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Developing and reaffirming our universities as leading learning environments

30 November 2022

Vice-Chancellor Anders Hagfeldt, Uppsala University

Uppsala University, in close cooperation with the Coimbra Group Executive Board and the Education Innovation Working Group, recently hosted and organised the High-Level Seminar on education policy on the theme From Learning Spaces to Learning Environments. Coimbra Group Rectors and Vice-Rectors for Education, as well as Working Group members, gathered in Uppsala in the unusually warm November weather.

The two-day programme included presentations, workshops and engaged discussions concerning physical and virtual learning environments that may stimulate and facilitate the development of innovative, student-centred teaching and learning activities. The participants were introduced to several of Uppsala University’s wide range of learning environments, such as the Experimental Classroom at Campus Blåsenhus, an Active Learning Classroom at Campus Ångström and finally the University Main Building, built in the 1880s and still used for lectures. Last, but not least, we were happy to welcome our guests to Värmlands – one of the student nations, which play a fundamental part in student life at Uppsala!

As the first university in Sweden, Uppsala University is an institution with long traditions. But as time changes so does a university and the oldest tradition of them all within our walls is probably the tradition of change. The participants had the chance to experience this physically while visiting our diverse premises, which in turn led to a vibrant and sometimes lively discussion concerning the importance of a suitable physical environment. The engagement was intense throughout the programme, and the many ideas and suggestions collected during the seminar are still being analysed. They will serve as a point of departure for further work and collaboration. However, two points were more prominently highlighted by the seminar, and deserve to be mentioned as preliminary outcomes.

The Working Group’s presentations of different learning environments from all over the Coimbra Group community, and of the activities taking place in these spaces, were highly impressive in their diversity. Everyone stands to gain, as we learn from each other, and the creation of a network of practitioners was proposed as one possible way of strengthening this culture of sharing and collaboration.

Secondly, the three keynote speakers emphasised the need to assess – and to address – the post-pandemic situation. The pandemic made universities realise the potential of the online learning environment, yet it also sharpened our understanding of our campuses’ enduring importance. Right now, perhaps in consequence of this, our universities are facing demands for hybrid teaching and learning activities, combining campus and online elements. We need to think strategically, in order to develop and reaffirm our universities as leading learning environments. This aspect was also prominent during one of the workshops, which specifically linked the seminar’s themes to the ongoing work on the European Strategy for Universities.

In conclusion, the seminar served to illustrate well that tradition of innovation which is the hallmark of the Coimbra Group.