Discussion: The Classroom of Your Dreams

Michele’s post entitled The Classroom of Your Dreams has practical implications, since she has been tasked with developing a formal proposal to fund a Learning Commons in PCL. At present, the classrooms in PCL are in high demand, and there is no space that is suited to an active learning style for large seminars. Michele shared some figures that indicate growing demand for library instruction services. In 2012, there were 420 library instruction classes taught between PCL and Engineering.  Instruction statistics from the first half of 2013 are comparatively higher, just before the integration of Engineering into PCL, which will of course intensify the pressure on PCL’s facilities.

There was some lively discussion on no. 5 of Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know about Collaborative Learning Spaces relating to the involvement of faculty in the design of these spaces, and the resulting need to redesign their curricula. It can be difficult to alter the level of engagement with students during a library instruction session, particularly when the faculty member adopts a lecture style in the classroom. Some librarians responsible for instruction want to be in the stacks with students to show them the physical materials, but they also want to show them electronic resources on a screen that is larger than an iPad. A few of the articles under discussion support the theory that different learning spaces will change the way everyone behaves. If the students have their own white boards, and are arranged in pods around the instructor, that instructor will start to teach differently. That said, the instructor’s control is often sacrificed. It must be accepted that active learning classrooms, particularly the large ones, will be slightly rowdy, as students will need to take on the responsibility of animating small group discussions.

We didn’t get around to discussing square footage, but we did explore the idea of a large room (capacity 100) that could be partitioned into two or more spaces with the use of transparent room dividers on rollers. One of the challenges of designing such a space is  the considerable differences in enrollments between undergraduate (20-25 students per library instruction on average) and graduate courses (5-15 students).

These practical points were raised:

  • Lighting is sometimes a problem in the classrooms, but this is not hard to fix. Fluorescent bulbs can cause headaches and eyestrain, but if the lights are too low, students fall asleep.
  • Occasionally, there are problems with the wireless network in classrooms. Increasingly, students are using up their bandwidth allotment. The Learning Commons will need ethernet connections to plug in.
  • Build in the flexibility to use or not use technology. We want technology rich spaces, but we also want the option to shut them down. There are faculty members who conduct technology-free classes and do not wish to change this for the library instruction. The Learning Commons might be used to show off physical collections. We also want students to be able to do things in the space without being in front of their computers.
  • Demo style classrooms with giant computer monitors are not conducive to successful instruction sessions. The massive equipment and tables impede group work, and the instruction librarian feels like Bob Barker on The Price is Right when he/she crosses into the “audience” (only without the prize money…).
  • We don’t want to build a space that presupposes BYOD (bring your own device). We don’t want to exclude students who don’t have tablets or laptops to bring.

Regarding dreamy classrooms, these ideas were proposed:

  • Could we project different students’ screens onto a larger screen? This would allow students to demo a search, or share their work. This is not intended to keep them off Reddit or otherwise control what they are doing.
    • Mediascapes might support this idea of multiple users plugging in their devices and collaborating on a single or dual screen. There’s one in use in the Fine Arts Library (DFA 3.216), among others.
  • What kind of technology do we want in the Learning Commons? Flexible devices like Microsoft’s Surface?
  • Writing on tables with whiteboard tops?
  • How about tables in square or diamond shapes that can be arranged into larger shapes? Low, non-invasive tables would be especially welcome.

The integration of other services with the Learning Commons was also discussed. This would allow students to get their needs met without having to run all over campus.

  • Undergraduate Writing Center
  • Special events? Could this be a space that students reserve as well?
  • Sanger Learning Center (pop up tutoring)
  • Center for Teaching and Learning

We shelved the idea of a student focus group on the Learning Commons, since it might require an effort greater than the returns would warrant.

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