Last week I attended the Designs On eLearning conference at the Fashion Retail Academy in Gresse Street, London W1. I hadn’t been aware of the Academy before and it’s hardly surprising: it’s brand new. According to The Guardian it was set up with money partly from the government and partly from industry, and provides education at FE level (Levels 2 and 3 on the national scale).
Anyway, it’s gorgeous. What a fabulous place to work and learn in. It’s cool and modern without being cold and detached. It’s stylish but utilitarian. It’s been designed. Here’s some pix I took whilst there:
Where I currently work the environment is quite poor: shabby, grey, drab, and with learning spaces laid out like factory floors. It’s completely out of date, both physically and conceptually. How are staff and students alike supposed to be inspired, enthusiastic, and empowered in such an environment? These days when I teach I want a multi-purpose space: perhaps I’ll start a session with a demo using the computer and projector before breaking off for small group work. Later you might find me scribbling madly on a whiteboard in answer to some questions that have come up. We might use cameras or video, and someone might bring in a laptop or a mobile phone with work on and we’ll need to see it and to share it. At the moment this means I often swap rooms in the middle of a session, or else I’ll have to arrive early and set up equipment borrowed from elsewhere. Sometimes—far too often—I can’t do what I would really like to do at all…
The modern learning space needs to be flexible, social, and egalitarian, with technology embedded into and integrated with the space. It needs to be wireless. It needs to be bold and stimulating, because in the 21st Century we really, really, really need to throw off the ball and chain of the 12th Century teaching methods we still use, and that we remain forced into using by the straightjacket of our archaic working environments. JISC published an excellent report last year called Designing Spaces For Effective Learning and in it they say:
A learning space should be able to motivate learners and promote learning as an activity, support collaborative as well as formal practice, provide a personalised and inclusive environment, and be flexible in the face of changing needs.
Well, at least The Fashion Retail Academy look like they’ve got most of the way there. There is hope for us all…