Published March 31, 2014
If you’ve been on UB’s campus for more than a few minutes, you’ve likely come across an informal learning space…without even knowing it.
Informal learning spaces are exactly that: casual spots around campus where you can drop by, grab a seat and get some work done. On UB’s campus, they come in many shapes and sizes, and more are regularly put in place to meet student demand for study spots close to class and home.
Informal learning spaces began popping up at UB five years ago, placed in convenient locations for students to gather and work. They’re often found in high-traffic areas, like the lobby of Knox Hall (outside Knox 108 lecture hall).
In 2013, new spaces were added on the third floor of Baldy Hall and in the Biomedical Education Building (BIOED). There are also spaces in the Natural Sciences Complex, Capen Hall and, if you’re on South Campus, in Diefendorf Hall.
While these spaces don't all look the same, they’re all designed to provide comfortable seating, outlets for charging mobile devices and even large LCD screens for connecting laptops, making group work even easier.
Central to the concept of the learning spaces is the idea that students can find comfortable and convenient spaces to work wherever they’re on campus.
Devin Franklin (Class of 2015) is a law student, and she spends a lot of time studying in the learning spaces on the third floor of Baldy Hall. “I come here every morning,” Devin said, adding that she does on average six hours of work there per day. “I usually only go to the law library if I need to print something,” she added.
“It’s right by the food, and I live nearby,” said Nick Hazel (Class of 2014), a medicinal chemistry student, who was also drawn to the new Baldy learning space.
Nick’s only complaint about the space was the large LCD screen, which makes a whirring noise which he found distracting. Devin liked the idea of the screens, although she had never personally used them. “I think they’d be very cool for working on group projects,” she said.
Along with other conveniences you might expect from a modern campus, spaces like these are popping up at universities across the country, aimed at accommodating student life with the promise of fostering better learning. According to a publication by EDUCAUSE, a non-profit group that researches IT use on college campuses, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is designing spaces that will encourage spontaneous social interactions between students and faculty. In addition, Emory has supplemented its computing centers with multi-use spaces to encourage more informal learning.
At other universities, similar learning spaces are sometimes called “think stops” or “learning commons,” but they all share a few common goals with UB’s informal learning spaces—namely to serve an increasingly independent, social and mobile student body.
Of course, there are downsides to repurposing spaces in this way. John Pfeffer, Technology Program Manager for Learning Spaces with Network and Classroom Services (NCS) admitted that sometimes these spaces might not offer the quiet seclusion that students may need to get serious work done. “I think they’re too out in the open,” John said, “I think students do want to use them, but need to have a little more privacy.”
For a more secluded space, students should consider UB’s
Collaborative Learning Spaces, which provide similar accommodations
for group work, but in a private environment. Unlike informal
learning spaces, collaborative spaces require students to schedule the room in advance.
Whichever option fits your needs, keep an eye out for new spaces to study and collaborate around campus as part of the continued effort to make UB’s campuses more functional for everyone.