Expertise / Education and Science / Designer insight

How are education spaces evolving to support authentic, hands-on learning?

The democratisation of information – largely brought about by the internet – means that universities are no longer exclusive custodians of knowledge.

And today’s students are fully aware of that fact according to HASSELL Principal David Gulland who has more than 15 years’ experience working on the design of education buildings.

“Students are voting with their feet,” says David.

“The whole nature of what students want is changing quite rapidly. We do a lot of secondary education projects and we are seeing the cohort who in ten years time will be the graduates and post graduates in the universities. 

“They really are looking for different sorts of things – it’s much more about how they relate to each other and how they expect to learn in a far more collaborative way. Consequently the types of spaces they want to learn in are quite different,” explains David.

This shift has seen some universities reconsider their point of difference and ultimately make a stronger commitment to delivering authentic learning experiences – within purpose-built spaces.

“Basically students can now access knowledge freely from the web so that’s not an advantage that universities necessarily have anymore,” says HASSELL Principal Mark Roehrs.

In addition to their role in guarding the rigour and integrity of knowledge, universities identify their unique offering as being able to deliver a more authentic, engaged learning experience than what students can get learning online.

“What we’re seeing is a shift away from the virtual or didactic and increasingly back to skills-based hands on training that’s problem-based in nature,” says Mark.

HASSELL Principal Mariano DeDuonni explains how the trend toward smaller group and collaborative learning is changing the design of learning facilities.

“I think the tutorial room in its current form will soon become extinct, it’s a dinosaur,” says HASSELL Principal Mariano DeDuonni.

“The tutorial room of the future is far more interactive with tutors meeting students in much more flexible, technology-enabled spaces.

“Similarly lecture theatres are no longer being designed with rows of continuous seating for hundreds of students. 

“These traditional lecture theatres are being reconfigured – so you will start to see things like pods of eight students around benches with individual monitors so students can see the lecture being delivered on screen while also interacting for group discussion throughout,” says Mariano.

The University of Queensland’s Advanced Engineering Building (AEB) – which is due for completion in 2013 and is a design collaboration compring HASSELL and Richard Kirk Architect – is an example of a new education building that makes a major commitment to authentic learning and practically based studio spaces.

The engineering students who will attend AEB will work in problem-based learning modes around work tables on group projects and assignments.

One of the most compelling commitments AEB makes to providing an authentic learning experience is in the investment it has made in designing a building that will be a live learning site for its students.

The idea is that as students occupy and move through the building they will be encouraged to learn how the structure is performing. 

“There are going to be things like deflection gauges and movement and vibration gauges inbuilt into the structure so the engineering students can get online and monitor the performance of the building,” explains Mark.

“The building itself features a range of structures from timber to steel and concrete elements, some with massive spans, some with big cantilevers – and students will be able to see how these are working in a live way.”

The design of the building’s interior also underpins the building’s commitment to authentic learning by promoting transparency and interaction.  A central atrium provides common ground for students, staff, researchers and visitors to interact and collaborate.  Laboratories and offices at each side of the atrium have transparent walls to reveal the activities within – deliberately prompting enquiry and sparking curiosity.

_Contact David Gulland, Principal:

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