University Camilo José Cela presents its new learning and teaching spaces

University Camilo José Cela (UCJC) has unveiled its new Learning Lab and Design Lab, new, next-generation spaces for teaching and learning. They boast three key elements: scientifically proven physical and environmental characteristics to improve learning conditions, zoning spaces to adapt to different uses and methodologies and cutting-edge technological equipment.

The design of these spaces has taken into account the results of research conducted on the influence of learning spaces on academic performance, such as the impact of the student’s physical movement, on their ability to stay focussed and the importance of temperature, light or CO 2 levels.

In addition to the physical factors, the optimal environmental conditions, the furniture or the state-of-the-art technological equipment, the opinions of the student-users have been taken into consideration, something rarely taken into account, and who nonetheless have brilliant ideas to identify the spatial, cultural and emotional needs of the different teaching-learning activities. The project, which began two years ago, is led by the international expert Stephen Heppell, director of the UCJC Felipe Segovia Chair of Innovation, and featured input from UCJC students and teachers.

“There is no single “correct way” to use these new teaching and learning spaces. Teachers’ experience, and the students’ suggestions, will add to the ways that we use these spaces”, explains Heppell. “In sport it is common to seek every tiny detail that might help performance, whether that is diet, a training technique or the way we remember important details, for example set pieces. The aggregation of marginal gains has transformed approaches to to higher level sporting attainments. “

UCJC, which continues at the forefront of the revision of the traditional university model, opens these spaces with the aim of renewing university teaching, in line with the demands of a society that requires a different education. Collaborative learning, a culture of innovation, the management and analysis of data, the new role of students and teachers, the development of new methodologies such as flipped learning or gamification, will take place in these new teaching practice laboratories.

Environmental conditions that affect the concentration

The result is that the new UCJC spaces are at a temperature of between 18 to 21 degrees, since studies indicate that the performance in mathematics decreases when this figure exceeds 21 degrees.

As for light levels, they should be above 750 lumens to work with a computer and over 250 for conversations. In this sense, aspects such as what paint is used in this space have been taken into account. The paint used in the Learning and Design Labs reflects 40 percent more light.

The results of the investigations yielded information about the difficulties of concentrating when in an environment with over 72 decibels of noise. The Learning and Design labs also take into account these aspects in the configuration of some of their elements: for example, the slats surrounding the paired seats are arranged at such angles that the sound does not escape from the cubicle and, therefore, does not bother those around them. Also, some glass walls that delimit certain spaces, also have angles that ensure the sound does not bounce and expand throughout the space bothering other users.

In terms of air quality, it has been shown that when CO 2 exceeds 2000 parts per million, concentration and pulse decrease, which produces drowsiness.

New space, furniture and technology design

The spaces offer opportunities to learn through collaboration in pairs, direct instruction to the whole group, Harkness table, Skype connections with other universities and experts, quiet spaces for conversation in small groups or study, presentation to others – small and large groups – and, in addition, there are many opportunities to write on surfaces, from desks and surfaces of benches to the windows and, even, the screen.

In these spaces, practically all the furniture and resources are light enough to be moved, used and reused. The seats in the stands are for lectures where the lecturer addresses the whole group, whether they want to talk with all their students together for an initial explanation or for a plenary session at the end.

For students working in pairs, these spaces offer small shared tables and chairs that can be interlaced and combined, so that larger groups can be created.

For occasions in which a group of students, up to 8 people, want to connect or hold a video conference, they have Skype zones, each equipped with a screen, camera and microphone. They also serve to present content on a large screen to small groups.

The Harkness tables offer resources and the environment to encourage the group that sits around the table to debate in a soundproof environment. It is a good place to sit to explore a topic, where the teacher participates as a guide.

The 4-part benches can be used in many different ways: as a standing desk, as staggered seats or as a writing surface.

Many of the Learning Lab and Design Lab surfaces can be used for writing. For many educational reasons, glass can be used as a writing surface (with chalk window pens) on most desks and furniture surfaces with regular whiteboard pen, in addition to on smart screens.

Paired seats offer a quiet place to work with privacy, but not quietly. They isolate the surrounding activity and the vertical slats are designed so that the sound does not spread outwards and thus not disturb the rest.