Guelph Learning Commons exciting, accessible
The U of S and its Library’s leadership are committed to developing a Learning Commons – a “new learning centre” as the Integrated Plan calls it.
But just how to design and build that is a complex task so the U of S brought in one of the country’s leading university learning-centre creators for advice on what a Learning Commons might look like here.
Michael Ridley, the University of Guelph’s Chief Librarian and Chief Information Officer, spoke to 90 people in Place Riel Theatre Jan. 13. He said while a Learning Commons is a physical place, it’s actually much more.
“It’s transformational for universities and libraries. The Learning Commons really is the university – it’s as much a philosophy and an attitude towards learning support as it is a physical place.”
At its root, obviously, a Learning Commons means putting a new focus on learning – and “it puts the learner at the centre of everything it does.”
Ridley said when the University of Guelph began to create a Learning Commons five years ago, it looked at how it was supporting learning back then.
Its strategic directions said it was a “learner-centred” university, but its various groups supporting learners were spread widely across campus, many were closed on weekends and other times convenient for students, and there was often no electronic access.
“They were all over campus and had poor accessibility.”
The decision was made to, as much as possible, consolidate services and make the learning support services “common, convenient and accessible,” Ridley said.
The natural location for the Learning Commons was the Library and Guelph brought many related services either right into, or right next to the Library, including:
Ridley says Guelph staffed the Learning Commons with librarians, educational experts, information technology resource people, library assistants, faculty, graduate students, and undergrad students as peer helpers. There are 800 peer helpers at U. Guelph.
Since libraries are transforming, with more electronic resources and relatively fewer collection stacks, Ridley says they are faced with what to do with a bit of new, extra space. Guelph turned the main area in its Library into the Learning Commons, right inside the front entrance.
Its key features include: integrated service desks (bringing different people together for “one-stop service to students”); provision of peer student helpers and establishing learning groups; 400 desktop computers for student use and 100 laptop computers available for loan; and “food, drink and noise”.
Ridley says the Learning Commons has become a centre for all types of learning-related activity – for supported learning groups, for peer-run courses, and for the University’s academic integrity initiative.
“It’s a wild and crazy place and it’s fun. This is a place where learning is going on. It’s become a destination.”
One key is accessibility, and Ridley says the University of Guelph’s Library is open from 7 a.m.–2 a.m. every day and most services of the Learning Commons are available on evenings and weekends.
So, he notices that “now, many faculty come in, not to get resources, but because they want to meet with a student or a group of students.”
Ridley says his University put together the Learning Commons “on a shoestring” of $250,000 initially, plus about $50,000–$100,000 per year for renovations and new staff.
U of S Provost and Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson said after Ridley’s talk that there will likely be a Saturday retreat in March or April for campus stakeholders to react to some initial proposals for a Learning Commons here.
Atkinson says Guelph is considered the leader in Canada on Learning Commons, and Ridley told him he thinks the U of S can go even further than it did with the concept of a learner-centred environment.