We facilitated a workshop at the 2013 Student/Staff Conference on 1 February 2013. The theme of the conference was “The Future of Learning”, and the theme of the workshop was “Seminar Room Design”.
We asked students and staff to imagine new seminar spaces by using memories and metaphors – a participative design approach we learned from Professor Peter Jamieson, learning spaces specialist at the University of Melbourne.
We designed the workshop’s structure in response to the venue, MB1012 – one of the three new Student as Producer-inspired seminar rooms we introduced in the summer of 2012. Within the one-hour session, we alternated between briefings, small group exercises, and plenary discussions, taking advantage of the Node chairs and mobile whiteboards in MB1012.
After a round of introductions, we asked people to split into four groups, with a mix of students and staff in each group. We asked the groups what makes for a great seminar experience. Some of us found it harder than others to recall our most recent seminar experiences!
Everyone got involved, discussing their own experiences and documenting their thoughts on the whiteboards around the room. There was a great deal of commonality between the four groups’ responses, but each group had some unique views and insights – a great demonstration of the value of breaking into small subgroups.
So: what makes a great seminar? The groups identified a mix of spatial / environmental factors and social / interpersonal factors:
|Spatial / environmental factors||Social / interpersonal factors|
|Open environment||People talking!|
|Ease of movement||Ability to get involved|
|Moveable furniture||Lecturer sat with us|
|Flexibility of room||More participation|
|Toys to play with!||Group involvement|
|No barriers: no desks at the front||Better understanding|
|Good lighting||Encouraging conversation|
|Appropriate temperature: not too cold|
|Furniture design: flexibility|
We set up the second exercise by explaining our design process for MB1012, MB1019 and MB1020, in which we had used a metaphor from outside higher education – something strongly advocated by Peter Jamieson as a way to bring fresh ideas into the design of HE learning spaces. When we started to design the rooms last year, we drew inspiration from the recently-completed McLaren Production Centre in Surrey – a facility characterised by small groups of people working on complex processes at multiple locations; an extremely configurable layout which enables the whole space to be rearranged rapidly; and a calming, neutral colour palette with few visual distractions.
We gave the four groups about 15 minutes to come up with their own metaphors for new seminar spaces:
The groups came up with four great concepts:
- The Bubble – a cocoon-like outdoor seminar space with transparent sides and ethically sourced components and materials
- The Living Room – a homely, relaxing place with sofa groups, table lamps, and televisions for each subgroup
- The Airport – a spacious, dynamic, technology-rich concourse where users move between various seating and standing zones
- The Paw Print – a sophisticated French-café-like space with group tables arranged in an arc around a central focal point
Each group then explained its metaphor and design ideas to the others.
* * *
This was a fun process, and a great demonstration of the value of students and staff working together informally on a problem of mutual interest – not bad for 15 minutes’ work!
We think that each of the concepts generated at the conference contains some real value for the University’s development of future learning spaces, and we’re planning to do some work to develop these ideas during 2013.
If you have comments or questions about the workshop, or about learning spaces more generally, please let us know using the comments form below, or by tweeting @LincolnEstates. You can download the full workshop presentation here.