New Learning Centre on track for Jan. opening
By Colleen MacPherson
Combining and expanding the University’s efforts to improve both teaching and learning is moving forward on what is described as an aggressive timetable toward a concrete entity called the New Learning Centre (NLC).
With its mandate defined, its areas of activity outlined, a budget taking shape, and plans for major construction and renovation in the Main Library being drawn up, the NLC is headed for an opening date of January 2007, according to the man designated to “push this project forward.” Jim Greer, who is on administrative leave from the Department of Computer Science to head up the NLC steering committee, told a town hall meeting March 9 it has been “a bumpy road” since the centre was identified as a priority in the Integrated Plan, but the project “is an example, a demonstration of the University’s commitment to learning.”
Speaking to about 70 people, Greer said the impetus for the NLC came from several sources. One was a number of college plans, prepared as part of the IP process, that identified student learning as a priority. There have also been “loud cries” for the University to do more to improve teaching, he said, and the NLC connects in many ways with the University’s new Teaching and Learning Foundational Document as well as plans to realign the Extension Division.
“The University is a learning community,” Greer said, so the centre must “try to augment faculty to be better teachers and support students to be better learners.” That means coordinating existing programs, creating new ones, and capitalizing on innovations in both teaching and learning. There is also a need to engage in research on teaching and learning, “something I think we need to do more of at this University.”
The NLC vision for supporting students includes combining the existing Learning Commons, help desks and Writing Centre in one location – the Main Library – as well as adding a math centre, an expanded service learning program and opportunities for the enhancement of skills like studying, information literacy, and technology and communication. Greer called this the Centre for Student Success, a key ingredient in the NLC.
The centre will also dedicate space to what Greer termed “intellectual socialization” which will most likely take the form of a coffee shop.
Faculty and staff can expect to see an expanded mandate for the Gwenna Moss Teaching and Learning Centre to include instruction design services, and curriculum and program development. Greer said the steering committee believes the curriculum development expertise already available can be organized to provide consultation services across campus.
Tied to the NLC is a Centre for Research on University Teaching and Learning, which Greer sees “more as an invitation than a prescription” because the motivation will come from researchers themselves. There are already people at work in this area, “but it’s not a real focus.”
He went on to describe the three-step approach to constructing the NLC which will eventually occupy the majority of the ground and first floors of the library. Phase one is expected to be complete in January and a September 2007 date has been set for phase two. The time frame for the final phase is uncertain, he said, “and fundraising will be needed.”
Unfinished business for the project includes details of governance, budgets for both construction and operation, and staffing which he expects “will number closer to 10 than to 100.” However big the staff, Greer said they will be critical because the NLC “is going to live or die on its people.”
Following the presentation, Chemistry Professor Ron Steer asked why the distributed service option was rejected in favour of a centralized model for teaching and learning. “On behalf of the average joe faculty citizen”, Steer suggested resources need to be allocated to academic areas.
Greer responded by saying he supports decentralized models “whenever we can afford them.” The NLC will not have the space, people, expertise or budget to conduct all activities, he said, so it will support teaching and learning in all forms on campus. The centre “is not an attempt to usurp or take over existing programs (and) we will continue to lobby for as much decentralization as we can afford.”