Creativity in technology rich, flexible learning spaces

Author/Producer Diane Brewster and Tom Hamilton, University of Sussex
Published in Newsletter No 10, Spring 2008
Date Published 28 February 2008
Pages 3

Summary

InQbate is one of the 19 joint CETLs and is a joint initiative between the Universities of Sussex and Brighton. At each university there has been a refurbishment of part of an existing building in order to create a new, technology rich, learning space

Description

InQbate has two very specific core tasks; to support the teaching of creativity and to encourage and facilitate creativity in teaching. Both the Sussex Creativity Zone and the Brighton Creativity Centre have staff with expertise in both teaching and technology who can support tutors in using the space in innovative and appropriate ways.

Alongside the support offered by the new physical spaces and staff, there is a Creativity Development Fund (CDF) which provides funding for the development and enhancement of innovative learning and teaching, and for research into the nature of the creative process in existing courses and activities. The CDF is primarily used to release academic staff allowing them time to develop, explore and put projects into practice. Staff at both universities can make bids for this funding, which are not necessarily tied into the use of either of the physical InQbate spaces. Projects have been fascinating and very diverse; from a creative writing retreat for academics to a photography course teaching medical students to “see the wider picture” when dealing with patients. Details of all of the projects funded to date can be found on the InQbate web site – see www.inqbate.co.uk

The centrepieces of the InQbate CETL are the two new creative spaces, both of which are technology rich but not technology driven. The Creativity Centre at the University of Brighton is located within a set of interconnected rooms in the Centre for Design Technology. It consists of a seminar room with 3D projectors, a Creativity Centre with ceiling mounted projectors as well as a curved back projection screen, and an informal café area next to a design studio. The Sussex Creativity Zone is located in the room which used to house the first university computer – a concrete ‘bunker’ now transformed into a 300 m2 flexible, reconfigurable space, with 10 plasma screens and 16 projectors, using curtains for both dividing the room and as a projection surface for semi-immersive environments. Both spaces make extensive use of ambient LED lighting, write-on walls and bean bags!

Demand for the use of the spaces is understandably high; they allow tutors to work in ways that other rooms on campus can often impede. For example, since it began operating in October 2006 the Sussex zone has supported teaching in product design, informatics, social work and law. This year will see the introduction of drama and international relations, with physics, maths and biology already booked in for 2008-9. Quite apart from the technology, the rooms allow tutors to move the students between different activities very easily, breaking into group work, presenting, coming back together for content delivery and so on. Because the rooms do not have the arrangement of traditional lecture theatres or seminar rooms, students cannot ‘hide at the back’ and are more likely to engage and participate. The facilitation model we have adopted means that a tutor would generally have one of the InQbate staff with them during the session, taking part in the teaching and learning as well ensuring that the physical space and technology support the activities. Tutors using the zone are encouraged to open up their teaching sessions to visitors – and other tutors wanting to use it must first come along and see it in action. If interesting and innovative teaching is happening, we want it to be visible and the ideas shared with colleagues.

One of the aims of InQbate is to help staff break out of some traditional assumptions about their teaching and student learning. New spaces can generate new behaviours and unexpected outcomes. In these spaces practitioners, supported by learning technologists and facilitators, can act like set designers deploying light, sound and objects to immerse learners in a thought-provoking experience, enabling them to work towards their new understandings and creative solutions. By coming into the InQbate spaces tutors are faced with new possibilities for content delivery and interaction with the students. InQbate provides the space, the time and the support to explore these new possibilities and to think about ways of taking some of them back into more standard university spaces. While other spaces on campus do not (yet?) support the full range of activities that the Creativity zones can, there will always be elements from zone sessions that can be incorporated into teaching in more standard spaces.

Through using the Sussex zone, for example, one product design tutor has moved away from the traditional lecture/seminar format completely. “Lectures” – the course content provided by the tutor – are now put online for the students to access, and the contact time in class is spent giving feedback on group and individual design work. If the tutor or students want to refer to that content then they can access it easily via the technology in the zone. Moving from the more traditional instructivist model to a constructivist one is obviously easier in a space without a hierarchical structure; however, once the internal paradigm shift has been made it is more likely that tutors will make other spaces work differently for them – or begin to demand new kinds of teaching space.

InQbate staff are now working with the teaching and learning development staff at the two universities to extend the impact of the zones beyond the courses that are currently using them. Brighton brings PGCert HE students into their zone at the start of their course to introduce new lecturers to the possibilities offered by new flexible spaces, Sussex PGCert HE students likewise will be using the zones as part of their training from Spring term 2008. Watch this space.