Learning Commons: An Ideal Space for Free Discussion

The concept of Learning Commons (LC) is becoming increasingly popular at universities around the world. Recently the University of Macau (UM) has also embraced this concept. In the LC’s comfortable environment, students can ensconce themselves on soft sofas, study or search information on laptop computers, and quietly discuss questions with friends; and if they get tired or hungry, they can have a cup of coffee or a piece of cake. This is the kind of learning environment created by an LC, an ideal space for students to read, study and talk.

Extraordinary Thought in Ordinary Details

LC is not a new concept. Because of successful experience, LC has been identified as a key project at many universities. “Student-oriented” is the most important principle in the design of an LC. LC is a notion that well complements community and peer education, and the increasing application of electronic learning equipment is a catalyst for its spread. Due to limited campus space, UM’s management and staff racked their brains to find the ideal location for an LC. Prof. Simon Ho, vice rector (academic affairs) of UM, said that when the university administration introduced the notion of LC, they already had in mind a clear purpose, which is to provide support to general education and community and peer education and create a lively learning and discussion atmosphere, so as to extend in-class learning into every corner of the campus and liven up the learning culture on campus.

Located inside the new Research and Development Building, UM’s first LC has been reconstructed from an unused laboratory. Stepping into the LC, one is greeted by a modern-style screen. The inside of the LC is divided into different areas, with semi-transparent discussion rooms in the middle to subtly separate noisy and quiet areas. There is an old Chinese saying that, “The sparrow may be small but it has all the vital organs.” This saying could be used to describe the software and hardware facilities on the current campus; it is also a most fitting description of the LC, which has various equipment and multiple functions, such as the data searching system, computers, multi-media resources, discussion area, interaction area, rest area, quiet reading area and individual study area. The design of every detail and the location of every object have been well-thought-out, embody the merits of LCs from around the world, and take into account the unique characteristics of UM.

The LC is well-lit thanks to extensive use of glass. The wonderfully pungent aroma of coffee wafts in the air. The quiet sound of discussion is music to the ear. Coming alone, a student can perch on a long-legged chair and read quietly. Visiting in groups, students can huddle on low-slung sofas for discussion. Isn’t studying this way delightful!

This small world that offers both sensory and intellectual satisfaction has become charming campus scenery.


The Deeper Meaning of LC

Users are the soul of the LC. Without users, all the advanced equipment and beautifully-designed details are just dead decorations. Opening twenty-four hours a day is obviously appealing, especially in report-writing periods. Day and night, the LC is used by many people, especially the conference rooms, which are almost always fully booked. Wong Wong, a year-4 student of the Department of Computer and Information Science, visits the LC almost every day, and so do his friends. Wong loves the relaxing and interactive atmosphere, as well as the light foods served by Pacific Coffee. “It is indeed a good place for study, although there is still room for improvement,” said Wong.

The university went to great pains to create a learning space for students, but do students really understand the deeper meaning of the LC? Take Apple’s Campus Experience Centre (CEC) for example. Students can experience new technology in CEC by using the computers and accessing the Internet whenever they like. But Hoi Tin Iek, a year-2 student of psychology, said that many students don’t really know the purpose of CEC and think it is just an on-campus point of sale for Apple. Some students are not entirely clear about the way the space is divided. For them, LC is just a variant of a library.

"The fostering of a campus culture doesn’t happen overnight,” noted Prof. Simon Ho. “It requires the arrangement of various details on campus and the organization of different activities to stimulate the growth of UM’s own campus culture, in order to add to an atmosphere of humanity, encourage more teacher-student interaction, and realize simultaneous improvement in teaching and learning. The current design is on a trial basis. Relevant departments will collect the users’ opinions for future improvement.” Because of successful experience, LC has been identified as a key project at many universities. After relocating to the new campus, UM will create several LCs of an improved version by taking into consideration the characteristics of each faculty and building, and in the meantime, will draw on the experience operating the current LC to try and create a relaxing environment where students can study and interact for optimum results.

Release on 2012-07-20 16:17