Collaborative learning spaces

An innovative student centred approach to effective learning at Derby University has led to the development of interactive learning spaces

The University of Derby is a modern, innovative education provider with a clear vision for the future. Having moved up 24 places in The Guardian University Guide 2013, the university is firmly focused on continuing this upward trend by offering students experiential learning opportunities which is closely linked to the world of work.


Seeking new ways to learn which stimulate and encourage student participation, the Institute for Learning Enhancement and Innovation (LEI) was created to ensure a high-quality student focused learning experience. Simon Birkett, Technology-Enhanced Learning Manager for the LEI, spearheading the new learning spaces initiative, works in partnership with IT Services and Estates to ensure the design of learning spaces meets the academic needs of the University but is efficiently and effectively managed in a sustainable way. He states: “Higher education is highly competitive, it is imperative that we demonstrate to prospective students that we understand their needs and can provide the facilities which are conducive to the ways in which they want to learn.”


The Learning Curve is the latest such development, a flexible, technology rich space, designed to be used before and after formal teaching by small groups of students, it continues to transform the way Derby University designs and delivers innovation in learning spaces. Located in the Atrium, the social hub of the University, the Learning Curve at Kedleston Road is an extension of this social environment with coffee lounge areas leading through to a number of adaptable learning spaces. Each of six ‘pods’ comprise a large NEC touchscreen display mounted on a moveable table, enabling the space to be reconfigured as required and for all members of a working party to have full access to view and touch the screen. With true multi-touch capability that supports up to five touch points, students find the touch control highly intuitive, controlling the content as they would a tablet device.

AVM Impact, a Solution Partner of NEC Display Solutions, is the AV integrator who worked closely with Simon Birkett to ensure Derby’s objectives were met. Simon Hutchinson, Northern Account Manager at AVM Impact says: “We have an established relationship with NEC and are confident in the quality and performance of the brand. In specifying NEC touchscreens for this installation we were assured that Derby would receive the best possible reliability and the equipment would fit well into Simon’s aim to create adaptive working spaces. The multi-touch displays come with free DisplayNote software so Derby can take collaborative learning to the next level as the learning spaces initiative evolves.”


The redesigned spaces offer the opportunity to learn and teach in very different ways. For many, this approach represents a radical change in higher education with a greater focus on group active learning rather than a teacher lead didactic approach. Derby is following a student-led strategy in line with its aim to put the student at the centre of all they do, with the result that students are motivated to learn through interaction with other students.

The success at Kedleston Road, the adaptability of the space and the ways it is used, will lead on to further developments and Simon Birkett is currently evaluating the use of DisplayNote software which will enable students to collaborate through their own tablet devices, sharing content and annotations on the multi-touch displays and other connected devices.