Spaces and Places II

Last week, a colleague and I attended the OECD conference, ‘HIGHER EDUCATION: Spaces and Places for Learning, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer‘ in Helsinki, Finland.  As I noted in a previous post, the University of Lincoln is leading a HEFCE funded project to

promote closer collaboration between academics and estates professionals in the development of new learning landscapes, so that the strengths of the traditional academic environment are not lost when new spaces are developed to foster innovative approaches. It aims to develop a high-level framework, pathways and tool set to facilitate the dialogue between HEI senior academic managers and their estates directors concerning the future direction of teaching and research practice and its implications for the built estate. Process tools will be piloted at steering group institutions and a training programme developed.

In addition, the University has its own Learning Landscapes agenda which is closely tied to the Strategic Plan for the University.

The OECD have a Programme on Educational Building (PEB) and its mission is to ‘optimise countries sizeable investment in educational facilities by assisting them to design, construct, manage and evaluate facilities with a view to improving their educational and operational effectiveness.’  This mission was evident throughout the conference both in the OECD members enthusiasm for the programme and the choice of presentations. Of note, is their Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities, which addresses how the design, use and management of physical infrastructure can contribute to the quality of education.

Helsinki University of Technology

The Lifelong Learning Institute at the Helsinki University of Technology, Otaniemi. Dipoli building designed by Architects, Raili and Reima Pietilä.

Helsinki University of Technology

The Helsinki University of Technology, Otaniemi. Building designed by Architect, Alvar Aalto.

The conference was fully booked and attended by people from over 30 countries.  The OECD and host institution, the Helsinki University of Technology, planned the conference around five themes:

  1. Universities for the future
  2. HE institutions as spaces and places for learning
  3. He institutions as spaces and places for research and innovation
  4. Sustainable spaces and places
  5. HE institutes as spaces and places for knowledge transfer

The full programme of presentations can be found here and the presentations will be made available soon to attendees as well as a summary report on the conference from the OECD.  I will circulate them to the HEFCE Learning Landscapes Project members when they become available.

Wednesday afternoon was a gentle and interesting introduction to the Helsinki University of Technology, the current political agenda for Higher Education in Finland and finally, Alvar Aalto, the Architect that designed many of the University’s buildings.

Theme one was explored in the first session on Thursday morning with a presentation by Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, from the OECD on the future of Universities, discussing four scenarios (International, National, Market Demand Driven, Admin Supply Driven) for HE in 2025 which reflected predicted changes in demography, technology and globalisation. A great deal of information was presented and of all the presentations, the original slides would prove very useful for the data that was offered and summaries of the different scenarios.  Fortunately, the OECD are launching a four-part report at their ‘Future of Higher Education’ conference in Paris, later this year.  From the presentation, I noted that predicted demographic changes for UK HE suggest a relatively small expansion in HE when compared to some other OECD countries, with slight increases in part-time students, adult students, international students and female students. The data suggested that the boom in UK HE full-time enrolments was past its peak.  Other countries showed decline while others showed rapid expansion.  The OECD website provides a good summary of what was presented and indicates what will appear in the reports in December.

The presentation which followed discussed the merger of three of Finland’s Universtities to create the Innovation University.

In a way, theme one was woven into many of the presentations as the conference in general was mostly forward looking and driven by the possible outcomes of the four scenarios discussed by the OECD.

Theme two was a mixture of presentations, with little that really bonded them together.  Much of the HE estate in Finland is owned by the government and managed by Senate Properties and this was discussed in the first presentation.  In Finland there is an emphasis on improving space efficiency rather than building new spaces, an acknowledgement of the need to exploit ICT to a greater degree and, as was apparent through the conference, the need to improve the use of space to enhance collaboration.  The point was made by almost every speaker that collaboration is at the core of teaching, learning and research in the future and that the design of space and use of technology must facilitate and encourage this. A point that was made later by a member of the audience and remained relevant throughout the conference was that of the danger of Estates departments driving an agenda that should be led by academic staff and students.  How to engage these ‘clients’ (the language was often very business-like), was a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed at the beginning of any proposed project.

