What is it?
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 library
- LSE careers
- LSE volunteer service
- LSE language centre
- Information management and technology
- Student services centre
- Student well-being service
- Students' union
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.
For more on each of the topics mentioned in this case study see the UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit.