Meet the BILT Community

Meet the Fellows: James Norman

We asked our Fellows to write us a short blog about their background and what they are doing as part of their BILT Fellowship. The following blog is from James Norman, who has been a BILT Fellow since September 2018.

For years I struggled to understand the inexplicable fact that two and a half hours into a three hour lecture on concrete half my students were asleep. However, at an architecture lecture by Professor Alexander Wright I had my eureka moment. Professor Wright was explaining that when a large group of people stay in a room for a long time with poor air circulation the carbon dioxide levels in the room rise, leading to people feeling drowsy. I knew it, I just knew it. There was no way 3 hours on concrete could put a room full of people to sleep1. It was the air. And this got me to thinking. If the air quality in a room affects how people learn, what else in a room affects how we learn? Does the room layout, the lighting, the colour of the walls, the acoustics, the background noise (or lack thereof), the furniture? What about technology? What about virtual reality?

 Over the next year I hope to explore some of these questions and more as I investigate “Rethinking Space”. Having been a practicing engineer for 12 years (and a genuine concrete enthusiast) and having worked on a number of award winning education buildings2 I hope to explore the current practice in space design in higher education both from a pedagogic perspective but also through conversations with leading practitioners. I hope to discover both how we can create new and diverse spaces for education whilst also considering how we can optimise our current spaces to enable them to improve educational practice. Finally as an academic with a lot of industrial experience I am interested in how we can promote professional practice through the novel use of space.

 If you have any ideas or have tried using space in a novel way (or feel frustrated by the lack of opportunity to do so) let me know. I would love to meet up and chat over a coffee.


Note 1 – In my first year of teaching I did lecture once for three hours without a break. I now try and limit myself to 20-30 minute sections with breaks and activities to help break up the lecture and help students think through and discuss the materials among themselves.

Note 2 – I have worked on a number of education buildings most notably I was the lead engineer on Oxford Brookes Gypsy Lane Campus which won a RIBA National Award (2015), RIBA South Building of the Year (2015), RIBA South Regional Award (2015), RIBA South Sustainability Award (2015) and was medium listed for the Sterling Prize (2015).     

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