The next presentation by Renate Fruchter, Director of the Project Based Learning Laboratory at Stanford University, was one of the highlights of the conference, mainly because of the extent to which the PBL Lab had tested and developed successful methods of improving collaboration between Engineering students and professional peers through the use of Instant Messaging, VoIP and Video Conferencing (VSee).  Fruchter presented a mass of slides showing students collaborating around the world using this technology.  She argued that the current education system reflected the industrial age production line where people move through fixed resources receiving an education.  Teaching equated to ‘content delivery’ in the hope that learning occurs.  However, the Internet or ‘Network’ now provides a broadcast medium that allows greater social interaction and collaboration.  She showed a page from Wired Magazine to remind the audience of who we are designing learning space for:

We learned to crawl alongside the PC. We came of age with the Internet. Early-adopting, hyperconnected, always on: Call us Children of the Revolution, the first teens and tweens to grow up with the network. It takes a generation to unlock the potential of a transformative technology – we are that generation. From IM to MP3 to P2P, we lab-test tomorrow’s culture. While others marvel at the digital future, we take it for granted. Think of it as the difference between a second language and a first. And imagine the impact when full fluency hits the workplace, the shopping mall, the living room. In the past, you put away childish things when you grew up. But our tools are taking over the adult world. Check it out: The technology is trickling up.

We were also alerted to a recent and relevant article in the Economist on the Nomad Knowledge Worker (‘Wireless communication is changing the way people work, live, love and relate to places – and each other‘).

Although Fruchter gave a dense presentation of slides, she offered a practical demonstration of how current technology is changing our notion of space and place, enabling us to work asynchronously with people we otherwise may never have met and indeed, may never physically meet.  She pointed out that in many cases, these people may be industry and business partner specialists who work with students offering them the opportunity to watch, question and learn from practising professionals. On a related note, earlier in the day, Fruchter raised the question of how HE institutions are planning to compete with corporate campuses such as those that Microsoft and Google have created.  Perhaps implicit in her presentation was one response: that of offering innovative technological solutions for professional development by enabling closer collaboration with industry peers.

The final presentation was a reminder that not all HE institutions have the resources to develop and implement the kind of learning environment that Fruchter described.  Takao Akagawa from the University of Kitakyushu, Japan, made it very clear that his institution was not in a position to match the facilities on offer at Stanford.  His presentation was refreshing though because he gave examples of how his students studying Architecture thrived on working on location, in spaces outside of the university and engaging with the local community. Being able to work on real public architectural projects, often on a scale that were not commercially viable, but still of value to the community, the students were given incentives beyond the traditional exams and exhibitions and learned skills that could only be found through professional practice.

Theme three switched from teaching and learning to research. Of particular interest to me were the presentations from the Dublin Institute of Technology and Karostech Ltd., developers of the ‘Global Oasis‘.  Paul Horan from DIT gave an overview of the development of a new city-centre campus for DIT.  Speaking to him briefly afterwards, he said that he visited UL and it was one of the highlights of his many site visits, providing a useful and attractive example of developing a city-centre campus. One item in his presentation was briefly mentioned and of particular interest to me.  DIT have implemented a somewhat ‘radical’ new IP policy (PDF) intended to

  • Provide an incentive to Colleagues and Students to create, protect and commercialise IP
  • Enable DIT to better serve the public good and Ireland’s knowledge economy by contributing valuable IP to the development of useful and morally acceptable products, processes and services
  • Ensure equitable returns on IP to the Creators and to DIT.

Simply put, the new IP policy states that the IP belongs to the member(s) of staff and students, asking in return, for up to a 75% share of any commercial revenue, presumably to pay for (and more) the Technology Transfer Office they have established to provide legal services to staff and students wishing to exploit their work. In today’s climate, this is radical in that it recognises that legal ownership of the work staff and students undertake can be a significant incentive in producing innovative and potentially commercial output.  Typically, companies and university IP policies state that any corporate or institutional output is the copyright and IP of the institution, with waivers being made so that the publication of research is unhindered.  What DIT have done is quite the opposite, creating a policy which states that the IP belongs to the creator who is free to exercise their moral and legal rights over it on the condition that any commercial successes are shared:

  • Recognising that the Creator has the moral and legal rights to the IP they create, except where there are contracts with sponsors that require IP assignment, where DIT Resources were used in the creation of the IP, or where administrative materials were developed for DIT
  • Encouraging the protection of IP before publishing so that the IP retains commercial value
  • Enabling Creators to choose to commercialise IP themselves or use the TTO or other means
  • Sharing up to 75% of Net Revenues received from commercialisation with the Creators
  • Assigning IP to Colleagues and Students in return for a negotiable equity stake for DIT of typically 15% in their startup companies.

