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The Gap Between Pedagogy and Design

The following blog was written by James Norman, a Senior Teaching Fellow and a BILT Fellow since September 2018. 

For centuries universities have taught in lecture theatres. But the lecture theatre may well soon be a thing of the past. The new lecture theatre is the flat-bed teaching room. Or classroom to anyone who has been to school. The flat-bed teaching room offers many advantages over the lecture theatre. It is flexible. People can re-arrange furniture and work in groups. It removes some of the hierarchy between the teacher and the learner. But are flat bed teaching rooms really the solution to all our problems? Do flat bed teaching spaces really make pedagogical sense?

“Pedagogy needs to be explored through the thinking and practice of those educators who look to accompany learners; care for and about them; and bring learning into life.”

(Mark K. Smith, 2012)

Pedagogy is not about teaching. It is about learning. It is about understanding how people learn and by extension where people learn. I have been learning about pedagogy by reading in a coffee shop. Not in a flat-bed teaching room. I learnt to drive in a car, not in a flat-bed teaching room. We teach dentists the practical skills they need in a mock dentist’s surgery, not in a flat-bed teaching room. But what about lawyers and economists. Archeologists and historians. Where do they learn and how do we design spaces that work for them? So much learning occurs not in the lecture theatre OR the flat bed teaching space. So how do we approach the design of learning spaces and how do we keep pedagogy at the center of this process?

Is the solution rows and rows of flat-bed teaching rooms with movable partitions as suggested by the “Learning Space Rating System” (2017) or is it the use of metaphor to imagine our learning spaces as trees or gardens as advocated by The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit? Professor Wright from the University of Bath would acknowledge both of these approaches as design strategies in the design of architectural space. But these are just 2 of 14 approaches. And Professor Wright’s approach is just one of many available design methodologies that can be utilized. So the question becomes how can we best combine pedagogy and design methodology to understand how to enhance the learning of our students. I don’t yet know the answers but I am looking forward to learning in unexpected places to try and find a new perspective on placing pedagogy at the heart of designing space.

Mark K. Smith, What is Pedagogy? (2012), http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/ accessed 14/11/18

Malcom Brown et al, Learning Space Rating System, Learning Space Rating System initiative, EDUCAUSE, 2017.

Gill Ferrell, The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit, Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association.

Alexander Wright, Critical method: A pedagogy for design education, Design Principles and Practices, vol. 5, no. 6, pp. 109-122, 2011.

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