IMG_4596The Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University is one of those places that when you enter it you start saying “WOW”.   I was there yesterday for their “Lost in Disruption Expo“, invited to give a keynote with Jacqui Speculand (raising her hand above) who is their Principal Project Lead. I met Jacqui when she came to Southampton University for our Open Badges in HE conference in March, although we had been in touch via Twitter we had never actually met before but our common interest in the use of Open Badges meant we had so much in common.

I have to say something about their Lab space.  On the top floor of their Lanchester Library (another link, we have a Lanchester building at Southampton University) named after Sir Frederick Lanchester   an important engineer of his time and soon to be featured as part of a Heritage Funded project at Coventry University.  This space is a complete conversion of the third floor of the library.  As soon as you open the door you feel inspired to learn. It has that feeling of open space it is light and well laid out with jazzy spaces for sitting, I think they called it the “Google hill” a wooden tiered structure for sitting and holding talks.  There are spaces for collaboration, sectioned off by huge whiteboards, tastefully designed and used by students all the time.  I have created a little video about the space here.  It is the sort of space that you are probably best describing with images so I’ll let that video speak for itself.  One of the takeaways I had from the space was that it was well designed, well used and because of the light and the layout it made you want to learn.  It is so true that your environment has a huge impact on how you feel and your behaviour.   Part of the space belongs to the DMLL team.  That is also a revelation.  The team consists of Subject Librarians, Teaching staff, Education Developers, technical innovators, I call them that, they are not their real titles but they are not Learning technologists, they don’t look after a VLE and get people to use it.  They are much more than that, the team is like an innovation engine, all working together, to explore ideas and get it right.  Jacqui mentioned that it was a safe space to fail, somewhere to try out a concept, tweak it and adjust it before it is no longer a project, where is can be rejected or adopted by the university. You so need that.   In addition to all of these people they had student interns working with them, and some of them they took on to be members of staff.

The Expo itself was held in the space, ably Chaired by Helen Keegan. There are teaching rooms all round the edges of the space, some with glass walls and some as regular spaces but all have Apple TV, so the use of iPads to connect wirelessly is in place and has been for some time.  Each of these rooms can be booked via the devices on the walls using Outlook as the booking system.  No need to complicate it by using the regular university-wide booking system.  We were talking in “The Grass” an intimate tiered space, covered in fake grass.  It was a completely different experience to talk to 60 0r 70 people and being able to see all of them.  People were not just sitting up, but they were relaxed and listening, genuinely listening, it was much more engaging to talk and listen here, again, because of the environment.  Yes, we could have a room with 70 people in it.  It is not the same, even the grass had something to do with it!

The talks were excellent – I listened to Brian Lamb talking about how the VLE has been designed to put is into the silos that we are trying so hard to get out of.  He also talked about “Splot“, a tool he has created to make it so much easier to write.   He spoke of Sandstorm, a collection of open access apps that are a toolbox of web-enabled tools for academia.   Jim Groom (DS106) talked about how we need to be more aware of how our data is used, he talked about lots of things including “A domain of ones own” project at University of Mary Washington to encourage academics to write more about their work so that they raise their academic profiles but they own their presence, and it is syndicated to the university.    MOOCs and their corporatisation. And he showed us the “back to the future” 80’s console room.  I could go on and on.  Both Brian and Jim gave inspiring talks , I even listened to the podcast by Jon Udell on the way home on the train.

There was so much to see and listen to I hope we can see it all again.  I missed some sessions because I was preparing for my talk, but the tweets looked really interesting.  They asked me what my takeaways were from the day and I said about the space because that just hit you as it was so different from the ‘usual’.    But I also think that it is essential for progress and for the students to experience something like that.  You need the space to explore and develop, and to meet the challenges of the new world of Higher Education.  We can’t keep doing what we have always done. We will become irrelevant and students need to have the benefit of this in their own space before they face the real world.   I hope that I can go there again and show others, and to work with the Innovation Engine that is the DMLL team.

The day captured in social media (Storify)

 

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