Friday, 4 May 2012

Nanyang Technological University - Learning Commons

Nanyang Technological University – Learning Commons

Another day in Singapore and another thunderstorm, but fortunately, another university designed in such a way that movement between buildings can be undertaken easily and in the dry.

The Lee Wee Nam Library is Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) flagship Library.  It houses the Engineering and Science Collections

Library image from NTU website
My meeting was scheduled to commence in the newly refurbished Librarian’s Offices.

The Librarian’s Offices have recently been refurbished and include a new multi media boardroom and Library Training Room.

New multi-media board room
The board room has dual projection and smartboard facilities.  Laptops can be connected to the systems via input plates located in the table, but in order to ensure that the table top is left clear, the input plates are located at various points underneath the table top.

Input plates beneath table top
Up to 4 laptops can be connected into the data projection system and switched via a touch screen panel.

The room also has video conference capabilities.

Video conference capability
The recently upgraded Library training room has been upgraded with 30 fixed PCs for library training and other workshops.  The layout has been changed from straight to curved rows. 

Library Training Room
The side walls are glass to provide additional writing surfaces. 

A black strip runs down the wall to denote the presence of a step to prevent accidents, the chairs have wheels and are stackable

The Lee Wee Nam Library
The University is relatively young, and subject disciplines are growing rapidly, as is the demand for space for collections and reading places.  New spaces to accommodate group and collaborative learning are also being demanded by students.  This has created a challenge for the Library to create a balance between the demands for the physical collection (not everything is available as “E”) and student study spaces.

The Library is a 5 story building, with many of the study facilities located around the perimeter of the building.
Example of floor layout
Study spaces on the mezzanine floor
The Library reviews spaces within the 7 university libraries regularly to identify opportunities to repurpose spaces to create added value.  As a result of the heavier component of group based work in the university, they quickly identified that the University did not have any well equipped discussion spaces for the students to use after classes ended.  A survey identified that students studied at the University first (classes), home next and last choice was to go to the library, and this was often because the students had a problem they needed assistance with.

Using the “Cool Campus Budget”, the Library identified a small (300 square metres) space to create an experimental Learning Commons.

The space was transformed to provide: Learning Pods, Multi-media PCs, a recording room, video wall and digital newspapers.

 Learning Pods

6  Learning Pods have been created, 3 of which are located close to the IT Help Desk.

IT Helpdesk with pods 1 to 3 behind
Learning Pod
Pods 1 to 3 are equipped with 42 inch LCD monitors and PCs

Learning Pods 1 to 3 have fixed tables and movable stools
The pods have individual light switches and inputs for the students to use their own devices

Learning Pods 4 to 6 are located by the Recording room and are equipped with 48 inch Smart Boards

Learning Pods 3 to 6 with Smart Boards
The tables here are reconfigurable for the students to create layouts to suit their needs.

Tables designed by library staff
All of the Learning Pods have blue glass writing panels which are also magnetic and conventional whiteboards.

When booked, the students check in at the Help Desk and are issued with a pack which includes writing pens and equipment use instructions.

Multi-Monitor and Touchscreen PC Workstations

PC workstations have been set up in 3 different configurations:
4 stations have 2 screens, 4 stations have 3 screens and 3 stations have touch screen PCs

