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Campus Teaching and Learning Spaces

For information and advice on teaching in the FAB, see the FAB Teaching and Learning Spaces wiki.

Warwick has a growing diversity of spaces that are designed for teaching. In addition, there are many spaces intentionally designed for students to use independently, as well as locations such as cafes and corridors that are adopted by students, either out of necessity or because they are actually nice spaces. A holistic and student-centric approach to learning design might also take into consideration the areas in which students gather and flow between timetabled sessions and during breaks. In the summer time the list grows further as we spill out into courtyards and gardens.

In an ideal world we would be able to choose and configure the learning spaces in which we teach. They would be the right size, shape, location, and with the required features and characteristics. This is not often the case. However, we can aim to get the best out of the spaces that are available. Follow this guide to design your use of spaces to achieve your goals.

1. Essential design considerations

Each teaching and learning event sees the students engaging in a series of tasks to develop and demonstrate knowledge (theoretical, factual, practical etc.). They do this in physical and social situations. These situations are mediated by technologies and tools (including furniture), as arranged in physical and digital spaces. To some extent teachers design these tasks and situations so as to optimise learning. Students also have agency, designing the tasks that they undertake, and configuring physical and social features to meet their needs. At higher levels of education, developing the student's independent capabilities is an essential goal in itself. Teachers therefore also need to design so as to enable the students to design their own tasks, access resources, organise themselves socially etc.

The Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD) design thinking-based framework has been developed to aid with this designing (Goodyear, Carvalho & Yeoman, 2021). This recommends using an iterative approach in which we adapt our "set design" and "social design" to support knowledge-developing tasks that should enable the achievement of our intended learning outcomes. The process is non-linear, in that we will find constraints and enablements in the available tools, technologies, spaces and social organisation, and adapt our epistemic design to make the most of what is available: " thinking may rove back and forth between provisional design ideas". It is also not deterministic. Designing is an imperfect art, not a science: "...there are no direct causal links between (a) things that can be designed and (b) actual learning outcomes." We can, however, do it in a systematic and collaborative way, so as to generate knowledge that will be useful for further designing.

We can also do this critically. For example, we can analyse a room layout, consider how it creates hierarchies and power structures, and how these might repeat and amplify biases (race, gender, class, disability etc.). It is essential that we do interogate our designs so as to ensure we iron-out such biases.

We may also discover new possibilities for knowledge development, new learning tasks, through exploring set design and social design together. It's also OK for us to change our ILOs in response to designing. Innovations in teaching tend to result from this playful experimentation.

ACAD design time model

(Goodyear, Carvalho & Yeoman, 2021)

At 'design-time" we can envisage a more-or-less flexible design, which may be adapted by the teacher and students at "learn-time". This design for flexibility is an essential part of the art of learning design.

2. Get to know the spaces and the technologies

What then are the affordances and constraints that we find in our teaching and learning spaces? The physical spaces vary considerably. Knowing the detail in advance of "design-time" and "learn-time" is essential.

We are creating a wiki to document the spaces in the new Faculty of Arts Building (FAB). This includes information and advice about furniture, seating, layouts, tools, and technologies. We are creating a page for each room, describing its features, recommended teaching approaches, and problems to be aware of. Once we begin teaching in the building, we will gather feedback from teachers and students to develop this further. Access the wiki.

Information about all centrally timetabled rooms is available on the A/V Services web site. Find out about non-FAB spaces.

We are also creating an extensive guide to the features to consider when evaluating a teaching space. Read the guide.

3. Consider the phases in a teaching session

When considering how you will use a learning space, consider the phases through which an event passes, what they need to be like, and how that will be managed - from a student and teacher perspective. Consider how you and your students will use the features of your set (tools, tech, furniture, layouts etc.) to make this work smoothly. For example, if each activity begins with the teacher presenting from the "front" of the room, using the main screen, how will they "gather back" the attention of the students? How will the students physically reorient themselves? If they need to take notes during this phase, how will they do that? (some students may have to turn away from their tables to see the screen).

Most teachers operate with tacit assumptions about how students will engage at different points during a session - how they engage cognitively, behaviourally, emotionally, and socially. Make this "expected engagement profile (O'Toole, 2019) explicit (for example, on a diagram), consider if it is realistic, and what you might do to encourage engagement to follow the desired pattern. During and after teaching, consciously assess how engagement is fitting with, or deviating from, your expectations.

We should also encourage our students to think about their own self-organised learning events in this way. For example, they need to consider how they summarise, tidy-up, and reflect in the closing stages, and how they then use what has happened in the session in the post-session phase (which then runs into future sessions).

Teacher event workflow diagram

4. Get feedback, review, reflect and share

What happens to your design at learn-time? What works, what doesn't? Are their constraints and problems that need to be dealt with? Are there recommendations you can make for others? How might your design be resusable and transferable? The FAB Pedagogies project would like to hear about your experiences, so that we can develop the FAB Teaching and Learning Spaces wiki further. Share your feedback with Robert O'Toole.


FAB Teaching and Learning Spaces wiki

A/V Services homepage.

Information about centrally timetabled teaching rooms, with 360o photos.

Locally timetabled rooms.


Once we return to campus in late 2021, we will be conducting "space walks" with academics and students, visiting learning spaces and engaging in critical-creative dialogue about them. Look out for invitations to join us soon.