As the construction begins at University Town, project planners have envisioned the living and learning spaces of the future. In particular, CIT is working with the Office of University Town Development, Office of Estate Development, Computer Centre and the School of Design and Environment to develop a learning space for the future at the Education Resource Centre (ERC) at the heart of University Town.
The ERC will be a low-lying building with plenty of open space. The challenge for the designers is to come up with a multi-purpose space which is comfortable and adaptable. Perhaps most challenging are the soft aspects of the design: will the space allow for students to explore new paradigms and harness their creativity?
In order to move forward, we must look at the current learning spaces available on campus and identify their shortcomings. A cursory glance at lecture theatres and tutorial rooms here reveals a basic design which has been relatively unchanged for decades, if not centuries. Implicit in the layout is the relationship between lecturer and students and even students with other students. It is decidedly a one-way relationship, much like a performer’s relationship with his or her audience.
While it is arguable that the amphitheatre layout of lecture halls cannot and should not be changed significantly, there is plenty of room for improvement and experimentation with small group and informal group settings. Students are required to discuss, share and collaborate both during class and outside of tutorials and seminars. Students also take lead roles during presentations.
The design and layout of learning spaces should reflect this reality and enhance the learners’ ability to work effectively in a fluid environment.
Our learning spaces need to be flexible.
From the layout to the furniture to the technology – the future learning space should allow for a wide range of use, limited only by our students’ imagination. The spaces need to have easy-to-use enabling technology – wireless access, power supply, presentation means, collaboration affordances – that does not get in the way physically.
It will be a challenge to meet these varied expectations and design specifications within a finite budget. With this challenge in mind, a working committee will be exploring flexible learning spaces in the United Stated and the United Kingdom so that we can study the best practices in this area and formulate flexible learning spaces within the ERC of University Town. Stakeholders – staff and students – should also be consulted in this process.
In the long term, the lessons learnt can be applied across the NUS campuses, so that the university remains at the forefront of education – a Global Knowledge Enterprise.