Unit with 3 screen PC arrangement
View of 2 screen PC workstations with Learning Pods behind
Touch Screen PC workstation 
Touch Screen PC
The multi-monitors provide a bigger screen surface and the option to open up more applications all at one go. The PC workstations are equipped with ‘Pinnacle’ software for video editing. 
Recording Room
This is a small room providing students with access to audio and video recording facilities quickly and conveniently.
Recording Room with green screen in the corner
The Recording room is fully equipped with recording equipment, a green screen and chroma key software.
Familiar Lectern from Korea!
There is a fully equipped "e-lectern" for student use.
Video Wall
The video wall is located in between the learning pods.  It comprises of 4 x 46 inch LCD monitors
Video Wall
Displays include information about the digital resources and facilities provided by the library.
Sound Dome
There are 8 sound domes suspended from the ceiling to project sound from the video wall, minimizing sound spillage into other areas.  The area has intentionally not been enclosed because it is used by Student Societies and other groups for various events.  This is a nice free open space that attracts a lot of attention when events are being held.
Digital Newspapers
Digital Newspaper station
There are 3 digital newspaper readers at the Commons. The LCD screens are interactive, 
allowing users to flip pages and browse digital editions of newspapers.
Topical, a page from the Straits Times!
The Learning Commons has been open for approximately one year, and the Library has undertaken an evaluation of the impact of the space on students, their learning and their use of the Library.
The results show overwhelmingly that the Learning Commons, although small, has had a huge impact upon student behaviour, and as a result the Library is now seen as the first destination for study facilities.
In view of this success, and, taking into account the student feedback, the Library has created a second, and larger, Learning Commons in the Business School Library.
The Business Library Learning Commons.
Entrance to the Business Library
The Business Library Learning Commons is a much larger facility and includes other services seen to provide added value to the students.

The design of the space is meant to mirror that of a railway carriage.

Windows "reflecting" those found in a railway carriage
The Business Lounge

Immediately inside the entrance can be found the Business Lounge. This is a small space set up in an informal manner for students to access Bloomberg resources that are not freely available on the internet.

Glazed screen to the Business Lounge
Students are able to come here and work and/or met with others over a drink as tea and coffee facilities are available to them.

Informal business lounge
The Learning commons is located on the lower ground floor and houses a large number of open access PCs for general use, with both single and dual screens.

View into the Learning Commons from the upper level
A further 6 study pods have been in created, and in response to student feedback, the pods are larger to accommodate larger group sizes

New, larger Learning Pods
Also in response to student feedback, the LCD screens have been replaced by Smart Boards in all the pods

Learning Pod with adjustable lighting
The Cinema Room

Next to the study pods is the Cinema room, used by students to both create and view their presentations and videos.

This is quite a “cool” room with some nice features.

Nice, comfy furniture and ceiling with twinkling lights
Unit to house equipment and LCD Screen
This space is sound proof and can be used for larger groups to study if not in use for video related activities

New Student Services.

An area, the Careers Research Corner has been created to enable students to have access to a wide range of resources when considering their career choices

Careers Research Corner
Here students can search databases for jobs on dedicated PCs. Appointments with advisors can be made and informal discussions held in the small open meeting area alongside, or students can simply use the space and resources to prepare for interviews.

Meeting Corner
Also in this area is a Language Learning Centre

Language Learning Resources
Which consists of a library of open access language resources

additional resources for self paced language learning
Students can help themselves to the resources and use them in the suite of small rooms provided for quiet study

Sound proofed study booths 
Facilities inside the booths
The library will continue to monitor and evaluate the use of these spaces in order to ensure that they continue to meet the student’s needs both now and in the future

View from the Learning Commons to the upper levels

Again, there are many more interesting things to talk about here at NTU, but space and time don't allow!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

National University of Singapore – UTown

Town Green, NUS UTown

UTown is a new campus for the National University of Singapore (NUS) and opened it’s doors to Students a the start of this academic year in August 2011.

It is located close to the NUS main campus, and although separated by a large trunk road, both campuses are joined via a vehicle and pedestrian bridge.

UTown has been developed to create a new educational hub that includes teaching facilities, study facilities and residences, for both UG and PG students.  It is home to a resident population from over 60 countries and is based in some measure on the collegiate style of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.

Although much accommodation is still under construction, UTown has already established itself as a lively intellectual, social and cultural environment that puts excellence in teaching and learning at its heart.

