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Innovation for learning at UiA gets millions in funding for building

Centre for Learning and Teaching (SLU) will become a joint physical and virtual learning space serving instructors and students at the university. John Olav Bjørnestad is employed as SLU leader.

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Alle er svært fornøyd med at Kunnskapsdepartementet har tildelt UiA 5,5 millioner kroner til Senter for læring og undervisning (SLU). Politikerne fra tre av regjeringspartiene kom innom universitetsbiblioteket, der senteret skal inn etter ombygging (i bakgrunnen) da nyheten ble kjent. Fra venstre viserektor for undervisning Astrid Birgitte Eggen, Melina Danica Vuline fra Agder Fremskrittsparti, leder av Studentorganisasjonen i Agder Benedicte Nordlie, Jacob Handegard fra Venstre, Renate Hægeland fra Høyre og påtroppende SLU-leder John Olav Bjørnestad.
Everybody is very pleased with the NOK 5.5 million grant from the Ministry of Education and Research to the Centre for Learning and Teaching (SLU). Politicians from three of the ruling parties visited the university library where the centre will be placed after renovation when the news was made known. From left Vice Rector for Education Astrid Birgitte Eggen, Melina Danica Vuline from Agder Progress Party, leader of the Agder Student Union Benedicte Nordlie, Jacob Handegard from the Liberal Party, Renate Hægeland from the Conservative Party and the new SLU leader John Olav Bjørnestad.

The Ministry of Education and Research awarded NOK 5.5 million in funding to the centre. UiA contributes with the same amount. The goal is for the centre to be completed by autumn.

‘We have been moving towards this goal through our strategy work for four years’, an excited vice rector for education, Astrid Birgitte Eggen, says.  

At the forefront of education

The funds from the Ministry of Education and Research give us the opportunity to create a centre combining services to students and staff.

‘Here we want to position UiA at the forefront of education. Staff and students have the same needs in various contexts, and many students possess knowledge staff may find useful. We are very pleased with this allocation; however, we know there will be obstacles along the way’, Eggen says.

Mutual learning is key to the teaching method of the future, according to the vice rector, who is also professor of pedagogy.

‘SLU arrives at the right time. We know that the universities are at a turning point; now, the quality of  teaching is as important as research. National institutions help us understand this’, rector for education Eggen says. 

‘UiA is already at the forefront of education, that is the reason students wish to come here’, Benedicte Nordlie, leader of Agder Student Union, says. ‘SLU aims to get both students and teachers out of their comfort zones, to help them reinvent themselves and break free of traditional teaching methods. Here, the students will see the value of being active. One of the advantages at UiA is that students have already been asked to give advice, and they have been heard.’

Inspired by Toronto

The new centre for learning and teaching is inspired by the University of Toronto in Canada and the way they organise and work with learning and teaching there. The university, which has approximately 90,000 students, is a so-called collegiate university consisting of 12 colleges, all of which have their own character and history, and which are spread across three campuses in Toronto.

The university is perhaps primarily known for its focus on bachelor programmes with a positive learning environment.

‘The University of Toronto has, like UiA, a wish and an ambition to be at the forefront of education. That is why the new centre for learning and development we now establish is important, both to the students, but also to our teachers,’ Astrid Birgitte Engen says.

The vice rector for education recently visited Toronto together with a delegation representing the management at UiA, students and others. The purpose of the visit was to see how the university works with teaching and education through separate learning centres there. 

‘It was very instructive to both see and hear. Particularly valuable to us now was to see the structural adjustments they have made to buildings to accommodate for the learning environment of the future. Much of what we saw will be considered when planning our new centre’, she says.

A member of the delegation to Toronto was Jacob Handegard, a student of political science, but also politician for the Liberal Party.

‘We saw that physical aspects had a great effect, simple things like round tables and more complex things like digital devices for instance. The fact that UiA accomplishes this while implementing practices is very good’, Handegard thinks.

I TORONTO: Delegasjonen fra UiA fotografert i Toronto. F.v.: Ingrid Galtung, Jørn Varhaug (bak), Stephen Seiler, Astrid Birgitte Eggen, Andreas Gravdahl, senterleder Carol Rolheiser, Jesper Christian Mørch, Lillian Egelandsaa, Janne Strøm-Fladstad, Jacob Handegard (bak), Thomas Gjesteland, Solveig Roland Svendsberget, Frank Reichert og senternestleder Megan Burnett. (Foto: Privat)

IN TORONTO: The delegation from UiA photographed in Toronto. From left: Ingrid Galtung, Jørn Varhaug (in the back), Stephen Seiler, Astrid Birgitte Eggen, Andreas Gravdahl, Centre Director Carol Rolheiser, Jesper Christian Mørch, Lillian Egelandsaa, Janne Strøm-Fladstad, Jacob Handegard (in the back), Thomas Gjesteland, Solveig Roland Svendsberget, Frank Reichert and Associate Director Megan Burnett. (Photo: Private)

Good instructors

The newly appointed centre leader John Olav Bjørnestad makes clear that there are several ideas for cooperation that will drive SLU forward, but he is particularly concerned with engaging the faculties.

