“We call it the Student Learning Centre because we learn from students and they learn from one another.”
When we began planning Ryerson’s new Student Learning Centre (SLC) in 2008, we’d done a lot of research on students’ study behaviour, gathered from many different sources.
We tested assumptions with students in many ways. Even our architects interviewed students on the street to gain insight on their needs. We also gathered ideas from visiting other campuses. We took a small group of students to Montreal to see these ideas in place in several settings, and to judge their reactions. That day, the somewhat bemused group evolved into thoroughly engaged students, excited at the prospect of such an initiative at Ryerson.
We visited two major new digital libraries – the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University and the Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary – to learn about their own planning. That’s where, for example, we saw study supplies being sold in vending machines and tested the idea on our own students.
We held town halls, focus groups and table top surveys. All the feedback was consistent with our research, which found that at least 2,000 study seats were needed to address the cramped and inadequate library space. And given that many of our students commute long distances, space was needed for learning outside of class, working on group projects, silent space for individual study, student academic support services and sometimes just somewhere to relax during a long day.
Among other findings: a need for lots of light; flexibility to reconfigure spaces in the future as usage changes; wireless and power outlets throughout; space for experimenting with digital media; vending machines for staples like chargers, tape, paperclips, and batteries; water bottle filling stations; and a space that built pride and a sense of belonging to the Ryerson community.
A furniture fair allowed students to try out and vote on various types of furniture. Over the seven years of the project, subcommittees of students were formed to undertake specific roles such as developing principles for the building, as well as reviewing and adapting policies for everything from collaborative workroom bookings to special events.
When we first opened the doors on February 23, 2015, students flooded into the space. They intuitively knew what each floor was designed for and picked their favourite spots. Within a few hours it was full. In a letter to me, a student talked about “a sense of welcome” in the SLC. She told me that she spends almost every day on campus now that she has a place to go. We wanted to keep the students on campus outside of class to help their learning experience and build community. We wanted to give students a central, universal place where ‘productive collisions’ can happen between students and faculty who might not meet in a siloed environment.
Has it all worked? No. When you have an architect, a design consultant, an AV consultant and a furniture/fixtures/equipment consultant, they don’t always work together seamlessly. We’ve had to do some retrofitting of group work rooms where the furniture layout, screens and cabling fought with one another. We put writeable surface white board paint on one wall, but students wrote on all walls. Some tables could be written on – students assumed all tables could be written on. The clamour for space on campus means we are constantly fielding demands for the seminar rooms. I’m learning how many student run study groups, from midterm prep to job interview prep… We’ve been open eight months now, and we’re still tweaking. I don’t know that it will ever stop. But the buzz is all about students working, discussing, sharing, peer teaching, and thoroughly engaged in what they are doing. That is music to my ears. No shushing here.
Madeleine Lefebvre is the chief librarian at Ryerson University.
Madeleine is one of over 60 speakers at HEQCO’s upcoming conference. Register now.
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