In the past, it’s been a “shsssh shsssh” environment, a conventional high school library setting designated for quiet, solitary study.
Today, it’s a space for collaboration and creativity. It’s also a place for students and teachers to tap into the latest technology. Conversation is welcome. And the Wi-Fi signal is the best in the building.
The library at Park Center High in Brooklyn Park has been reinvented as a “Learning Commons” this school year.
Some books — mostly old reference volumes now available in database form — were removed to make room for the latest technology, including a 3-D printer and four group workstations where students can connect their iPads or laptops to one large screen. Staff sets up a “MakerSpace,” an area with art supplies and tables where students can work on conventional cut-and-paste projects.
There are dozens of tables and chairs as well as a more casual seating area with beanbags and a low table.
The space already has 130 computers and laptops, a television studio and an iPod studio.
Finally, there’s the cultural shift. Respectful conversation and group activities are encouraged.
“The idea is to move away from a sit-and-get traditional teaching environment and to focus on the creating process and the sharing process. We have integrated more technology into our space to facilitate that.” said School Library Media Specialist Dhaivyd Hilgendorf, who championed the transformation.
The “learning commons” concept first emerged in the United States in the 1990s. Colleges and high schools across the country have been rethinking stuffy library spaces, heavy on stacks and solitude, and turning them into more modern, creative places.
Park Center is part of the Osseo School District, and creation of the learning commons coincides with the district’s 1:1 technology initiative. Each Park Center sophomore and junior was issued an iPad this year. The learning commons creates a space for students to use that technology. In a school where two-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, providing the technology, the Wi-Fi and a place to access it safely is critical.
“That idea is to level the playing field so everyone has access to the same technology,” Hilgendorf said.
New generation of library
Hilgendorf, a father of three teenagers, summarized what this generation of new learners is seeking in a library: “flexibility and really powerful Wi-Fi.”
At the learning commons, junior Victoria Miller said the before and after is noticeable.
“Before nobody was in here. Now everyone is in here,” Miller said. “I know a lot of people come in here after school to work on projects. And you get the best Wi-Fi in here.”
Hilgendorf said creating the Learning Commons has cost about $20,000, using mostly money made available through the International Baccalaureate program. He said it’s still a work in progress as he seeks out grants and other funding to replace some of the tables and chairs with more flexible furnishings.
And he notes the library still includes books. “We have lots of books. Books are not antiquated.”
Assistant Principal Bart Becker praised the learning commons.
“We love it. It has transformed that space and the resources within it from a traditional library with computers to a series of collaborative stations for both students and staff to utilize, specifically with digital learning,” Becker said.
Higlendorf said the goal of technology in education is to help students climb the hierarchy of learning: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and finally creating.
“So many of us are consumers. We watch a video. Students have information on these devices. They have an opportunity to participate in that creation process,” Hilgendorf said.
A video-music project
Sophomores Jimmy Cheaye and Jaden Davis came to the learning commons after school last week to continue work on a music and video collaboration. The video will feature some of the teens’ original hip-hop lyrics. They will also incorporate some positive messages for their peers about being productive members of society.
“Do something productive. Think for yourself,” Cheaye explained.
The pair said the learning commons is a welcoming space — different from other school library environments that demanded quiet and more passive learning.
“It’s the feng shui of the place. It’s got a good vibe,” Davis said of the learning commons.
The boys are doing the project for a class, but Cheaye said he’d like to take a step further and continue work on it.
Getting students excited about the creation process is the point of the learning commons, Hilgendorf said.
“What we are trying to do in education is to help people understand they can be part of the process of creating things other people would be interested in. It really is a new way of thinking about how we as individuals are empowered to have an impact in the world,” Hilgendorf said.