Learning Commons as an Extension of the Classroom

Learning Commons as an Extension of the Classroom

by Kami Kinkaid, January 13, 2016

With contributions from Peter Pfau

For many educators, learning commons has become an extension of the classroom. Teachers are experiencing more flexibility with their curriculum because the learning commons spaces encourage collaboration and innovative aspects of learning. At the academic level, learning common spaces allow faculty to collaborate with library staff on course authorship, knowledge creation and scholarly communication.

For schools, learning commons’ flexibility in space provides students a level of control over their environment. It’s this flexibility that encourages learning by giving students more autonomy. The space contains moveable furniture and white boards, quiet spaces for reading and writing, and a place to be social. There’s also space for teaching.

More university libraries are embracing learning commons as a teaching facility, especially with the rise of technology. The James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University has received international recognition for its innovative learning commons. The Hunt Library, which opened in 2013 and is dedicated to the school’s engineering campus, features advanced technology and aims for its students to have a highly intellectual and social experience. In support of teaching, the library features high-definition visualization walls, green screens, a video game lab, two 3D printers, a laser cutter and writable surfaces on walls and tables. Another futuristic design component of the Hunt Library, there aren’t any books—that you can see. Books are transported from hidden archives through a robotic book delivery system called “bookBot.”

“A great library inspires—its architecture and technology create spaces that encourage collaboration, reflection, creativity, and awe. At the core of the vision for the Hunt Library is the ability for our students, faculty, and partners to immerse themselves in interactive computing, multimedia creation, and large-scale visualization—tools that are enabling revolutionary ways to see and use information,” says the Hunt Library’s website.

In our expansion of the San Francisco Friends School, an independent K-8 Quaker educational tradition-based school, the faculty uses its new learning commons as an extension of their classrooms in several ways. There is now flexibility to allow small-group collaborative opportunities for book groups and writing labs. The outdoor deck provides the ability to study linear equations by dropping stuffed animals and dolls off the deck. Another class used the layout of the room to study geometry and area calculations. With the ability to set up self-directed project space and as an extension of the classroom, the design for the project allowed the learning commons to become an academic and social hub where the school’s community wants to be. By creating a light-filled, flexible space for the school, the faculty could build on their unique pedagogical philosophy and embrace a design that encourages lifelong learning.

We are interested to hear how learning commons are being used in other schools. If you have a learning commons at your school, how is it used as an extension of the classroom?

On January 23rd, Kami will join Pfau Long principal Dwight Long, Head of The Willows Community School Lisa Rosenstein, and Elizabeth DuPuis, Associate University Librarian for Educational Initiatives & User Services Director of Doe, Moffitt, and the Subject Specialty Libraries UC Berkeley at the California Association of Independent School’s Trustee/School Head Conference to discuss the evolution of the traditional library to the learning commons library. We hope you will join us for the conversation.

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