Sam Walker: Exploring Space at the University

Samuel Walker is a Teaching Space Development Intern in IS and has been documenting the currently installed AV and IT equipment across 400+ teaching spaces to maintain service quality for the tens of thousands of students who will be using those facilities in the near future. Having studied in the quaint town of Shrewsbury, he has far grander plans, looking beyond the stars with a degree in Astrophysics.



I remember when I first found about this internship –

– browsing through MyCareerHub looking for a job over summer. Immediately, I knew that this was an interesting and unique opportunity for me to get to know my university better, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.

My internship is with Learning Spaces Technology (LST) within the Learning Teaching and Web branch of the Information Services Group here at Edinburgh. LST oversees the maintenance and upkeep of a frankly astonishing number of teaching spaces all throughout the university, from the ECA to New College, from Central to King’s Buildings. As the LST Development Intern, my job is to survey every single one of these teaching spaces, taking photos and filling out a dauntingly massive spreadsheet, to let the department know the current state of the audio-visual equipment (computers, projectors, microphones, basically any technology you find in a teaching space) in all of their rooms.

But why?

A university is only as good as its teaching spaces, and I made this logo of the uni out of some of the photos of the rooms I’ve taken on my internship to represent that.

Well, the condition of the equipment in a room can degrade substantially over an academic year’s worth of constant use, so my survey can help to identify immediate problems – broken projector screens or microphones, for example – which haven’t already been reported to the department.

More importantly, knowing what tech is present in a room allows LST to plan a long-term renovation program, replacing the older outdated tech with more contemporary hardware, and sometimes rethinking the setup of a room entirely. On one hand, this can be quite a routine practice – notice that a room has a manual projector, plan to get it replaced with an electronic projector, for example – but often it can be substantially more creative.

As an example of this, one morning during my first week of the internship, my supervisors took me to an area on the second floor of Appleton – one of my supervisors had wanted to adapt the space for a while, to turn it into a useful space for students to gather in and briefly work on ideas between classes, and wanted to ask my opinion alongside that of another intern with the Estates department, Carol, who has a similar job to me, but looking more at the fixtures and fittings (tables, chairs, walls etc.) of a room.

My supervisor explained to us her idea for the space, and how much it frustrated her that every time she saw it in its current state it simply wasn’t getting used. We talked for a while about how the space could be improved, perhaps basing it on similar spaces in JCMB, and then, just like that, it was decided to put an interactive screen on one wall and a fixed whiteboard on the other. I haven’t yet had any more updates on this, but as far as I know this is still going ahead.

It’s strange to know that, even through a short 15-minute conversation such as this, I have made such an impact on the university. If it goes ahead, that tech will stay in Appleton for (at least) several years, and that fact that I had something to do with that is bizarre. It can sometimes feel, studying at the university, like we are merely passing through the teaching spaces we use, taking advantage of a space that we otherwise have no control over, but thanks to my internship I now know that that’s far from the truth.

If there is one thing I’d like the reader to take home from this blog post it’s this: teaching spaces belong to the students and staff who use them, there is a whole department out there dedicated to making them the best they can possibly be for the whole university, and it’s a department I’m proud to be working for.

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