This fall, more than 1,000 William Jewell College students are experiencing a new learning environment that places them at the forefront of innovation in higher education. William Jewell College introduces the Pryor Learning Commons — a library for the 21st century — a library with no books.
Although this 26,000 square-foot building lacks books, it provides students with virtually unlimited resources to gather, learn and create 24 hours a day. The Pryor Learning Commons houses two high-tech classrooms (called innovation studios), digital recording and editing suites, a 3D printer, writable surfaces on tables and walls, wireless collaboration stations where students can engage in group projects, comfortable study areas, a café and more.
“Most current discussions in and about higher education focus on methods of teaching and/or technology,” said President David Sallee. “However, Pryor Learning Commons provides a cutting-edge atmosphere in which the focus is learning — students and faculty together are totally engaged in learning.”
Historically, content was the focus of formal education. As Sallee explained, the teacher knew something the students did not. The teacher shared the knowledge, and the students tried to memorize it. Today, thanks to technology like smart phones, content is at students’ fingertips. With a facility like Pryor Learning Commons and top-rated faculty, Jewell provides a learning environment that goes beyond the acquisition of content and moves students from dependence in their educational experience toward independence as mature learners.
“The embedding of collaboration and creativity in our courses takes advantage of this generation’s learning styles and uses faculty in the ways they are most valuable: as facilitators, collaborators and resources for learning,” Sallee said.
Innovation in Action
In Pryor Learning Commons’ innovation studios, students sit around wirelessly connected white board tables instead of front-facing rows of desks. The professor, technology and classroom design facilitate interactive and collaborative learning, even in unexpected subjects such as chemistry. Students can work on a chemistry problem by writing it on the white board tabletop. The professor can scan the responses and post them to a touchscreen for class discussion.
“On opening day, I was honestly most excited about the idea of a 24-hour study space, and then I realized what I was walking into,” said junior Alexander Bush, Student Senate president. “Every floor is full of the tools we have always wanted —flat screen TVs so we can project our laptop notes, top-of-the-line digital video and audio production tools, study rooms coated in white board walls— and even those that we never imagined, like a 3D printer.”
Outside the classroom, 20 collaboration stations allow students to work wirelessly in groups and share computer screens. In recording and editing suites, theatre and music majors can compose and edit music, film and other media. In addition to various suites ideal for meetings and tutoring sessions, the Commons houses numerous study-friendly and gathering areas, complete with sofas, fireplaces, scenic views and a live Twitter wall.
“It’s one thing for a school to invest so heavily in technology like this, but it’s another to actually allow it to be so accessible to students,” Bush said. “Personally, the ability to push information to six different TVs around a room at once has changed the way I’ve led meetings, studied with groups for tests and even how I’ve watched Chiefs football games!”