Saturday, October 24, 2009

Places to study?

As part of my Russian trip, I went on a visit of the Moscow State University - built in the 1950s by Stalin (as one of his infamous Gothic skyscrapers) - which was designed as a self-contained campus with accommodation for 6, 000 students, on Sparrow Hills just to the south of the Moskva river.

I was taken around by students who were well aware of the building's history (it was built by prisoners), but also felt the importance of both remembering and continuing its ethos of good academic education. They showed us these original desks - still in use throughout and facing a traditional chalk blackborad - and said how much they were motivated by sitting where previous generations of scholars had learnt.

For some reason this reminded me of a recent summary of learning spaces at Cambridge University, written as part of the Learning Landscape project, funded by the Higher Education Academy. The learning experience at somewhere like Cambridge is just so different to, for example, one of the ex-polytechnics; both because of the postive echoes of its academic history and because of the range and type of spaces available across both accommodation (the Colleges) and university departments.

As author Dr. Catherine Howell writes, "Colleges are important to students because they provide a spectrum of critical study resources - including study space - within easy reach, and because they are learning and social communities. These communities are especially valued by undergraduate students in view of the study workload, the high-stakes assessment system and the relatively short Cambridge terms, all of which contribute to the '24-hour' work culture." (Howell 2008:4). For nme, this is yet another warning against the glib generalities of 'formal' versus 'informal' learning spaces.

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