Monday, July 17, 2006

Courses: Planning and Designing Technology-rich Learning Spaces

The most inspiring part of this one day JISC course was the tour of the University of Warwick’s Learning Grid. Not just for the flexible layout, although that was an excellent example of it's kind, with tables and chairs, whiteboards and screens that could be positioned to suit whoever was using the space. Not just for the technology-rich environment, with desktop pc’s, space and power for laptops, smartboards, plasma screens and bookable presentation rooms.

For me the highlight was all this plus a deliberate move away from the traditional rules beginning with ‘NO…’! That gave it a very different atmosphere to the usual library or IT resource centre, and it must be even more so in term time.

Most student support is provided by student helpers, rather than librarians or IT staff, so it's largely run by and for students. The emphasis is very firmly on being positive and finding solutions. For example, if the Grid is getting close to full capacity then staff might suggest using the nearby café – also within the wireless network area - or might help negotiate moving furniture around to create a better use of space.

Talking of café’s, cold food and hot and cold drinks are allowed. It seems that many students go to the traditional library (which is still available, and hasn't been replaced by the Learning Grid) to borrow books, then bring the books plus drinks and sandwiches to the Grid and settle in for the whole day. As well as food, talking is allowed. Mobile phones are allowed. Moving the furniture is allowed. Accessing audio and video content via internet is allowed, with or without headphones. Hot food is just about the only thing not allowed, not for worries about it being dropped on the books or equipment, but simply because of the smell that tends to linger. Basically pretty much anything is allowed that helps people to get on with their work the way they want to.

I know it wouldn't be everyone's idea of what a library should be, but I liked it, and it seems like a lot of students do too.

You can take an online tour to see what it's like.

The most uninspiring part of the day? The technology-rich, laptop friendly Virgin train breaking down in Basingstoke on the way home, leaving us going nowhere, in a train with no air-con and doors that wouldn't open (thankfully only briefly) on one of the hottest days of the year!

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