There is a saying in real-estate circles “location location location” and when you come down to it where one is can be very important. Recently Winchester has been judged the best place to live in the UK, see here, here and here. While Winchester is in no way immune to problems, as this blog mentioned and in other news, these are minor. There are a wide range of events and festivals based in the city, the Hat Fair is perhaps the best known internationally. It’s also a popular destination in any season whether for a specific event or just to walk around.
One thing that one almost continually encounters walking around campus are seats, often little clusters of seats. Using the buzzword of the day these are social learning spaces. Both inside and out, although much of the year here the outside ones are little used.
What is a social learning space you ask. Social learning spaces are spaces around the campus that are designed to facilitate, foster and promote social learning. See easy! Wait a second what do I mean by social learning? Social learning can be a formal part of assessment, a group project or presentation for example; it could be informal formative assessments, or other group activities in a seminar; it might also be a (usually brief) interlude in a lecture where students are asked to collaborate to answer a question, predict a response, think about a survey etc. But, all this implies that social learning happens in the classroom, while that is true it can also take place elsewhere, less formally and without any academic staff.
You are using social learning whenever you (or a friend/classmate):
- sliding into the back row, and whisper to a friend ‘What did I miss?’
- grabbing a coffee before class you ask ‘Did you get the reading?’
- leaving the lecture hall ‘do you think that’ll be on the exam?’
- arriving (early) to seminar you ask, ‘what was the name of the person mentioned last week’
- sitting around between classes you chat to classmates/friends about the final assignment and your progress (or lack thereof) on it.
So why does the University want to encourage and facilitate social learning? This in part goes back to how people learn and everyone learns differently. Some people are social learners meaning they learn better when they and colleagues can consider an idea, talk about it, discuss it and then make up their minds about it. (This is sometimes called co-constructing paradigms of knowledge). The opposite end of this spectrum are independent learners, at the extreme these are generally seen as people who read and experiment alone and outside of formal learning, following their interests or motivation. (Think of Leonardo DaVinci and similar scholars.) Even if you are this type you can still benefit from social learning though, once you’ve read what you need, you come up with an idea, you review and revise it, but at some point you need to share it to see if it works. This may be a much later engagement with social learning than those who start out by kicking a few ideas around with friends, but it is still there.
Still if this happens anyway why go to such lengths to promote it? If the campus is a reasonably pleasant place to spend time it is more likely more people will spend time around campus, rather than retreating to a dorm room, or going off campus between classes. Sounds simple doesn’t it. It’s not always. Some of the social learning spaces have replaced, or taken space that could be used for classrooms and offices, some have reduced (although not by much thanks to net book loans) the free available computers in some parts of the campus.
It can only really be because of a belief in the value of socially constructed and mediated knowledge, both as part of the formal learning process but also as a supporting element in research.