I had the pleasure of keynoting the Warwick Teaching Spaces of the Future event earlier in the week. There’s often a bit of anxiety around hitting the right tone for something like this but for once I was pretty clear what I wanted to say and what colleagues in the early stages of a really exciting development in technologising the learning space might benefit from thinking about. Mainly, I suppose, because I feel we are often coming at this from such a long way behind at Belfield; despite the fantastic work recently being done by IT Services and AVC in particular.  Still, it was good to get the opportunity to hear what people like Gary Saunders,  Tony Wilson and Cath Lambert have to say about the field.

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Some of the ground we covered as the day progressed is by now pretty much well-rehearsed – the millennial challenge to higher education, the problematic of education as identity development, the political economy of the contemporary university, the Wesch concerns. But as always when a roomful of interested people has the chance to engage on a subject that is a bit disruptive of tried & trusted practice there were moments of genuine wonder and insight.

One aspect of the day that really stood out for me was the quality of theorising on HE space and its pedagogical uses. Cath Lambert offered a challenging (and very Warwick!) view of the redrawing of learning and teaching relationships being done at their Reinvention Centre within a CETL project shared by Warwick and Oxford Brooks. Later, Andrea Raiker and Nicola Reilly offered interesting counterpoints and extensions to this, grounded in the work they’re doing on creative learning spaces and ‘collaboratories’ (collaborative student inquiry spaces) at their respective universities. Each gave us lots to think about concerning how underdeveloped this aspect of the new teaching world can seem.

Another was the quality and direction of discourse around learning design. This included commentary on the physical and fiscal dimensions of designing creative spaces explored by Mark Dudek – including some really intriguing observations on the Plowden era and its progressive education settings – and the often overlooked centrality of the architectural brief and managing that relationship with facility design professionals. It also encompassed the importance of pedagogical design to the learning act & experience – much of this put in play by Gary Saunders. And all of which helped me shape and sharpen further my own interests in this area. It was good to see questions of critical stance, imaginative criticism and emerging social. imaginaries in higher education being discussed and debated by people who understand and care about such matters.  Indeed, such concerns for the meaningful rather than unthinking technologisation of the teaching space really touched a nerve among the participants and led to the most interesting conversations of the day.

Tony Wilson’s insights into the BSF experience were also valuable; as were his rather puckish observations on courage and working with those leading change.

And of course in one of those uniquely HE ironies, I had to go to a conference in a different country to meet for the first time a colleague who works in the building next to my own. What he had to say over coffee (and during Jonothan Neelands excellent workshoping of a learning space) about teaching and learning spaces and the politics of innovative action around pedagogy in higher education could, on its own, have made the trip worthwhile. Notwithstanding the more Bursar-friendly alternative of a moot in some coffee shop at Belfield. But sometimes you just need to be somewhere else.

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