Sunday, July 31, 2016

ANU New Residential Halls

artist impression of ANU new Tuckwell residential halls
The Australian National University has released an artist's impression of the new residential halls, linked to the Tuckwell Scholarship Program. The university community, including alumni, are being invited to comment.

Medium Height Buildings

From the artist's impression of the buildings, they appear to be four to seven stories high, which is in keeping with the scale of the campus. Some of the mature tree on campus are this height, so that the residential buildings will not dominate. In 2014 at University of British Columbia,  Vancouver Campus, for a conference I stayed on the 17th floor of the Walter Gage Student Residence. This provided a magnificent view of Vancouver Harbor, but these towers are out of scale with their surroundings.

Make the Hall Multi-purpose

artist impression of ANU new dining hallWith the dining hall, the architect appears to be recreating an Oxbridge college in white concrete, with rows of columns and artworks above, like medieval banners. The dining hall is a large space at a college, which is unused for much of the day, so I suggest foregoing tradition and making it multi-purpose. 

The columns of the dining hall could be omitted to make a simple, functional, rectangular box. The walls can then be equipped with display screens. The tables can be in semi-circular segments, with flip-tops and wheels (as used at the University of Canberra Inspire Center). This would allow the room to be used for conferences and for teaching. In particular it could be used as a TEAL Teaching Room, for modern blended, flipped education techniques. Jubilee College at Hong Kong Open University has an excellent Multi-purpose Hall. This was used for plenary sessions of the Second International Conference on Open and Flexible Education (ICOFE 2015) and then in the evening transformed into the conference dinner venue.

The apparent mass of ANU's building could be reduced by locating the dining room partly underground, as done for the Auditorium of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge (UK), venue for plenaries of the the 10th International Conference on Computer Science and  Education (ICCSE 2015). Providing a view for a dining hall or meeting room is unnecessary, as those in attendance are focused on the food, or the speaker (and windows need to be covered to use projection equipment). The Fitzwilliam auditorium has removable stepped seating, but this mechanical complexity can be replaced by the use of projection screens at ANU. The dining room could be made more lively, by locating the common and teaching rooms on a mezzanine at ground level above, in a similar to the University of Canberra's Teaching and Learning Commons which is above the refectory.

The hall could be used for multiple small classes simultaneously. The conventional way to do this is with movable walls, dividing the space up. An alternative is to divide the room aurally, as is done in the X-lab at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney. Directional loudspeakers are used to deliver audio to selected parts of the lab, while video is directed to the student's workstations, allowing multiple classes simultaneously in one room. A lower cost alternative which could be to have students use their mobile device to receive the video and listen through a headphones, using the same webinar software as for remote access. Designated areas of the hall could be reserved for particular classes, while others in the room remain undisturbed.

Rooms for Short Stay Blended Learning

The artist's impression of the bedrooms in the new buildings are suitably modest in size. There is a revolution in the way higher education is provided now taking place. By the time the new buildings are completed a typical university student will be on campus for only about 20% of their studies, with 80% on-line away from the campus. As a result accommodation will be mostly needed for short stays, of weeks at a time, not months. The rooms can therefore be smaller, with less facilities, and more like a hotel room.

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