View from the Education Resource Centre across the Town Green
My meeting was scheduled to start at the Educational Resource Centre, located at the heart of the campus and which is the place for students to interact, have access to a wide range of technology including a high level of support in using that technology, and spaces to collaborate.

The Education Resource Centre
The Education Resource Centre (ERC) operates on a 24/7 basis during term time

It is a completely revolutionary concept for the University, as all other learning and teaching spaces for students are held and managed by individual schools and faculties.  This is the first opportunity to create a pool of centrally managed spaces, equipped to a common standard and delivering new standards of support to the students and staff.

As I arrived quite early for the meeting, I started to explore and soon found the “Learning Café” which was open and serving coffee.

External area of Learning Cafe
The Learning Café consists of 2 areas, a large covered external area and a more traditional café with a Starbucks outlet serving the usual range of drinks and snacks.

Although it was still quite early, a number of staff and students were using both areas.

Learning Cafe, view of outlet
Learning Cafe
Although there were some MACs provided in the space, most people were using their own devices, plenty of power had been provided for this purpose.

Power for mobile devices
A familiar scenario with floor boxes
I was delighted to find that my host is a graduate of Aston University, and knows Birmingham very well.

My host is the Director of the Centre for Instructional Technology, which includes all aspects of IT Services.  The Audio Visual function is part of the Centre, but is kept as a separate and distinct team, providing key AV services to the ERC and it’s facilities.  We were joined by the AV Manager, (who I noted has a BA in TV & Film).

The ERC is a really interesting design, and I found that we were traveling through internal and external spaces almost seamlessly.  Everywhere is covered, to protect people from the rain, but a room would lead to a balcony and back to a room again.

External space
We started the tour by looking at the Auditorium,

This is a 200 seat lecture theatre which has been built using recycled wood for the internal walls, the design and construction of UTown has been undertaken to be as environmental friendly as possible as is reported to be the University's "greenest building".

Lecture theatre with recycled wood for improved sound proofing
Power to every seat
This room has 3 projectors, for dual projection and for when in use as a theatre for video screening.

The glass writing wall at the front of the room has an interesting dual purpose,

Two of the panels can slide out of the way to expose windows which open up the room to the corridor outside.

Balcony and corridor for functions and events
However, staff and students find that even with the lights down, there is too much reflection on the glass to make them really usable for any length of time, and so a mobile whiteboard has been brought into the theatre for use as required

Mobile whiteboard agains detail of wood finish
The design of the building has had to accommodate 3 very old trees which were included at the centre of the building, unfortunately, during construction, one of the trees was then struck by lightening and lost despite the care taken by the design team.

Protected trees accommodated in the design
Surrounding the trees are various areas for sitting and working

Granite table and stools with integrated power
External Amphitheatre 
The Study

The wirelessly enabled study consists of a large number of individual study and research spaces in a quieter environment than those of the social and collaborative spaces.

This is the final week of examinations for these students, so we had to make as little noise as possible in this extremely quiet study room,

Study carrels
The study carrels were a very nice design and not only had plenty of space for students to work with a range of resources, but had power for devises and individual light switches

Alternative furniture
A range of spaces and furniture is available to suit most student’s needs

Comfy furniture, not in use at this time, but usually popular
View from the study to the learning space outside

Learning Corridors

The external spaces are all set up for social interaction and study and are called “learning corridors”.  Their purpose is to ensure that seamless collaboration can be undertaken anywhere in the ERC with access to power, wireless network, mobile whiteboards, and in some areas, “quick access “PC’s

One of the Learning Corridors
The columns provide both lighting and access to power

Power embedded in column
This space is open on 2 sides, but PCs and printers located here

This outside space can be used not only by groups
of students but also by teachers leading classes
This external classroom also includes a fixed white board for active discussions, and is outside the PC Commons

The Computing Commons

The Education Resource Centre has two Computing Commons.  One with PC and one with Macintosh  computers, both of which are all open to NUS Students 24/7.

