Why Fifty Shades of Beige?: Opinion

By Arora, Bela | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, August 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

Why Fifty Shades of Beige?: Opinion


Arora, Bela, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Improving the learning environment needn't break the bank, Bela Arora argues, but reflecting on its users is essential.

Debates on "student-centred" approaches to learning and teaching tend to focus on pedagogy and curriculum design. On the rare occasions when learning environments form part of the discussion, attention is more often given to technology-enhanced learning than to the physical environment.

In my view, though, we need to do more to consider the impact of the bricks and mortar that surround us - and their importance should not be underestimated.

A well-designed learning environment - one that considers all of the senses - can potentially increase levels of student creativity, productivity and well-being. There is extensive research to demonstrate this.

For example, environmental psychology literature details the extent to which physical settings, including the height of ceilings, the colour of walls, levels of natural light, views from windows and temperature can have a dramatic impact on everything from motivation to energy levels.

Taking the recognised impacts of the environment on human behaviour into account makes sound academic sense.

However, this logic is not always followed when universities design new buildings. All too often, design briefs call for striking, shiny glamour based on the hope that if you build it, they (students) will come.

Part of the problem is that decisions about the design of learning space are not always made by those with recent experience of teaching or studying in classrooms. Decisions can be driven by an attractive price tag - or, at the other end of the spectrum, by the desire to build the ultimate award-winning (and expensive) statement building - rather than by the views and needs of students and teachers.

Yet investment in and refurbishment of older estates, working from the inside out, can arguably do more to enhance the student experience than flashy new buildings.

When designing a good learning environment, the configuration of a particular space is only part of the picture. …

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