Space to think?

' You'll think of me' by Gabrielle Sinatra

‘ You’ll think of me’ by Gabrielle Sinatra


By Juliet Hinrichsen  

It is surprising how complex the idea of a ‘learning space’ is and the many subtle influences on what positively or negatively impacts on such spaces. The variety of perspectives, approaches and meanings in this topic are well represented in what looks to be a fascinating and stimulating programme.

I am looking forward to the keynote by Alexi Marmot , not only because it allows us to see the issues of space design through a professional lens, but also because it affords an overview of what is happening in other institutions, on other campuses, in our sector. What I am wondering is whether she will address the ‘whole’ university? We think of learning spaces as the sites of student learning, and of course they are. But they are also our working spaces, and indeed our own learning spaces. Teaching staff are not only conduits to student learning; as academics they, we, are part of disciplinary communities which are fundamentally professional learning communities. What is the nature of the space which facilitates both our learning and our teaching?

The teaching-research nexus is often extolled as a powerful framework both for academic practice and teaching methodology. What happens when we look at our working spaces in this light? The traditional ‘senior common room’ and similar collegiate spaces are all but gone and in some modern universities have never existed. Where and how do we have our informal conversations, practice sharing and peer review?

The annual LTA conference is perhaps one such ‘space’ but cannot replace, or replicate, the micro interactions of daily practice. Academic practice requires periods of quiet, intensive study for staff as well as students. Increasingly, the workplace leaves no room for scholarship. I would argue that activities such as marking are actually scholarly activities; as is preparing a lecture or seminar. I hear anecdotes from colleagues that they do these things at home, because the workplace is not conducive to quiet concentration with open plan offices and the library full to capacity. Ironically, are we saying that the university is not conducive to study, to scholarship? And what issues of equity does this raise? Those with more room may be more able to fulfil their working requirements outside the workplace. Households where children have grown and left may be more suitable for such work than those with young children and toys underfoot. I also believe that the notion of ‘space’ includes time, as when we talk about ‘space to think’ or ‘headspace’ and that this kind of space is also being rapidly eroded. As my work is very much focussed on the development of academic staff, these issues concerning our own academic working/learning spaces, and their impact on the learning spaces of students, continues to exercise me and this is one of the things I will be thinking about during the conference.