What is it?
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
- Web conferencing
- Lecture capture - able to include screen, room, lecturer and students
- Voice-tracker camera
- 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.
For more on each of the topics mentioned in this case study see the UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit.