The Learning Zone at King’s Cross is a new intervention at Central Saint Martins. Since September 2012, 2 new learning zones (social learning spaces open to any UAL student) have been in operation, replacing the former facility at High Holborn. One is located in the library at Elephant and Castle, and the other is here on the fourth floor of the Granary Building. With space a premium and seven-day-a-week access, both aim to provide students with flexible, accessible and comfortable workspaces. David Bracegirdle is LZ@KX manager and spoke to us about his receptive, student-focused approach to the space, the range of technologies on offer and the importance of integrating digital and traditional resources.
The Learning Zone Concept
“The first Learning Zone was established in 2006 at Davies Street and I’m one of the few members of staff left who were there on day one. It was set up there as a social learning space, part of the Student Hub concept that was developed at the same time. The Hub was a one stop location for various functions like Student Services, the Student Union, Creative Careers, the Language Centre; we were an integral part of that vision as we offered an open access social learning space for any university student. The Learning Zone comprised comfortable furnishings, a flexible working space and digital and traditional resources sitting alongside a reference library collection of about seven or eight hundred books.
When we moved to High Holborn in 2010, much of the same concept was held over, except we had less space and so to a certain degree, students lost a lot of the flexibility that they had become used to. We found it more difficult because we ended up having more fixed desks, which worked against the original concept of the space.
New Learning Zones at King’s Cross and Elephant and Castle
We got the news in May 2012 that we had the possibility to develop 2 new learning zones; one here at King’s Cross and one in the library at Elephant and Castle. We worked with a wide range of people to swiftly plan everything to make sure the best new resources could be delivered by September 2012. What we planned for both new sites were the successful elements of Davies Street, enhanced by the lessons learnt in the less than ideal space we had at High Holborn.
For both Learning Zones we wanted to make flexible spaces where students could easily find a comfortable place to work. Here at King’s Cross we have a range of different seating options such as sofas, comfortable seats, plastic seats, benches, beanbags, and high-back sofas as well as working tables, which as much as possible, are on wheels and can be moved around. So the flexibility has been developed in terms of what we’ve configured with the furniture and what’s been quite nice to see is that students have been taking ownership by putting together the collection of furniture they want to sit on and use around various tables, so they feel it’s a place to suit them. We have 4 pods for group activities and presentation practice, and these can be reconfigured to suit different activities due to the flexible design and mobile interactive screens.
There are also things like the mobile table for people to do cutting on, a number of paper trimmers, light boxes and cutting mats that can all be moved around the room. If they’ve got their own laptops, they can access wireless. So wherever they sit in the room, they can normally work in groups using their own machines or borrowed Macs, PCs or iPads.
From ideas to execution – working holistically in the LZ
Students are encouraged to use both of the learning zones for the full range of project development, from idea conception, through to research, development and production activities. Obviously there are restrictions; we would find it impossible to support somebody welding or using aerosol paints… However, at King’s Cross we have already experienced a number of students constructing maquettes in the space, and that is absolutely fine. So the idea is to mix it up. If you’re doing layout work, developing ideas, working in groups to brainstorm, if you’re producing a portfolio or making small-scale maquettes, working digitally using our desktop Macs and PCs, you’ve got the opportunity to access various digital and physical resources. The range of activities you could undertake in essence could be from the moment of the development of the idea, through to full production of the end product. And of course, we’re also connected to CSM library, with a collection of hundreds of thousands of books and electronic resources.
Interfacing with technology
Going further into the digital and the traditional, one of the things that we’ve found with digital is that it’s really important that we offer different ways of interfacing with the technology. Technology is great if it offers benefits to it users; we aim to offer a choice of technology that works of the ways that our students need. We offer Macs and PCs, but we also offer loans of A5 and A4 Wacom tablets, track ball mice, ergonomic mice- the interface with a computer is just as important as a computer. We also have scanners and portable scanners that people can use with their own laptop, a range of A3 and A4 scanners and we’ve got two specialist Epson film ones that are optimised for photographers using film. There’s good quality HP LaserJet printers and we use high quality paper in the colour printers. We use a different print system (using white cards with gold chips) to CSM library, but this means that students have choice on this site, and the cards we use work in all the other Libraries across UAL. We provide a dedicated table with electronic height adjustment- so you can put it at a range of suitable heights. We also offer some assistive software, brainstorming software, and some assistive hardware (mobile hearing loop, large key keyboard amongst others).
Workshops and training
We will offer workshops and training in the learning zone. We have offered support sessions, or hosted them, since the first learning zone was established in 2006. The Learning Zone team at King’s Cross will offer targeted software support and the development of digital skills. We will also work closely with SEE (Student Employability and Enterprise) to provide or host sessions to enhance employability or enterprise ambitions, and we will work with student services, the Students’ Union, the Language Centre, Academic Support Services, Widening Participation and external partners to provide or host a range of study skills, time/budget management, language skills and other training and development opportunities. Our aim is to provide new support opportunities and additional access to existing support offers for students. Collaboration is a key principle for these sessions, as we can develop a richer offer, by meeting two sets of criteria.
Above all else at the Learning Zone, we try to adapt and be flexible and remain very student-focused. We know how important digital technologies are in most people’s lives, but as artists and designers there are still many hands-on material based activities that we need to do in order to make the best of the skills and ideas that we are developing. If creative people lose some of that flexibility, it’s going to take away many opportunities to use the right approach, to develop the right idea or the right product. Take books for example: I’ve gone to a number of conferences where academics have stated that books are dead; eBooks are the future. Well, a lot of the books we the UAL libraries offer are out of print, are physically large and are image-based. Many of these are never going to be released as electronic versions, many of these books offer a special experience because the physical object itself has as much meaning as the content that’s within in it. So the actual physical activity of going through the book, for many artists and designers, is still actually a joyful and necessary process. The meeting between digital and traditional environments in art and design still has to be respected, nurtured and encouraged, and the Learning Zones are modern facilities that allow this interaction to be nurtured.”