Last week I visited the wonderful creativity CETL team at the University of Sussex where they have spent vast amounts of money on creating a fantastic flexible learning space – every wall is a whiteboard and most of them move, tracks in the ceiling with multi-coloured LED lighting that can be controlled through a touch-screen interface, muslin curtains, huge numbers of projectors and plasma screens everywhere, fully and wirelessly networked, very flexible furniture, brilliant sound system, video cameras throughout, and everything linked and interconnected.
It would be tempting to think of this as the learning environment of the future, but it comes at a very high cost: the biggest issue is not the infrastructure but that it takes a small team to run it and facilitate sessions. This is not a space for the quick and dirty or low-threshold approach. While learning within the space may be very conversational, dynamic, inspiring and flexible, it all has to be carefully orchestrated and, in an odd way, controlled.
I want such spaces to be thrown together on the fly, with flexibility and virtual space embedded effortlessly. Exactly how we do this in the kinds of buildings we usually find at our institutions remains a bit of a challenge. One starting point is to give every student a laptop (something decent, with a built-in video camera, a nice display and good battery life) and to create the wireless infrastructure to support them. Next is to fill teaching spaces with flexible furniture that can quickly and easily be reconfigured. I love the idea of being able to write on all the walls and to move those walls around as and when we need them. Decent, ubiquitous flexible wireless video displays, perhaps interactive, would also help, together with great sound systems.I have been experimenting with a battery-powered LED data projector that might provide this and can foresee a day in the near future when such technologies may be built into laptops. Above all, it should be possible for someone to enter this space with little or no training and just use it.
Not too much to ask, not too expensive to achieve.
By: Jon Dron
Posted: January 31, 2007, 5:51 am