Learning Space: A public fountain

a fountain on campus

This is the fountain between the Green Library and the Main Quad. The picture was taken on Wednesday afternoon, and the observation was done between 14:00 and 15:30. During the observation period, about 8 people (3 women and 5 men) came and sat around the fountain for a while (around 30 minutes or so on average), and then left.

What do Learners do there?

Generally speaking, learners did whatever suited their own plans at the fountain.

First a young girl sat reading, and after she left, another girl, wearing sunglasses on the top of her head, came and sat in the same place and started using her laptop.  A guy sat down a little distance from her and read a newspaper. He was wearing sunglasses and headphones. Another guy brought a book with him and sat on the opposite side from them (under the trees, in the shade). He took his shoes off and started to read a novel.  A third guy came and sat not too far from the guy reading the novel.  He looked around, and wrote (or possibly sketched) something in his notebook.  The guy with newspaper left, while a fourth guy came and sat between the two guys in the shade. He used his laptop, and coughed from time to time, loudly.  The girl with the sunglasses on her head left.  The bright side of the fountain was empty. The second guy put his shoes on and left with his novel, and then a third girl arrived and took his seat. She was also using her laptop. Later on, the coughing guy left too, and his seat was occupied by the fifth guy.  He took his shoes off too, and he was meditating with his hands folded and resting on his knees (legs crossed).

What is the environment like?

It is an open space where there are always people around, including students, faculty and staff, and visitors (especially tourists), who sometimes walk through/past it, take pictures with/around it, or they chat in the area. The fountain is big, and the water never stops. Actually, the sound of the water is so loud that you cannot really hear clearly what people walking by are talking about.

Two big stone benches surround the fountain. There are names on the stone. One side of the benches has shades from trees, and the other side is more exposed to the sunshine. It was a lovely afternoon. The sun was shining, and a light breeze was blowing. Sometimes, a little lady bug or an insect surprises the learner by appearing on the pages of their books, and sometimes the ringing bell reminds them to leave for something or somewhere.

How does it help people learn?

It’s an informal and open space, which invites everyone to come and go, do whatever they like.  The informality creates an absence of expectation which allows creativity and relaxed performance.

The sound of flowing water, the sunshine, and the breeze combined to provide a pleasant and natural setting which was very inviting, and the sound of water in particular actually provides a kind of white noise that helps people to concentrate and be productive.

The stone bench is so hard that one cannot really sit there for long; this likely increases the flow of people coming and leaving the space, but this may not be ideal for a learning environment.

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