Sunday, August 23, 2009

Personal pod settings for blended learning

Andrew Leach reviews Richard Kurk's design for the University of Queensland's new GPN4 (General Purpose North Four) building in Architecture Australia magazine (July August 2009). The building includes a Collaborative Learning Centre (CLC) and an Advanced Concept Teaching Space (ACTS). The design won a regional commendation in the 2009 FDG Stanley Award.

Collaborative Learning Centre in University of Queensland GPN4The CDC has what are termed Personal pod settings. From the provided photo these appear to be boardroom size desks each seating eight students, with four in rows on each side of the table. At one end of the table is a large flat screen display (the display may be on an electrically operated mount to have it retract into the desk). Presumably a human convenor can sit at the other end of the table. One photo shows six such tables, seating 24 students in total. Each seat appears to be equipped with a laptop. The desks appear to be too deep, with an open slot in the middle. In contrast the space beside each seat is limited. The designer could have used narrower longer desks to give more useful space and allow for better group work. Also the room layout looks a little too rigidly defined and I preferred QUT's more flexible arrangement with mobile flat screens.

Advanced Concept Teaching Space in University of Queensland GPN4The ACTS appears to be a 21st century interpretation of the traditional stepped lecture theatre. The rooms appears to seat about 100 students in four tiers. There is what appears to be a LCD display at each seat (perhaps a touch screen?). There appear to be two large flat panel screens and two presentation stations at either end of the stage at the front of the room. The large white wall between the two electronic screens can presumably be projected onto.

Each tier of seating has one continuous curved desk. The desk appears much deeper than would be normal in a lecture theatre (and much larger than needed). But this may be an artefact of the wide angle lens needed to show the expanse of room. There are swivel high mesh backed executive style chars used in both the CDC and ACTS. These do not appear the most durable choice for a learning environment. Also the large backs will tend to obscure sight lines.

The use of the hardwired LCD screens is questionable (at least they are not built into the desks like some previous designs). Using the same laptops as in the CDC would have advantages, as would assuming that most students would bring their own laptop, netbook or smartphone.

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