Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning Spaces Conversation

This conversation about learning spaces from the 2008 EDUCAUSE Conference is well worth a listen. Participants in this 35 minute podcast:
  • Joan Lippincott, Associate Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information
  • Clare C. van den Blink, Assistant Director, Academic Technology Services & User Support, CIT, Cornell University
  • Martin Lewis, Director of Library Services & University Librarian, Sheffield University, UK
  • Crit Stuart, Director, Research Teaching and Learning, Association of Research Libraries
  • Lauren Brady, IT Space Coordinator, Missouri University of Science and Technology
The speakers discuss some common issues that are familiar to many of us, but they also offer new ideas and left me with more things to think on further. I've summarized a few themes from the podcast with my own comments:

Beautiful spaces alone won't do it. We should know this already. Pretty furniture and new paint don't make the commons. Services do, people do.

Beautiful spaces are nonetheless an important part of it. This includes aspects like a good location, a view (thank goodness we have video windows), food, comfortable furniture that can easily be rearranged. We hear this often, I say this often, and it's true: everything should be on wheels. More importantly, we should not create a space based solely on our experience or our desires--to be successful, you have to involve students in your ongoing design process. This leads into my next point...

Big people don't necessarily know what students need or how they work. (Some of my colleagues refer to ourselves as "the big people." I suppose there are worse ways to generalize the non-student population.) Anyway, "the big people" need to get out more often and talk to students. Talk to front line staff, particularly student assistants. Student assistants can give you two perspectives: as an employee but also as a student user of the space. Listen to what they say, consider their suggestions. In addition to talking with students, simply observe the space in use. And don't observe 8 am - 5 pm. Too often "the big people" make that mistake. I cover night shifts here and there during the semester, but I also make it a point to visit at night during dead week/finals week to see how things are working during peak usage.

These are just a few of the things I've been thinking about since listening to the podcast. So go ahead, check it out!

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