The Ins and Outs of Leaning

The Ins and Outs
of Learning

A university campus is undoubtedly a place of learning but how students interact within it—inside and outside the classroom—is determined by a combination of design thinking, natural landscape and organic socialization. Although UBC has a long history of formal learning spaces (e.g. construction of the Science building began in 1913), the idea of intentionally designed informal spaces is relatively new.

Jeff Miller, senior associate director, Flexible Learning Initiative at UBC, says that an informal learning space does not directly translate to mean casual or relaxed: “The creation of these spaces on campus is a way to acknowledge that real work is being done beyond the traditional learning space of the classroom. These spaces are about habitability: the beautiful pathways, the creation of new public spaces, the opening of new common spaces, the fusion of both academic teaching and social spaces, the proliferation of food outlets and cafes—all of these speak to livability at UBC.”

With learning now possible everywhere—fluidly shape-shifting from analog to digital, seamlessly morphing across multiple platforms, distribution points, and settings—the campus itself needs to map to that behavior and support it. According to Steven Lee, Facilities Planner, Infrastructure Development, it is not simply a matter of information being transferred from point A to point B: “There’s an atmosphere of collaboration—instructors learn from students, students learn from each other—and we want to support that in order to improve levels of engagement and the quality of learning experiences wherever they are interacting with UBC.”

Discover some of the places at UBC where organic interaction, inspired teamwork, and engaged learning are happening outside the classroom and see how UBC students are truly making it theirs.

Collegia: Home Away From Home

For many years, UBC’s Vancouver campus has been known as a ‘commuter campus’, with the majority of students making the daily trek out to Point Grey for classes and then at day’s end, beginning the long journey home.

There is now a concerted effort at the university to change this paradigm and invest in creating exceptional campus experiences for commuter students. With the development of the Vancouver Collegia Program, which opened its doors in September 2013 and is modeled after the Okanagan campus Collegia Program that opened in 2009, there is a new space for students to call their own.

The concept of a collegium is not new. It dates back to ancient Rome, when local tradesmen got together to discuss particular regional issues. A collegium allowed for a social life within the enormity of the Roman Empire and each collegium, with its particular rules and customs, offered an informal means of support for tradesmen to exchange techniques and ideas within a safe distance of the Senate.

Similarly, the campus collegium at UBC provides commuter students with a place to gather as a community and with a deeper sense of belonging on what can be for undergraduates, a dauntingly large campus. For those facing long commutes, the comforts of home such as mid-day naps, preparing snacks with their own food or lounging with friends makes their course loads a little lighter. It’s also having a healthy effect on their learning.


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It might seem overreaching to say that this place saved my first year–but it did! I made so many amazing friends and I saved money by bringing food from home. The advisors treated us like family and even made pancakes. Collegia helped me focus less on my social stress and more on my academic workload.”

— Derrick Gravener, second-year student, Sociology and Creative Writing

But the success of the Collegia program has revealed that students are not just using it is a pit-stop between classes—they are actively learning from one another, with peer-to-peer coaching and multi-cultural conversations (and insights) springing up in organic ways as students share their life on campus throughout the academic year.


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Collegia members tend to do homework/school assignments together in the space. This organically grows into peer-to-peer learning or peer academic coaching. It’s very common to see members reading/editing each other’s essays, explaining math problem sets or talking over a lab assignment. The Collegia advisors, our student staff, also help provide this type of academic support. We make sure to have good faculty representation in our student staff as well, so that members can seek support from upper year peers in their own faculty.”

— Woo Kim, Student Development Officer, Programs

The Collegia space aesthetic is wholly about ‘the student’—each collegium is purpose-built to empathize with students’ needs, create a sanctuary to study in, and foster interaction and relationships. The model for the UBC Collegia program may have ancient traditions to thank but it is an entirely modern approach to student life and learning.

Step into the Collegia Programs on both UBC campuses and explore why hundreds of commuter students have found a home away from home at UBC.

  • UBC Collegia
  • UBC Collegia
  • UBC Collegia
  • UBC Collegia
  • UBC Collegia

Long Table Conversations

The long table, used for centuries by families to gather, break bread, and share their day is proving to be just as popular with students in its modern-day iteration as the central focal point of Koerner’s Pub. Students sit next to UBC staff and faculty, collaborating with classmates, sharing meals, and if the mood comes over them, shooting some pool.

After a much-needed renovation, the pub officially reopened in October 2013 and has become a chosen campus hangout ever since. UBC alumnus Tim Yu is behind the vision for the redesign and crafted each of the pub’s long tables—a key focal point in the space—by hand.

Informal communal encounters across disciplines tend to happen at Koerner’s. General manager Brittany Yu believes that the intentional design of the long tables “really encourages students to mix and be social. It’s cool to see very different groups of students from different faculties and backgrounds sparking up conversations and making new friends.”