Each of these spaces has it’s own unique and distinct designs, both include a range of breakout spaces and study rooms.

PC Commons

View from the external classroom
PC Commons
The PC Commons is housed in a very large space with generous space to enable students to reconfigure loose furniture to suit them.

The equipment in the project rooms include
touch screen technology
Other than the project rooms around the internal edge of the room, there are no permanent partitions to divide the space.  Rather, extremely nice and interesting structures have been created to provide semi-private collaborative working spaces.

Collaborative rooms inside the "Birdcages"
507 table with whiteboard surface for group working, not area in centre for pens and board rubber

MAC Commons

The MAC Commons also combines project rooms, generous spaces to work and movable furniture.

Three leaf clover shaped tables with 6 MACs
with view of the project rooms

Range of furniture
Mobile equipment for presentation
Again, a range of collaborative pods have been provided using free standing screens.

Movable furniture taken to the comfy window seating.
Also shows more views of the outside
In addition to the project rooms and equipment available for students, there are also Video Conference codecs and visualisers available for loan from the “XChange” 

The XChange is the on site office where NUS IT Care support is provided for the whole of UTown.  The IT Helpdesk is staffed during “normal” working hours and is located at the entrance of  a suite of facilities to provide students with access to develop their multimedia and video projects in a professional setting.

The Suite includes a Presentation space that doubles up as a Video Recording studio and a 45 seat Viewing theatre.  It is easily convertible as it has a bank of  retractable seating. 

Retractable seating in the Presentation Room
The presentation space is supported by an adjoining Visualisation Suite for audio-video post production and documentation services. 
Presentation Studio
For Students who want to prepare for presentations, do voice overs etc. there are two recording booths equipped with video, audio and teleprompter recording facilities.

The staff in the XChange provide training and support to students using the facilities.

Only one picture of the presentation suite from the web!


There are a number of classrooms located at the ERC and fall into three main categories:

The Global Learning Seminar Room:  A space we couldn’t enter as it was being prepared for an examination, but one which has been set up as a highly interactive room to facilitate lectures not only between the various NUS sites, but also with other sites overseas.  It is equipped with wireless microphones, mobile furniture and dual projection systems

The Active Learning Seminar Room: A technology enhanced seminar rooms set up to support project and enquiry based group discussion and class presentations.

Collaborative Group workstations
although technology rich, these rooms can also be used without technology.

The screens are motorised and can be located in the
desk when not required
Staff, located in the centre of the room,

Teacher located in the centre of the room
 … are able to take presentations from the group’s LCD screens and display to the rest of the class o the large projection screen for class discussion

Basic Seminar Rooms:  although described as basic, all of these room have full presention systems with a PC and data projector  The furniture is movable to allow the staff to change the layouts to suit their style of teaching, and this alone is new and inovative for teaching at NUS

Teachers station, not a formal lectern

Reconfigurable furniture and a whole wall for writing

Other movable furniture, the large LCD screen is provided as a
confidence monitor for the teacher.

Crestron equipment control
There are also two “Learning Node Seminar Room” using the Node chairs from Steelcase (which some of us are now starting to experiment with)

Node chairs
This seating enables the layout to avoid the ubiquitous column!

These chairs also give staff a range of options for layouts to suit both teaching and group discussions.

There is just so much to see and talk about on this new campus, that I can’t cover it all, but there is one last, innovative feature that I want to share.

Teaching staff at UTown are often moving between campuses to teach, so in recognition of this, a new “Faculty Lounge” has been created.

This is a dedicated space for staff to use between lectures and includes comfortable seating, space to interact with colleagues, a kitchen and space to use computers.

Whiteboard, kitchen and printing facilities for staff

Furniture to relax in 

Locker space for personal belongings
At the end of this tour, I was taken to visit the Main Library on the main campus, followed by a trip to the beautiful heritage building in town which is the home of the Law Faculty, these are stories for another day.

The Law Faculty