By doing this, they recognise they have created

a more entrepreneurial environment at DIT to attract and retain world class researchers, enhance collaboration with industry and raise the profile of DIT as a centre for excellent commercially focussed research and consultancy.

The policy goes into more detail but the above passages summarise it well and I’m encouraged by the approach they’ve taken. Perhaps we could evaluate the benefits to UL that this approach might offer.

Next, Ilkka Kakko discussed the OASIS environments his company has developed.  These are buildings that are designed to offer flexible working and learning spaces, independent of the institutional space, where collaborators can meet, work over several days and socialise.  He said he was a firm believer in the value of serendipity and the buildings are designed to encourage this through increased collaboration, interaction and co-operation among individuals and different businesses simultaneously using the space.

The final Keynote for the day was entitled ‘Living Labs as Learning Labs’ and given by Kent Larsson from MIT.  He discussed the work of the Media Lab at MIT in developing tools that have enabled them to monitor not only the use of space within a building but also the use of objects within that space.  Their test environment is The Place Lab, a real apartment that on the surface looks quite ordinary but is “designed to be a highly flexible and multi-disciplinary observational research facility for the scientific study of people and their interaction patterns with new technologies and home environments.” The use of hidden sensor technology was fascinating, as was the example research data that he presented.

The final day of the conference began with two presentations on the design of a sustainable campus and measuring the ecological footprint of Otaniemi Campus where the Helsinki University of Technology is located. I found both of these presentations difficult to engage with. The first discussed an architecture project on a very large and conceptual scale and I failed to appreciate how this would translate to the experiences of individuals using the campus.  The second provided some interesting data on the university’s carbon omissions, etc. and would provide a useful model on which other institutions could base a similar exercise.

The rest of the morning was spent on site visits.  My colleague stayed for a tour around the Otaniemi Campus, while I got on a bus to visit the Arcada Campus, a relatively new, private University of Applied Science (Polytechnic).  It is a small, undergraduate focussed institution with some bright, modern buildings.

Arcada Campus

The ground floor walk way.

Arcada Campus

The canteen.

Arcada Campus

A comfortable communal space.

Arcada Campus

The first floor walk way with class rooms off the side.

Arcada Campus

Certain communal areas, such as the stairways, were designed to be narrow to encourage people to interact.

The second site visit took us to the Arabia Campus of the Media Centre Lume, part of the University of Art and Design.  This campus was a mix of both older 1930s buildings that had been restored, and new buildings, including studios for the film school. Walking around the building was a fascinating experience as it was specifically designed to meet the needs of design and film school students with non-traditional requirements for the use of space. The rooms were intended to be very flexible but our guide, the Director of the Media Centre, regularly implied that the buildings were very high maintenance and the design often intruded on the needs of the students.

University of Art and Design

The old meets the new

University of Art and Design

University of Art and Design

The entrance to the new building

University of Art and Design

The entrance to the Media Lab

University of Art and Design

Exhibition space

University of Art and Design

The rear of the original 1930s building

University of Art and Design

Workshops and the very few traditional teaching spaces in the film school are accessed off this wide corridor that allows industrial machinery to pass.  Full studio sets are constructed in these workshops.

University of Art and Design

Upon our return from the site visits, the final, closing round-table session of the day tried to summarise the five themes of the conference and respond to questions from the audience. It was a useful end to the conference and offered one of the few sessions where the link between space, pedagogy and educational theory was touched upon, largely due to the interests of Goran Lindahl, from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.  Realising this, took me back to one of the first questions raised in the conference concerning the need for and difficulty of engaging academic staff and students in the development of educational facilities and that the process is destined to fail if driven solely by Estates.

We flew home, rather tired, on Friday evening. Sorry for the long post, but hopefully some of this is useful.  Personally, I think one of the main benefits of the conference was the opportunity to meet people and plan further work beyond the conference, something we have already begun to do.

2 Replies to “Spaces and Places II”

  1. Very interesting. Difficult to be sure, given the quality of images on the PDA, but I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance between the Arcada Campus buildings and our own Main Academic Building! Perhaps there’s some potential there.

  2. What an interesting and detailed ‘blog’ – thanks Joss! I can see ‘where you are coming from’ Julian about the main academic building. I am less keen on the ‘narrow staircases’ to encourage interaction…I would be more likely to fall over! :-)) … Karin

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