On-campus social spaces offer more than a chance to test a flight of new beers—they offer students definitive places when they can choose to interact and aggregate around an idea or shared interest, open up to new people, and hopefully gain a deeper sense of community in the process.

Caitlin Funk, 5th-year English Honours and French Minor, who is also a front of house supervisor, trainer and server at Koerner’s, is inspired by the conversations that organically spring up between people who sit across the table from one another, who may or may not have arrived together or belong to the same faculty but connect over a shared passion or interest.

“I get inspired when I chat with others about what they’re passionate about,” says Funk. “Do you have any notion of how awesome it is to chat with someone who is so unbelievably passionate about what they do, that their eyes sparkle and they can’t help but smile as they tell you about it? Goodness, I hope you do.”

Long-table conversations offer a sense of inclusiveness, where undergraduates and graduates alike can see a different world view—even if it’s just over lunch, or observing from over the top of a book—and find that learning can take the shape of time spent with friends.

  • UBC Koerner
  • UBC Koerner
  • UBC Koerner
  • UBC Koerner
  • UBC Koerner

Treehouse Learning

In lives suffused with digital data, the Macmillan Bloedel atrium in the Forestry Sciences Centre offers a unique experience that provides an immediate poultice for the hurried mind. The ceiling of the open atrium space is four stories high, buttressed with exposed wood beams that act like soaring branches above. Real, living trees set in the floor give the overall effect of a soothing forest-like sanctuary.

With three levels to choose from, students can work collaboratively at a long table or escape to the Treehouse, a raised platform with a small working space for focused study. Comfortable, cushy chair groupings are dotted throughout the atrium and with a Tim Horton’s right next door, it is no wonder the space is popular with undergraduates and graduate students alike.

There are nuanced, meaningful design elements throughout the space that allow choice and flexibility for configuring personal learning space needs that, together with the inspiring Parallam tree-column design, create a highly unique learning environment that is both functional and not a little breathtaking.

Peter Jamieson, strategic advisor, Learning Environment Design, University of Melbourne, has been designing learning spaces for students and faculty around the world for 17 years. He cites the Macmillan Bloedel atrium as an example of an innovative learning space:


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So as you travel through the atrium, there’s a sense of journey through the space. You can’t necessarily see everybody. There’s a sense of mystery about it. You can work in groups but still be connected to them because you can still physically see people who come into the space. It’s a terrific project. It’s a really inspiring space.”

— Peter Jamieson, Strategic Advisor, Learning Environment Design, University of Melbourne

This fall Jamieson will join Simon Bates, academic director, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at UBC, to deliver the “Reshaping the Campus Experience: Learning Environment Workshop” here at UBC, November 3-7. The workshop will address the need to rethink and reshape the campus to develop suitable learning spaces as universities confront an array of technological and pedagogical challenges.

The new thinking about student-learning environments is creating what Jodi Scott, Senior Planner, Infrastructure Development describes as “a buzz in the air. Everyone is open to it and asking how they can get involved. We’re open to making changes, which is the first step.”

  • UBC Treehouse
  • UBC Treehouse
  • UBC Treehouse
  • UBC Treehouse
  • UBC Treehouse

The focus at UBC is less on the university as an enclave—a closed community difficult to get to and easy to leave—but rather on creating a vibrant, connected place that invites students, staff, faculty and the broader community to live and learn with a shared goal of a more collaborative future.

One could say that wherever the student is, the university is. But the unique value of a physical place for students to learn is that there is a social, peer-to-peer experience that cannot be downloaded to consume later—it is of the moment, in the moment, now.

Jamieson sees the value of being present with one another–whether inside or outside the classroom—as having critical value to the student experience:

“Students should be enriched by being present with their learning peers who are equally bright, interested, and motivated. You should gain the benefit of being involved, engaged and learning with and from those other students who are part of your class. They should be the most fundamental learning resource in the room. We need to construct opportunities for that to happen, and we need to create environments where that’s happening all of the time.”

Long after students have left campus, they will retain memories of the place that will not be categorized into classrooms or as informal or formal–their memories will be in a myriad of colours, friends’ faces, walks to class in the early morning or that one inspiring prof they wished they could have had every year of their degree. It is the connections, relationships and face-to-face experiences that create the bond students have to their university. Where they lived for a period of time, where they shared, and where they learned.


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Not all learning happens from a textbook or in a classroom and not all learning is serious or laborious. Sometimes learning is making a new friend who has a fresh perspective and different passions. I was inspired to start my company, take a course outside UBC, and take a new course at Sauder, after meeting a friend of a friend at Boulevard, a coffee shop on campus… but the conversation didn’t start with a resume swap or a syllabus. It started with, ‘So, what do you watch on Netflix?'”

— Kinsey Powell, BCom student with an option in Entrepreneurship