Dean's Update – Thinking about Spaces for Learning

Dean's Update – Thinking about Spaces for Learning
Jenny James Lee
April 3, 2013

[The Dean's Update is a column introducing each issue of the Libraries' monthly e-newsletter In Circulation.]

How does space, beyond classrooms and labs, influence learning? Measuring and explaining this has been the challenge our leadership team faces as we attempt to determine how the Libraries can gauge its contribution to the University’s strategic plan, specifically in the areas of academic excellence and improvement of the student experience.

This is a challenging question for which no commonly accepted practices or standards apply.

Compared to peer institutions, Drexel is undersized in its allocated spaces for informal learning environments. There is an opportunity, however, that Drexel’s transformation of the modern university calls for different metrics to design and manage informal spaces to enhance learning. Designing Drexel informal learning environments challenges us to determine what contributes to support the occupant of such spaces to master competencies needed for lifelong learning.

Drexel’s Co-Op and the emerging draw of global engagement, place many of our students away from the Philadelphia campus. Furthermore, as authoritative information needed for their academic work is increasingly available through digital channels, and individuals can access such materials from where they work, students less frequently need to go to collections housed within the library. In response to these major changes, the Libraries aims to redefine the physical spaces needed to house some of its collections in order to improve environments for self-directed learning, with convenient guidance and resources.

Recently, architects from Kling Stubbins provided a plan of how W. W. Hagerty Library could be renovated for individuals to do the work of focused learning. Working with this design team, the Libraries identified ways to improve the facility as a learning environment. The resulting vision includes increased access to natural light, greater flexibility and transparency through moveable glass walls, centralized security and access to a variety of learning spaces. Ease of access to experts is another challenge addressed by creating workspaces to group librarians and staff and to work with campus partners to coach learners. These concept plans are available online. Construction drawings, cost estimates, obtaining funding and approving implementation are all yet to be done, but there is general excitement of possibly adding 300 seats to this very popular learning environment.

Meanwhile, librarians are extending the distributed model of the library by embedding their expertise in the physical spaces where students work, providing consultation and guidance. Other work has been completed to modify existing spaces to encourage collaborative learning, including the Research Connections and Drexel Student Learning Priorities rooms.

This quarter we expect to continue to see heavy use of the Libraries’ spaces. But we also are systematically monitoring the use and trying new approaches by which the learning environments enhance learning. I welcome any ideas or projects that may help us achieve these goals.

Danuta A. Nitecki
Dean of Libraries