Technology has made information a 24/7 proposition. William Jewel College, decided to extend this concept to the school library.
In August 2013, the college opened its Pryor Learning Commons, a 26,000 square-foot space with cutting-edge A/V technology designed to make the commons an interactive and highly collaborative locus for students and teachers. The space includes wireless learning environments, video conferencing facilities and studios for presentations and media productions.
Work on the Pryor Learning Commons (PLC) began in January 2012, led by college provost Dr. Anne Dema, Joe Nickell, design consultant with systems integrator AV+Design and GouldEvans architects. The team worked together to develop technology strategies and designs for the PLC. The end result is A/V technology deployed in both formal and informal learning areas as well as building wide for branding and communications. Digital signage throughout the library displays messages for the campus community along with wayfinding and social media.
Two main collaborative spaces use video displays and audio to support collaboration-based educational strategies as developed in the Scale Up Project, and the PAIR-up Model, a model developed by the University of Minnesota that encourages students to work in pairs to ensure full participation. The rooms support independent huddle groups that can also join together to operate as a single system for the room. One classroom also supports video streaming, conferencing and recording.
A second key requirement is to support the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept using wired and wireless connectivity.
The three-story library building has a total of 20 collaborative spaces, including several classrooms. All of the collaborative spaces in the building are linked using a Crestron AirMedia Presentation Gateway, and is one of the first educational facilities to employ the system.
“This is our version of the 21st century library,” says Dema, who adds that the design was based around the flow of information from person to person rather than from source or teacher to student. “It’s not just about information but how to be creative with that knowledge.”
A key element of the systems design is that the technology can be operated and accessed by anyone at any time. The Crestron scheduling system allows students and teachers to reserve PLC spaces from wall-mounted units or from their own devices outside the building.
With AirMedia controller, anyone can share their work wirelessly (from a computer, mobile device or smartphone) on a flat screen by accessing a displayed Web address and using a randomly generated password for each visit. The same controller allows up to four users to participate on a single screen, which can be divided into quadrants, with each participant able to load and display their materials in one discrete corner.
Dema says the group investigated several interactive information-sharing technologies, such as Barco’s ClickShare. Dema says the decision went to the Crestron AirMedia system because of its compatibility with both Windows and Mac operating systems and the fact that it will support a BYOD model in future software iterations.
Students are already using their own devices, exchanging information over the PLC’s Wi-Fi. Dema says that addressing personal mobile devices is a fundamental aspect of any educational proposition today, in the library or the classroom.
says. “We try not to tell them what devices they can use. [The PLC] has to be compatible with Android and [iOS], and the fact is that students now have two and three devices each…[All of these devices] have to be accommodated on whatever systems and networks you’re using. The fact is we don’t know what’s coming, so you have to have the fiber-based wireless infrastructure there ready to meet it.”
Despite the influence of personal mobile devices, however, the essence of collaboration lies in the physical realm, where students and teachers can interact in person. With that in mind, the development of the PLC took place over the course of about 18 months, as the building itself was being constructed. In that time, various configurations of screen types and locations were tested, to see which ones users felt most comfortable with.
The school also looked at various models online and visited other schools to see how they were approaching their library-2.0 models. What they found was that interactive screens were a must, and that they would need a broader range of software than they initially thought they’d need to allow for different rates of learning on the part of students.
For instance, audio recording and digital media editing programs in the building’s creativity suites need to cover the gamut from entry-level consumer types to full-on professional-grade software.
Dema says that programs including Garageband, iMovie, Photoshop and Audacity are loaded for entry-level consumers.
“We also have Adobe Creative Suite 6 loaded with software such as After Effects, Adobe Addition, Adobe Audition, and Flash Professional that are more sophisticated for the more experienced users,” she explains. “In the rendering suite we have SketchUp Pro that is also entry-level and we have a very basic 3D printer that students can use. Students are asking us to add Final Cut Pro, so we are looking into adding it.”
The New Front Door to the Campus
Given the wide disparities in abilities and knowledge levels, Dema says the flexibility of the technology in the space became even more critical. The automation system had to be able to fire up all the systems from a single-button macro, allowing one student at 2 a.m. to access the system without needing a degree in computer sciences.
“We couldn’t have a traditional managed space,” she says. “We had to give the users the control.”
Dema says most students and teachers had figured out the systems with a minimal amount of training.
She also says campus familiarization visits now start at the PLC, and it’s serving the same purpose as the high-tech and glossy welcome centers that many schools are adding to their campuses, and at far less cost.
“This is the new front door to our campus,” she says proudly. “We don’t need to tell our story in a separate building.”