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University College, Learning Commons will occupy new additions at Perry Library

In another year and a half, Old Dominion University students will have even more reason to visit Perry Library.

The four-story structure at the south end of campus is scheduled to get two new additions, known collectively as the Student Success Center. The $11.1 million general fund project includes an addition to the front of the building (pictured here) and a first-floor renovation that together will comprise an area to be known as the Learning Commons, plus a two-story addition at the south end of the facility that will house University College offices.

Construction is scheduled to get under way April 1 with the driving of test pilings behind the library. The small parking lot in front of the library (Lot 39) will be permanently closed starting May 10 as work begins on the Learning Commons addition.

The Learning Commons will be a natural fit for the library. Designed to help students excel on course assignments, it will bring together library resources, technology and expertise in a flexible, inviting space for individual and collaborative study.

Paula Jamison, assistant director, Classroom Central and customer support, of the Office of Computing and Communications Services, and Morel Fry administrative services librarian at Perry Library, have been working together since fall 2007 on what the Learning Commons will ultimately look like and offer, but they are quick to point out that it's still a work in progress. In fact, they will host an information/poster session for faculty members from 2-4 p.m. Thursday, April 8, in the first floor conference room at Innovation Research Park II. During the meeting, they will seek input on instruction and the Learning Commons.

"We want the faculty to provide feedback on what they will be requiring of students in the way of course assignments," Jamison said. "This will drive a lot of the technology that will go into the commons."

University College, the other new "tenant" in the Student Success Center project, is, administratively, the central source for undergraduate students, especially first-year and transfer students, providing all of the services they need to ensure their progress from the moment they enter the university through graduation and beyond - services designed to ensure student success and enhance undergraduate retention.

At present, however, these student services are housed in various locations on campus. With the new 30,000 square-foot addition at the back of the library, the following University College offices and services will move into one centralized space: Center for Major Exploration (Advising), New Student and Parent Programs (including Freshman Orientation), Tutoring Central, Testing and Experiential Learning, Student Support Services, Upward Bound, and Academic Skills Assessment (writing sample placement test and exit exam).

The Office of Disability Student Services also will move into the new addition, although one office under the University College umbrella, the Career Management Center, will continue to operate from its current location in Webb Center.

Commenting on the new space, Charles Wilson, vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of University College, said, "With the consolidation of services in one venue, students will be more apt to access the support systems necessary for academic success. We want to promote a 'one-stop shopping' experience for the students. In addition, we can more efficiently provide these services by sharing resources across administrative units."

The Learning Commons, a relatively new concept at U.S. higher education institutions that has proven successful at schools such as North Carolina State University, Georgia Tech and the University of Massachusetts, will literally and figuratively put a new front door on Perry Library. The 8,000-square-foot addition, as well as the contiguous space behind it currently devoted to the lobby and reference room, will feature workspaces that encourage collaboration as well as support traditional study methods.

Fry noted that student collaborative research seems to be the trend these days, based on studies that have shown students can learn material better when working on projects together. Jamison pointed by way of example to the success of the SCALE UP initiative started by the physics department in fall 2008, in which students work together in a combined high-tech classroom and lab setting designed to support collaborative learning.

The Learning Commons will provide easy access to expertise and resources to help student with course assignments, while encouraging experimentation and creativity by providing advanced technologies and services. A consolidated customer service desk will be operated by staff and student personnel with expertise in information technology, library reference resources and University College services.

In addition to the "flexible" furniture that will occupy the new area, allowing students to build their own collaborative study space, the commons will feature a multimedia room and sound room where they can, for example, record voice-overs for PowerPoint presentations, Fry said. Most of the furniture will have fixed power outlets for recharging laptops, Jamison added.

Offering wired and wireless connectivity, the Learning Commons will feature a variety of advanced technologies, including GIS with Google Earth available on computers with dual monitors, Apple computers and scanners, and an equipment loan pool with iPods, cameras and camcorders. The commons, which will be open 24/5, will also have a quiet study area, something the students requested in a survey, and an indoor/outdoor café operated by Aramark.

"We envision the Learning Commons as a place to see and be seen," Jamison said. "That's what we're aiming for."

According to Jamison and Fry, ODU's Student Success Center may well be the first in the country that combines the services of a university college, library and information technology.

The entire project is expected to be completed by the start of the fall 2011 semester. The following firms were awarded contracts for the project: Tymoff and Moss, interior design; Clark Nexsen, architecture; and Whiting-Turner, construction.

This article was posted on: April 5, 2010

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