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Who Controls a Collaborative Leaning Space?

Mr Geoff Lambert

Western Sydney University

In 2014, Western Sydney University, like many others, adopted a strategy to increase its collaborative ‘active learning’ spaces, and decrease its use of lecture style presentations. Timed to coincide with the opening of its new Parramatta City campus in 2017, and Liverpool City campus in 2018, the resulting learning studios however were not like anything seen before. Western Sydney University aspired high, and based on feedback from over 100 institutions who toured the facilities constantly for almost a year following their opening, it delivered very successfully.

Three years on, it is not only the technology in these spaces that has provided useful learnings, but also the user experiences, observation of successful and unsuccessful teaching practices, and the question of who should control a collaborative learning space and how to re ect this in the design of the technology.  In a venue deliberately designed to enable input from any table, presentation from any point in the room, and a rich variety of content sources, learning activities, and group exploration, could it also cater adequately for a transition by academics with a didactic presentation? What about lecture recording? Where or even should the academic sit? How can a student take notes about content not structured into the LMS and potentially erased just minutes later, and what would happen to student performance? Could you successfully involve remote students and guest speakers in to such environments? How could technology assist with this, and when should it just get out of the way and let learning take place, tech free?

Based off observations and interviews, hallway chats, and formal reviews, the Collaborative Learning Studios at Western Sydney Uni continue to both excite, and challenge academics to consider where the knowledge in their classroom originates, and how much control they should exert on that learning. It’s still an incomplete journey, but one where the initial idea of being ‘student centred’ changed the balance of control within these learning spaces and continues to influence the design of future spaces throughout Western Sydney.