QMU plans Outdoor Learning Hub to bring people together in nature

An outdoor learning hub, which will present outstanding opportunities for the local community, teachers and people across Scotland to come together in natural environments, is to be built at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

The new Outdoor Learning Hub will support sustainable access to the natural world for the University’s staff and students, local community and Scotland’s teaching professionals.  Taking the form of an all-weather outdoor space, the Hub will be located within the attractive leafy grounds of the University’s campus in Musselburgh, East Lothian and designed in an environmentally sensitive way by landscape architects Wardell Armstrong. 

The Outdoor Learning Hub will be a space to connect people to each other and different natural habitats. It will also be a place to support teachers and leaders in the evolving area of outdoor learning, with various courses leading to professional qualifications.  The facility will also encompass a digital element allowing learners from all over the country to connect with University academics and groups, to support learning in different outdoor environments.

Patrick Boxall, Lecturer in Initial Teacher Education at Queen Margaret University, is leading the project. He explained: “During the challenges of the pandemic, many people have re-connected with local outdoor places and have seen benefits for their mental and physical health, as well as appreciating the beauty and wonder of the natural world. Being outdoors gives us a multitude of rich and diverse experiences and learning opportunities, and we have been keen to embrace this in the University’s teaching programmes. 

“As a society, we need to connect with our environment and commit to educating children, adult learners and leaders about the importance of nature and our place within it. The natural world is central to our lives as human beings and has immeasurable positive impact on our health, well-being and the sustainability of our planet. As educators we need to see the outdoors as a place to nurture our wellbeing, for creative learning across the curriculum, community connection and leadership development. 

That’s why we are embedding outdoor learning in our teacher education courses at both undergraduate level on our BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary), and at postgraduate level on our PGDE Secondary (Home Economics).” 

Patrick confirmed: “We are now extending this commitment to outdoor learning by creating the Outdoor Learning Hub on campus. We are preparing different outdoor learning spaces and are excited about the opportunities that these and the Hub will be able to offer our own students, staff, the local community, and educators across Scotland. We are also ambitious in our use of digital platforms to extend the Hub’s learning opportunities to educators, community groups and professional partners in Scotland and beyond. The Hub will become a place to connect people and communities, to enhance our well-being, and a space for creative learning, research and professional development.”  

The project is being delivered through collaboration with Architecture & Design Scotland, Scotland’s design champion. Danny Hunter, Principal Architect at A&DS commented: “We are delighted to be supporting QMU with the creation of the Outdoor Learning Hub. The project will create a centre for local and national engagement in outdoor learning practice, leadership, and professional developmentIt will equip current and future teachers, community educators and volunteer leaders with the knowledge and skillset to confidently use outdoor spaces and places to enhance the learner journey of young people across Scotland.” 

The University is keen to maximise use of the new Hub and has plans for other academic specialisms, such as drama and performing arts, to benefit from the space and facilities.  

Dr Olivia Sagan, Head of Division of Psychology, Sociology & Education at Queen Margaret University, said: “We are very excited to be working with our partners to create this important facility which we hope will be a valuable resource to the communities of the Lothians, and indeed Scotland. We owe it to our emerging generations to equip them with the knowledge they need to understand, enjoy and protect the natural world. But to do that, we need to equip the teaching profession with the skills to support young people in meaningful interactions with nature. We hope our new Outdoor Learning Hub will help facilitate more people of all ages in deriving the benefits associated with outdoor pursuits, and that they develop a love of nature and an understanding of its vital role in our wellbeing.” 

The Landscape Architecture team at Wardell Armstrong will be working closely with the charity Learning Through Landscapes (LTL), on the design of the Outdoor Learning Hub. LTL is the national school grounds charity which champions outdoor learning and play for children.  

Natalie Murray from Wardell Armstrong said: “We are absolutely delighted to be working with QMU on such a forward thinking and aspirational project. As the benefits of outdoor learning rightly become increasingly recognised as an important part of the school curriculum, it’s fantastic to see this translating across to support young teachers in helping bring this knowledge and experience with them on their journey. Our team aspiration is for the Hub to not only offer a great teaching and learning space, but for it also to become a platform for collaboration, campus experience and a place for the students to experience the benefits of being close to nature.” 

The project planning is already well underway, with a stakeholder consultation planned for September. The design and development will progress quickly over the coming year.  

Source: Queen Margaret University

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European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

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