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Converting a tiered lecture theatre to a student centred flat floor space. this is #learningspacedesign

You don't necessarily realise, at the time, when you are working with someone truly great in your field. Danny Munnerley (https://www.linkedin.com/in/munnerley) was and is one of those people, he is well and truly a leader and innovator in education and my eyes were opened to many new ideas he had and approaches that he took. AR/VR, design thinking and learning space design were some of his passions in the time I worked with him in the early 2000's.
One of the ideas he promoted was how learning space designs dictate how people will teach in a given space. For example, lecture theatres just through their design speak to the students and teachers about how teaching will occur in that space. Spaces lead people to teach in certain ways, they both encourage certain pedagogies and discourage others. We can use this to help shift teaching toward a more student centered pedgagogy and andragogy and also heutagogy (more on the differences: https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/a-primer-in-heutagogy-and-self-directed-learning/)
That is, spaces are designed for a purpose, and commonly found are spaces designed to support didactic sage on the stage teaching. Whether these spaces be classrooms with everyone in rows of tables facing the front, or the ultimate delivery vehicle the lecture theatre.
Danny helped break the mould at the University of Canberra with innovate space designs that took the focus off the teacher and put it onto the learning, which he understood came not only from the teacher but just as importantly other students, self reflection, etc. Before he left the university for new adventures he helped design and launch fully flexible learning spaces with movable computers on wheels (Mocows) and similarly mobile chairs and tables. He was redesigning our spaces to both enable and challenge teachers to take a different approach. In particular these spaces enabled more guide on the side teaching styles and social construction of knowledge through group and class discussion and sharing.
Our experiences and what we grew up with shape the way we think about things, we are given a formula and we so often just keep on repeating it. What Danny did for me was inspire me to break free of the old formulas and ways of thinking and to imagine how learning and teaching could be.

Fully flexible space Danny developed with estate management and AV Services


Since Danny left Learning and Teaching have worked closely with estate management and AV Services to continue to re-imagine teaching spaces at the University of Canberra. Inspiration can be taken from many places where innovators are changing the way we approach learning and teaching. After the fully flexible spaces Danny helped develop we turned our attention to developing some fixed table spaces that offer the teacher and students an opportunity to try a variety of modes of teaching. They don't preclude a sage on the stage approach but at the same time encourage the teacher to be a guide on the side, and think about how they can design lessons that put students more in the drivers seat of their own learning. Some of our efforts have had mixed results.

Traditional lab layout makes it hard to collaborate while using a computer, central space doesn't solve this problem.


We have decided to create a mix of spaces at UC. Every design has advantages and disadvantages so we don't want spaces that are homogeneous, which is what we have now, spaces designed for "Lectures" and "Tutorials".   We have the flexible learning spaces Danny created, and since then we have turned our attention to creating modern fixed furniture teaching spaces. These spaces enable us to provide power to students to for charging and using their own devices. These designs also create a degree of certainty for the academic, they won't have to think about how they want the space to be configured or worry about the state of the room as much. For lessons where a high degree of flexibility is needed, the fully flexible spaces are better suited.

The latest space we have created converted a very old (1970's) tiered lecture theatre into a modern flat floor student focused learning space.  We were able to re imagine this space as it was flooded in 2018 and thankfully estate involved Learning and Teaching (myself and some colleagues) and an external company to help design a space based on contemporary approaches and designs.

The old room still had a real to real projector up in the back cupboard.


 This is the space we created. You can see the 360 view at https://photos.app.goo.gl/JhMRtzDWsWmZXjhA6.


The key features of this space are:

  • Accessibility, lighting and acoustics
    • Acoustically treated to cope with lots of noise from discussion
    • Height adjustable tables for maximum accessibility
    • PC's with the standard operating environment are provided at each table for access to software.
  • Making thinking visible and social construction of knowledge and peer learning
    • Write-able surface for each table for making thinking visible, problem solving, etc.
    • Pin board per table to enable display of paper based work. Also doubles as acoustic treatment.
    • Using Xest software teachers can broadcast their own screen, or any of the students screens, to all screens in the room. This is very useful when a student group has solved a problem or built a product that other students would benefit from seeing. The group can show and tell without having everyone in the room crowd around one table. Teachers can also enable group presentations this way, something not possible if 80-90 students had to move around the room. And far easier than student groups coming up the front, log in, find their work, and present on the front of room screen. They still learn to present but can do it from where they are sitting.
  • Sage on the stage or guide on the side
    • Sage of the Stage: The design of this room does not alienate teachers who like to stand and deliver, but it also affords options that inspire them to think differently - mostly by having students sit in groups, with their own whiteboards and computers, the message is loud and clear that students could be doing something other than just listening. 
    • Supports activity: Teachers who are already jumping for a chance to get their students more active in their learning will no longer be constrained by flat floor spaces or theatres that only provide basic tables and chairs for students with limited means for communicating their own ideas and puts the onus on teacher to be the content developer and presenter.
I will be updating this post once we have evaluated the space and have real experience from teachers and students to share.



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