Campus Life

Study Centre a pilot for other projects

Universities and experiments go hand-in-hand. Rats and mazes, however, likely come to mind well before furnishings and interior design.

The experiment in question is part of the University of Lethbridge's Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project, designed to not only attract new students to the University but also provide existing students every support possible to help them graduate. In the case of a new 24-Hour Study Centre, the goal is to find the proper combination of furnishings and technology to meet the learning and study needs of today's students.

The original concept of the centre called for major renovations or the creation of an entirely new space, says Brenda Mathenia, a member of the Learning Commons Space Subject Matter Team (SMT). Upon further review, however, the group has put forward a smaller, pilot project that uses an existing space. The idea is that it will provide the best means to find out what students want and need in a 24-Hour Study Centre.

Using an evidence-based design, the SMT has moved new, more flexible furnishings into the former study area adjacent to the University Hall Atrium, and will now observe how the space is being utilized and what might be missing.

"It's hard to ask students 'what do you want' when they have no concept of what's available," says Mathenia, associate University librarian. "We all know you can't please everybody all the time, but that's all part of the learning process – looking at what we didn't get quite right."

The atrium study area previously offered only long study tables for group work and a number of old-fashioned carrels for more private studying. The SMT looked at what a number of other universities were offering for study areas and found today's students demand a greater variety of options. She says there's a desire to retain some "alone space" but they also want to provide options where classmates can pull up alongside one another and collaborate.

"Students learn in a totally different way today than from when I was an undergrad," says Mathenia. "It seems students need a combination of quiet, noisy, group, individual, social and casual spaces for their entire educational experience."

While a different location for the 24-Hour Study Centre was contemplated, they decided it was best to revamp the existing area in the atrium.

"There's not really another space readily available and centrally located. It's a known space, there's heavy traffic and to be quite frank, it was in dire need of updating anyways," says Mathenia.

The changes began the last day of exams in December. The carrels were removed and a bar-height counter was installed to better accommodate students popping in and out to use the computers between classes. Also added were tables arranged in pods to accommodate multiple students huddled around one computer.

The space also has flat, sturdy tables that can easily be moved around, and at one end is a SMART Board interactive whiteboard on a cart that allows students the ability to work on a variety of projects. The space also boasts a flat-screen LCD display where students could connect a laptop and share their work with others.

There are soft-seating areas with low, comfortable chairs and coffee tables with whiteboards on top for jotting down notes, as well as large, rolling whiteboards, which can be used to create a buffer or a working wall to gather around.

"As we saw in the library, there's a lot of formal group work happening with students, as well as informal gatherings. There's a real social aspect to learning," says Mathenia.
There are plans to introduce an assistance desk in the 24-Hour Study Centre, with a proctor of sorts offering assistance with technology or referrals to other campus services. Mathenia says the introduction of Peer Assisted Technology and Support Students (PATSS) in the library this past spring has been a great success and they could be utilized to work the assistance desk on a rotational basis. She says the concept of students helping students has been well received.

"They understand the concept of customer service," says Mathenia. "They may not have the answer to every question but they should be able to help them find someone who does."

The newly reworked 24-Hour Study Centre space opened Jan. 10. As studying picks up throughout the term, the SMT will actively observe how students are utilizing the space.

The information they gather from the project will then be used to further modify the atrium space and assist with the development of future study centres in other areas of the campus.