by Sam Elkington and Jill Dickinson
Across the higher education (HE) sector, factors including increasing student numbers, growing diversification, concerns about students’ mental health and wellbeing, and marketisation, have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. Their culmination has pushed the changing needs of learning spaces to the top of the agenda. Against this backdrop, our Symposia Series aims to provoke critical debate around the possibilities for new configurations of learning spaces to support decision-making, policy and practice in developing future landscapes of learning within HE.
In response to the challenges faced within the HE environment, university estates teams need to recognise how learning can take place anytime and anywhere and develop radical strategies for student-centred, sustainable campus design. Future approaches to learning need to be dynamic and linked, and weave together formal and informal activities to create a holistic learning experience. We offer the concept of ‘learning landscape’ to explore how universities can draw on a spectrum of different learning spaces to reflect changing preferences and incorporate digital technologies. This Symposia Series at SRHE presents opportunities for key stakeholders to engage in collaborative reflexive discussions around, and debate the potential for, effectively entwining the possibilities for pedagogy, technology, and learning spaces.
The Symposia Series brings together leading voices from across the field to encourage critical discussion and debate with a view to generating, encapsulating, and assembling key insights that can inform future decision-making, policy, and practice around landscapes of learning in HE. The Series is structured through the prism of three thematic lenses: networks, assemblages, and flexibilities, with a separate Symposium dedicated to each. Through providing opportunities for shared learning, we hope that the Series will cultivate an ongoing community of practice that will support the development of better understanding around the opportunities for developing learning spaces in terms of their networks, assemblages, and flexibilities.
Networks, Flexibilities, and Assemblages
In the first Symposium, which focuses on the theme of Networks, we chart a focus shift in HE, recognising that the contemporary learning landscape needs to be considered less in terms of singular learning spaces and more in terms of the ways in which spaces are becoming more connective, permeable, networked, and interwoven (physically and digitally), providing inclusive and adaptive environments in which learning can take place. Professor Lesley Gourlay (University College London) will be giving the keynote at this Symposium, followed by presentations from Sue Beckingham (Sheffield Hallam), Dr Julianne K Viola (Imperial College London), and Dr Brett Bligh (Lancaster).
The second Symposium explores the idea of flexibility as a critical aspect of how learning is situated relative to the demands of students for greater control in fitting their studies around their learning needs and preferences, as well as other aspects of their lives. Such a view implies a widening and loosening of the boundaries of conventional learning spaces to provide greater potential flexibility in how, where, and when learning happens. In this Symposium, we will hear from Dr Jeremy Knox (Edinburgh) (as keynote), Dr Andrew Middleton (Anglia Ruskin), Dr Kevin Merry (De Montfort), Dr Namrata Rao (Liverpool Hope) and Dr Patrick Baughan (The University of Law).
The third and final Symposium draws on the lens of Assemblages to examine the expanding spectra of both learning spaces (including their architecture and materiality) and the pedagogical approaches that are being adopted within them. These discussions are presented against the backdrop of challenges posed by traditional decision-making around strategic long-term estates-planning, resource implications, and the need to act swiftly to meet the challenges presented by a dynamic HE environment. Following a keynote fromProfessor Carol Taylor (Bath) at this Symposium, we will also hear presentations from A/Prof Tim Fawns (Monash), Dr Karen Gravett (Surrey), and Dr Harriet Shortt (UWE).
Thinking differently about conversation
We are also drawing on this Symposia Series as an opportunity for modelling multimodal opportunities for engagement to foster more inclusive, effective, and ongoing dialogue and encourage informed, meaningful change. Each of the three Symposia will run primarily face-to-face, hosted by SRHE in London. Components of each Symposium (namely the Keynote and Presentations) will also be streamed live so as to enable a hybrid format and remote engagement. We will also be recording content from each Symposium to help further engage as wide an audience as possible. We are inviting a selection of international scholars with recognised expertise in different aspects of HE learning space research to engage with, and review, the keynote and presentation materials from the Symposia and work with us to produce extended blogs in response. In addition, we will be facilitating continued dialogue to bridge each Symposium across the Series through other modes, for example via the use of Padlet, blogs, social media, and podcast communications to create a rich tapestry of critical insight and debate that we hope will drive the conversation forwards around the prospects for learning space in HE.
Sam Elkington is Professor of Learning and Teaching at Teesside University where he leads on the University’s learning and teaching enhancement portfolio. Sam is a PFHEA and National Teaching Fellow (NTF, 2021). He has worked in Higher Education for over 15 years and has extensive experience working across teaching, research and academic leadership and policy domains. Most recently Sam worked for Advance HE (formerly the Higher Education Academy) where he was national lead for Assessment and Feedback and Flexible Learning in Higher Education. Sam’s most recent book (with Professor Alastair Irons) explores contemporary themes in formative assessment and feedback in higher education: Irons and Elkington (2021) Enhancing learning through formative assessment and feedback London: Routledge.
Dr Jill Dickinson is an Associate Professor in Law at the University of Leeds. As SFHEA, Jill has also acted as a reviewer for the Advance HE Global Teaching Excellence Awards. A former Solicitor, specialising in property portfolio management, Jill’s research explores place-making