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Working and Learning Spaces

September 14th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

office1

Here is the first of the series on working places as learning spaces, produced for the Institute of Education in London as a contribution to the  Lifelong Learning Hub (ASEM LLL Hub) international network.

I work for a small research and development company called Pontydysgu, based in Pontypridd in Wales. We have something like 14 employees, most of us part time, and living in Wales, England, Germany and Spain. Although we have two offices, in Pontypridd and in Bremen, Germany, most of us work from home. We make extensive use of technologies for day to day communication (that will be the subject of another picture).

I have two of what the Germans call ‘home offices’ in my two homes in Spain and Germany. I suppose these are the nearest I have to a ‘traditional’ working space.

The offices serve a number of purposes. One of the big advantages of working from home is that it does not take long to get to work (in one of my previous jobs I was travelling nearly three hours every day, to and from my official workplace). But there are downsides. One is that I am not careful I can end up working very long hours – another is that it is hard to get away from the work. At least with an office it is possible to escape form the clutter of work instruments and tools – papers, files, computer equipment, printers, stationary and so on. Secondly, the office provides a place to flee to avoid disturbing other people in my flat.

Neither office is really ideal – nor am I quite sure what an ideal office would look like. Certainly in summer both suffer from a surfeit of sunlight! But at least in my larger Bremen office, I have an old sofa and an Ikea chair for when I get fed up at sitting at the desk.

The big problem with an office I think – and this applies just as much if not more to working in an institutional environment – is social isolation. I used to work in an institution in the university in Bremen. It was a modern architect designed, environmentally friendly building. It certainly was not the breeze blog and concrete UK researchers have had to get used to. And in terms of learning probably one of the worst places I have worked. The blinds went up and down automatically according the not so intelligent decisions of the central computer. Lights were automatic too. In evenings if you did not move enough you were plunged into darkness. But worst was that although everyone had =very nice offices, the building had been designed without any social spaces (apart from two small kitchens). And it is in those (informal) social spaces where learning takes place.

There are similar downsides to working at home despite the ease of telecommunications. But I frequently move around the flat to different rooms and there is usually some kind of everyday social interaction, certainly with the environment, often with other people. Indeed, I noticed that in both of my offices I have a large computer screen but I rarely plug them in, preferring instead the mobility of a 11inch laptop. I have never really got used to playing music while I work (although I wish I had). But frequent social interaction somehow makes a working place more human and that interaction in turn helps social learning in one way or another. I think it is connectivity – being connected from the world of research and development to the wider world outside us.

 

 

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    News Bites

    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


    Teenagers online in the USA

    According to Pew Internet 95% of teenagers in the USA now report they have a smartphone or access to one. These mobile connections are in turn fueling more-persistent online activities: 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis.

    Roughly half (51%) of 13 to 17 year olds say they use Facebook, notably lower than the shares who use YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat.

    The survey also finds there is no clear consensus among teens about the effect that social media has on the lives of young people today. Minorities of teens describe that effect as mostly positive (31%) or mostly negative (24%), but the largest share (45%) says that effect has been neither positive nor negative.


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      We will be at Online Educa Berlin 2015. See the info above. The stream URL to play in your application is Stream URL or go to our new stream webpage here SoB Stream Page.

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