What is it?
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
- Data projector
- PA system
- Radio microphone
- ReVIEW lecture capture
- Height-adjustable lectern
- 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.
For more on each of the topics mentioned in this case study see the UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit.