAF) and academic schools.
City, University of London has taken sound pedagogic principles as the basis for the design of physical learning space. City undertook considerable research into the experiences of others, and ran pilot projects in its own institution, prior to undertaking major developments.
City, University of London had already changed a number of smaller learning spaces to make them more flexible. By using movable furniture and other equipment they were able to facilitate active learning, peer to peer and group interactive practice, a variety of activities and circulation of academic staff within the learning space, to enhance student engagement.
The challenge was how to bring these qualities to the lecture theatre and to use furniture, technology and equipment to support interactivity, collaboration, flexibility and create a sense of intimacy with the lecturer and other students.
They have created a lecture theatre that can be used for traditional lectures, interactive lectures and group work. The room is a 'raked' (sloping) lecture theatre with a combination of fixed and swivel seating laid out in a horseshoe format.
There are two rows of seats on each level. One row is fixed and the other contains seats which swivel. The swivel seats can comfortably turn 360 degrees and are spaced to ensure that seats and students don’t bump into each other as they turn. Students can quickly and easily face the front in traditional rows or turn to work with the students behind them.
The rows are set out in a horseshoe design so that even students at the periphery feel part of the group.
The room is designed to facilitate the use of a range of other technologies including lecture capture, student response systems and visualisation tools.
The space incorporates breakout areas and writable glass walls that can be used to support group activity.
Factors key to the success of the physical space include:
Seating that can easily enable group work without the need to rearrange furniture
Table space that is sufficient to accommodate groups of students with laptops and paper materials
Display mechanisms to allow the creation and capture of information as well as presentation of pre-prepared material
Clear lines of sight – to projected content, lecturer, fellow student and the whiteboard
Lighting, acoustic and heating levels that can be controlled to ensure comfort
Ease of use of the technology eg automatic lecture recording
Dedicated, professional support for tutors in both the use of technology and pedagogic practice
Evaluation of the technologies used and sharing good practice through case studies
The range of technologies available means that lecturers in all disciplines can enhance their pedagogic practice by making their teaching sessions more interactive and thought-provoking.
Lecture capture technology is available in the space, lectures can be recorded and uploaded to the Moodle virtual learning environment. Students simply need to click on a link in Moodle to access the recordings on any device including a computer, tablet or mobile phone.
Lecture capture also gives students extra learning materials by allowing them to go back and review content from the lectures in their own time, and at their own pace. It is particularly useful for students who study in a foreign language, or students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Additionally, lecture capture is beneficial to all students for revision ahead of exams and assignments.
The space also permits group activities without the use of technology making use of the breakout spaces and writable glass walls.
Technologies in use
The following furnishings and technologies are in use:
Fixed and swivel seating to enable group work and collaboration
Power sockets for 50% of the seats (situated under tables)
Addition of ceiling microphones for lecture capture, to create a “teaching zone” allowing the academic to move around the front of the space and facilitate greater engagement with students
Dual projection screens
Lecture capture technology (Echo 360)
Writable glass walls
An audio visual pod from which the lecturer can control the following technologies:
Digital and analog input cables at the pod for additional source inputs
Touch-screen control panel, which controlling all functions of the educational technology (Crestron)
Adobe Connect to support web conferencing for remote participants and online collaboration
Student response systems (Poll Everywhere)
Top five ideas for using learning technologies
This lecture theatre is designed to aid peer to peer and group learning and increase student engagement:
Use the visualiser to enable your whole class to see demonstrations eg magnify the structure of tiny microchips or demonstrate wave formation in a sealed vessel holding water
Use the snowball technique – ask the students to form pairs and work on a task or solve a problem, using online, library and other available resources. Then have the students “turn and learn” by creating a four person and larger groups using the swivel seating.
Use student response systems to both engage students and check their understanding of key concepts and topics
Use the “debating” technique - ask the students to turn and form groups of four or six, and take opposite sides of a debate. Give the student’s time to develop their arguments and “debate” a key topic between their groups
Use the student response system in anonymised mode, to allow students to ask questions they may think “silly” or something they feel they should already know. This is a great way to ensure quieter members of the class are also engaged with the lecture
Usage of recorded lectures is highest ahead of exams and end-of-year assessments. This suggests that students are using the material as intended and not as a substitute for attending lectures. City is finding that access to lecture captured sessions is growing demand from our student community.
City has found through initial evaluation activities with staff and students, that the shift to student centred, active learning and problem based teaching activities can have positive outcomes for learning outcomes and student engagement.
The DALI project is in the process of further evaluation activities to assess the impact that redeveloped learning spaces are having on enabling academics to increase their use of active learning and teaching practice.
Swivel seating takes up a lot more space than fixed seating. A combination of the two is usually the most effective way to facilitate group working whilst maximising the use of space.
The Central Teaching Hub (CTH) houses eight specialist laboratories and consolidates much of the undergraduate teaching within the Faculty of Science & Engineering.
The 7860m² space is a new build opened in 2012.
The key objective was the ability to make better quality resources available to all disciplines by sharing space, equipment and technical staff.
Bringing different science disciplines under the same roof has also enhanced teaching practice through interdisciplinary collaboration and demonstrates to students the benefits of learning from other related scientific subject areas.
The University of Liverpool is using the new facility to introduce more problem-based learning in some areas.
In this approach students are able to put their laboratory sessions into a much broader context as a working scientist would. They will need to understand the problem they are trying to solve and think about what kind of observations in the laboratory would provide answers to that question.
They then need to create the conditions for making those observations and decide how to evaluate what happens under experimental conditions. This is very different to traditional laboratory teaching where the teacher has already made most of these decisions and thus provided the 'recipe' to be followed.
In developing this space the university has met a range of pedagogic objectives:
Facilitating learning design that promotes deep and active learning eg a problem-based approach rather than simply requiring students to follow instructions to achieve a predefined result
Curriculum and learning design that makes best use of expensive laboratory time ie delivering core skills modules to multidisciplinary groups and using the laboratory sessions to teach skills that cannot be learned by other means
Ensuring that students are well prepared to make the most of the sessions eg by providing online resources to help them develop basic laboratory skills
Recognition of the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in developing the researchers of the future
Giving students experience of group working, problem solving, working with students from other disciplines and communicating scientific findings to others. All of these are transferable skills that can be applied in the world of work
CTH is an effective example of cross functional working between estates/facilities staff, technical staff and academics from the project stage through to the day-to-day use of the building.
There is an academic lead on the building management team and university created three new academic lead posts in the main discipline areas. These roles have been instrumental in supporting effective use of the space.
The academic leads have a pedagogic role in terms of helping to develop learning and teaching practice and help to manage each floor in terms of liaising with module coordinators about room bookings. They also have a role in supporting the university's outreach activities.
Timetabling can be one of the biggest barriers to flexibility and the three academic leads work together to coordinate the timetable across the different disciplines.
The building is also well supported by a team of technical staff.
In chemistry and physics postgraduate students act as demonstrators employed on staff contracts for 3-6 hours per week. Environmental science has graduate teaching assistants who have a contract to spend 50 of their time teaching and 50% working on a PhD. They are trained in pedagogy and good teaching practice so they can become the teachers and researchers of the future.
Stakeholder engagement during the project management phase was an important factor in the success of this building. Users were heavily involved in the specification and design and supported by a strong academic champion.
It was originally envisaged that, once the initial specification phase was completed, the project would be handed over to an implementation team, consisting of staff from the estates department. Academics, however, lobbied to remain part of the team and their ongoing involvement was an important factor in avoiding errors at the detailed design stage.
The university wanted a design based on looking towards the future not simply a newer version of what existed already.
The building is designed around a central atrium. Extensive use of glass supports the multidisciplinary ethos as the activities going on in each of the different laboratories are highly visible.
The flexible teaching area was not explicitly designed as such. This was initially an area left 'fallow' for potential future expansion but it quickly became one of the most popular areas on campus at a cost of providing only tables and chairs. It has since been enhanced to become the GFlex teaching space.
