Monday, June 01, 2009

Learning Spaces in Brisbane

Gordon Howell with QUT designed portable wireless nodeAfter visiting Brisbane city library at Brisbane Square I took the Free Loop downtown bus service. to Queensland University of Technology, located beside the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Gordon Howell, Manager Learning Environments Support at QUT showed me some of their innovations.

One clever item are large flat screen displays (Plasma or LCD) on a mobile carts. Attached to the back of the carts is one of the university's standard PCs. Above the screen is a video conference camera and microphone. There is a tray with a wireless keyboard and mouse beneath the screen. There is a wireless broadband antenna on top of the unit. QUT mobile flat screen with PC and web cameraThis makes a mobile presentation and video conferencing system. Some units can be checked out by staff for use in teaching rooms, saving having to equip each of the smaller rooms with equipment. Other units are permanently tethered in the library for use by student groups.Another development was a "network in a box" this is a weatherproof case containing a 3G wireless device and WiFi. The idea is that one such unit can be set up to provide broadband access to wireless devices in the vicinity. Gordon is also looking at equipment similar to my Portable learning centre and even the deployable classroom.

QUT have taken the approach with their learning commons of providing flexibility for students to arrange the furniture and equipment as described in "Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Positive Outcomes by Design". The Lab 2.0 looked a little chaotic to me, but perhaps that was just a sign of enthusiastic and heavy use by students. Gordon described how at the beginning of the year, the students separated the furniture for solitary work, but as groups formed for projects, they pushed the furniture together so they could work together. The screens on wheels were generally pushed up to one end of a bench, with students down two sides. In some cases mobile white boards have been used as partitions to form team rooms.

Other areas of the learning commons had rows of PCs. The university is looking at the use of thin clients to replace some desktop PCs. One suggestion I made was not to segregate the laptop users from the desktop PC users, perhaps leaving a space free between every few desktop computers for a laptop user.

Then I crossed the Brisbane River via the Goodwill Bridge to visit Southbank Institute of Technology Library. Heather Burrell, Library Manager showed me around their learning commons. The library provides computer literacy training, using computer based courses, for students across the Institute. Students can do self paced courses in the library, with a tutor on duty to assist. They can then do computer based tests with staff supervising. This seems a logical and cost effective way to deliver what is the 21st century version of literacy: being able to communicate using a computer.

It is good to see the library retains an extensive collection of paper books, as well as being equipped with computers and space for laptops. There is less emphasis on flexible movable furniture than QUT and I noticed a much quieter more atmosphere at SIT. One innovation were "diner" style booths around the wall, which seated four students, two on each side of a bench, with a chest high wall separating them from the next booth.

There were several training rooms, each holding about 18 students, with movable walls which could be opened out to the common area and removable partitions between the rooms. This arrangement allows the room to be opened out when not needed for a class.

There were fewer laptops evident at SIT, than QUT's library and less equipment.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Learning Spaces in Higher Education

I wrote Thursday, May 28, 2009: "I am planning visit to Brisbane, May 30 to June 2 to look at flexible learning and green ICT. Who should I talk to?". One of those who responded was Gordon Howell, Manager Learning Environments Support at QUT. He pointed out the proceedings of a 2008 colloquium: "Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Positive Outcomes by Design". I hope to get along to see QUT's work on Lab 2.0 and see if it lives up to the claims made. I am sceptical of the value for learning spaces with movable furniture:
Lab 2.0 is an experimental learning space designed for students to be able to alter their physical environment to suit their learning needs. Students are encouraged to "make the space work for them"
with new non-traditional forms of movable furniture and related technology. The space is enhanced with technology and collaboration software that enables students to share project work, documents and artefacts in real-time with other group members.

The Lab 2.0 space has been developed in a vacant space within the Library building on the Gardens Point campus. It sits adjacent to more formal computer labs and is seen as a complementary addition to the more structured University computing facilities. The space covers approximately 350 square metres and was redeveloped with a focus on flexibility, simplicity and reuse resulting in a total development cost of slightly less than $90,000 including all furniture, technology, power and data fittings. Based on traditional figures for space redevelopment within the University, the space was redeveloped for between a third and a fifth of the normal costs associated with space redevelopment. ...

From: Lab 2.0, by Geoff Mitchell, Greg Winslett, Gordon Howell, Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Positive Outcomes by Design, NGLS 2008 Colloquium, University of Queensland, 2009

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