This is the first in a series of posts reviewing frameworks supporting learning space design.
System: Learning Space Rating System (LSRS)
LSRS aims to provide a means of measuring the potential performance of a learning space. This is done through scoring a learning space against a set of 51 criteria covering a broad range of topics ranging from policy alignment to technological infrastructure and support. The current version of LSRS focuses on formal learning spaces, but the intent is to broaden this scope in future versions.
LSRS was inspired by green building rating systems, such as BREEAM, and has clearly been set up with the intent of enabling a method of ranking and accrediting spaces in an objectified way. To do this LSRS has a broad scope of criteria categorised in 6 sections:
- Integration with Campus Context
- Planning and Design Process
- Support and Operations
- Environmental Quality
- Layout and furnishings
- Tools and Technology
The scope of the categories has clearly been designed with an understanding of the complexity of learning space design. While the physical space is certainly the most extensive and detailed section there is also attention for factors such as timetabling and alignment with pedagogic strategies.
The idea of accreditation is interesting I think, and might be a way to articulate values other then students per square meters to senior administrators when the decisions are being made. There are however also some methodological tensions. Capturing technical criteria such as environmental performance in an objective score is relatively straightforward. The value of a pedagogic space very much lies in how it mediates social processes. This mediation depends on many factors such as a sense of agency in users, and other qualities that don’t lend themselves to easy objectification. Meaningful engagement in design processes, for instance, is crucial, but not easy to capture in a score that requires ‘stakeholder involvement’. Ticking the box is one thing, actually creating a sense of agency with users is potentially quite another.
Another weakness in the current version lies in the lack of tangible guidance. While the list of topics is broad, there is very little practical usable advise in many of the categories, aside from the layout and furniture section. I hope and expect this first version is a structure that will be filled out in more detail with future iterations. In it’s current state it reminds me a bit of my favourite illustrated guide to drawing owls (see picture).
That being said, some detail has been added in particular to the section on space design itself. Details on recommended density, sizes of working surfaces for different kinds of spaces are tangible enough. There isn’t much information about the underpinnings of these values, or support for the categories of space advocated. I would personally be very interested to get a bit more references and context for those specific choices in future versions.
All in all this seems like a promising idea, be it with some inherent risks. I’ll be watching the further development with interest. If you do have any thoughts on LSRS, there is a form for you to feed your thoughts into the future development of the system. Please take some time to fill it out and help the authors.