The physics department moved from having small group tutorials (six students with one tutor) to using this space with 150 students at a time working in groups to solve problems.
Social learning space available on the ground floor of the building helps ensure a seamless transition between formal and informal learning.
The CTH is an excellent example of a fully accessible building that exceeds current legislative requirements. The design includes features such as adjustable benches and fume cupboards in every lab. The accessibility features are fully documented so that visitors know what to expect. You can find details on the DisabledGo website.
The building was designed with a concern for environmental impact and it has achieved an 'Excellent' rating against the international BREEAM standard for sustainable building design. It is extremely difficult for laboratory buildings to achieve this due to the large amounts of energy consumed and the difficulty in minimising losses.
The entire building is highly energy efficient and an advanced heat recovery system filters and reuses warmth rising from lower floors. The building also employs rainwater harvesting and solar panels.
The sharing of equipment means that the university can supply more and better technical equipment for its students. Some items that were unaffordable for use by small groups of students can be viewed as a sound investment when they are used by large numbers.
The range of facilities on offer also means that the curriculum in a number of disciplines can be designed in order to make use of equipment that was not previously available.
The types of equipment that are now shared include equipment for gas chromatography, x-ray systems and microscopes.
The STM (Scanning Tunnelling Microscope) based in the physics lab is regularly used by chemistry students
Having access to fume cupboards enables geologists to undertake types of analysis that were not previously possible
The existence of x-ray equipment, previously only used in physics, is having an impact on the development of the curriculum in chemistry with new experiments being developed to take advantage of the availability of this technology
The CTL won the 2012 S-Lab New Laboratory Building Award and the 2103 Guardian University Best Facilities Award.
Student and staff satisfaction with the new premises is very high and there is evidence that students are spending more time in the laboratories.
Space utilisation is more efficient. The university has a laboratory space utilisation rate of around 48% compared to a sector average of around 20%. Maintenance and staffing costs per square metre are lower than for the previous dispersed laboratories even though the new facilities are of much better quality.
Cost savings and reduction in environmental impact are perhaps the most obvious outcomes of the new premises but the developments in learning and teaching practice have been significant.
The department of physics used the move to the new building to review its entire undergraduate curriculum. Sharing common skills modules with other disciplines has allowed for the scheduling of more laboratory time. First and second year physics students now have 30 to 50% more practical work than previously. The department has also taken a more problem-based approach to designing the laboratory sessions
The geography department has introduced a new strand into its degree programmes
Students are beginning to work on interdisciplinary projects eg physics students involved in a project studying archaeological samples
Regular interaction between academic staff from different disciplines is creating a sense of community and enabling the sharing of expertise and good practice
An increase in problem-based learning means students are learning skills that may be absent from more traditional laboratory teaching and which improve their employability eg in group working, problem solving and communicating their findings
The new facility is having an impact in encouraging prospective students to study science subjects at the University of Liverpool. The building is used to host outreach events every week of the year for up to 120 school pupils per day as well as being a focal point for 'open day' activities
Change management and transition
The university ensured successful use of the building by giving careful consideration to the types of pedagogic and technical support needed and providing staff development to ensure that all existing staff could fulfil the new roles.
Academics were offered support and facilities to make changes to their teaching but there was no compulsion.
Academics were used to having dedicated resources in their own department and had to adapt to working with shared resources in terms of the space, technicians and equipment. Loss of ownership was expected to cause some initial resentment but it is now clear that the shared pool gives access to a much better range of facilities and resources.
Most of the building technicians were previously employed in a single department and have had to adapt to new working practices and supporting a wider range of disciplines. The technical staff have found that the changes have improved team working and motivation as well as opportunities for personal development.
Despite a 35% increase in relevant student numbers, the CTH requires no additional technical support due to more multiskilling and adoption of a two shift pattern with slightly longer hours in term-time compensated by additional annual leave during vacations.