‘We need to get in touch with the good instructors so we can use them at the centre. We need to get the good teachers to impart their knowledge of teaching’, Bjørnestad says.

Creating motivation is most important to make both students and staff queue up to join.

‘Having a great space is not sufficient, there must be captivating content as well’, the SLU leader maintains.

The goal is that SLU will contribute to increased interaction between students and staff, improved learning outcome, better conditions for a good psychosocial learning environment. SLU will be an important step in finding good solutions for the school rooms of the future, the application states.

Centre for Learning and Teaching (SLU) was established by the university board in October 2018, see board meeting minutes 115/18 (attachment 5 LUF Report 3). In the attachment, the contents of the SLU are elaborately described. The intention is to start the physical renovation of the premises in autumn 2019.

SLU-sjefen og SLU-gjengen som kunne være til stede: Fra venstre fersk SLU-sjef John Olav Bjørnestad, bibliotekdirektør og vikarierende PULS-leder Jesper Mørch, Ann Kristin Skjølingstad, Edward Milsom, Petter Mathisen og Martin Gaustad – alle fra nåværende PULS. Bjørnestad tiltrer allerede 1. juni. Den første tiden blir preget av kunnskapsoverføring for Bjørnestads del - innlæring av PULS-kunnskap fra Jesper Mørch og utlæring av Forskerforbundet der han i dag er hovedtillitsvalgt. Her må han avvikle engasjementer og prosjekter han deltar i, slik at kalenderen er rimelig full framover, konstaterte han under presentasjonen.

The SLU leader and SLU members who were present: From left SLU leader John Olav Bjørnestad, Library Director and substitute director of PULS Jesper Mørch, Ann Kristin Skjølingstad, Edward Milsom, Petter Mathisen and Martin Gaustad – all presently PULS employees. Bjørnestad starts already on 1 June. To begin with Bjørnestad will focus on transfer of knowledge - learning about PULS from Jesper Mørch and imparting knowledge to the Norwegian Association of Researchers where he is chief employee representative today. He has to retire from commitments and projects he participates in, so his schedule is full, he concluded during the presentation.

For students and academic staff

SLU will continue to develop services and activities that promote learning and skills development among students and academic staff at the university.

UiA wants to encourage students and staff to share experiences and knowledge with each other, and in this way utilise the synergies that arise by creating a common physical and virtual learning space.

‘As far as UiA knows, this is unique in higher education globally. UiA has the ambition to be at the forefront of education and believes that such a centre is an instrument to this effect’, the application states.

Receiving NOK 5.5 million

The total cost of the project is calculated to be NOK 12 million, and UiA applied the Ministry of Education and Research for half the funds, 6 million. The allocation was NOK 5.5 million, an amount that was matched by UiA.

The government allocated all in all NOK 161 million for the renovation of educational facilities – 25 million for the new universities and colleges, while the four old universities and NMBU at Ås share 136 million. See the press release from the Ministry of Education and Research (in Norwegian).

SLU fits exactly the intentions of the fund the allocation is drawn from: ‘Funds for the renovation and adjustment of existing research and educational spaces’. The centre will be located where the university library is today, closely linked to the library and UiA’s first line support providing everything from switchboard to IT services.

SLU and the support services will be united, something which will give added value to both parties. The first line support will be rebuilt by semester start 12 August, while the renovation for the Centre for Learning and Teaching starts this autumn.

Parallel with this work, UiA and the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property are looking into the learning environment of the future as they prepare a campus development plan. This is a large assignment aiming to tailor buildings and outdoor areas to new learning methods and future needs. SLU will be part of this process.

Learning and skills development

To ensure that the Centre for Learning and Teaching will give students the best possible learning support and offer academic staff the opportunity to improve the quality of their teaching, the centre will be built in three parts. This is how it was described in the allocation application:

An academic and social learning space

This space will be used for workshops, courses and talks for staff and students. UiA wants courses and lectures to have a holistic perspective that both develops academic skills and provides life skills. In the final category, we envision talks on the transition from secondary school to university, and from university to work for instance. In addition to various technology solutions, UiA wants to furnish the room flexibly as this room will have many different uses. The design will be in line with so-called active learning spaces which are future-oriented environments which embed interactivity and participative learning to ensure maximum learning outcome. Beyond the learning aspect, this space will encourage socialising and help realise the goal of improving the psychosocial learning environment at UiA. The cost estimate for this space is NOK 4 million.    

Student workshop with counselling rooms

SLU will contain a student workshop offering mathematical, reading and writing skills focusing both on general and subject-specific academic guidance, a drop-in service to aid with the use of digital devices, courses for student assistants, a mentor scheme for students whose first language is not Norwegian. As part of the student workshop, counselling rooms in various sizes can be used for both individual and group counselling. Depending on the number of rooms, the cost estimate for such a space will be NOK 3-4 million.

Learning laboratory

The intention behind this space is research-based testing of teaching and learning methods. A modern learning laboratory will lay the groundwork for outstanding teaching and an optimal learning environment through student-staff interactions. This results in improved learning outcomes for students and advancement of research-based teaching for academic staff. The cost estimate for this space is NOK 4 million.