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Around the Clock Library Paves Way for Innovative Classroom

The new classroom currently houses courses in biology, mathematics and computer science, but Executive Director of ITS Mur Muchane believes it will be adaptable to almost any subject.

E.H. Little Library's former 24-hour room, the space many students knew as their late-night study haven, has been transformed into the most innovative classroom on campus. The change, afforded by the library's new 24/7 access policies, has been a long time coming.

"In recent years students have asked about extending hours, but we didn't have the resources to do so," said Director of the Library Jill Gremmels. "However, when David Holthouser [director of facilities and engineering] recommended leaving the building unstaffed, we realized the new possibilities that opened."

To accommodate students during unstaffed hours, the library has added a self-checkout station and new security measures, including doors that require Cat Card access between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., video surveillance and more frequent campus police walk-throughs.

"One argument against 24-hour access was that students should be sleeping, but the library has no effect on whether students sleep; our aim is to create a space where students can get serious academic work done whenever they want," said Gremmels.

Only one of Davidson's peer institutions currently offers students 24/7 library access, and Gremmels explained that many are unable to do so because of the complexities and expense of additional staffing. She added, "Ultimately, we are able to do this because of our Honor Code."

The college's library hours have increased to meet student demand since 1860, when the library was open for one half-hour each week. Hours soon shifted to two per day; and in 1910, hours were extended to 11 p.m. In 1968, students submitted a proposal to the library planning committee requesting a 24-hour study room and lounge. The result: E.H. Little Library was completed in 1974 with a 24-hour room located in the basement.

High Tech Trade-Off

With the entire library shifting to 24-hour student access, the 24-hour room became available for repurposing, and at a time when Information Technology Services (ITS) was in search of an appropriate space to install the campus's most innovative classroom.

"Chambers' classrooms still reflect a learning environment in which the professor stands at the front of the room and all students face one direction," explained Executive Director of ITS Mur Muchane. "We have been thinking about how pedagogy, technology and space can enable student learning. At the same time, the curriculum is increasingly using more technology."

Muchane traveled with a team of colleagues to view classroom prototypes and apply that knowledge to Davidson's learning spaces. The new library classroom is based on user-centered research and creates an environment that accommodates different styles of learning.

The space is not dominated by a single focal point-it is designed to allow the professor full mobility and includes access to an iPad on which the professor can take notes. The notes are then transferred to three screens located throughout the room. Tables are set up in an x-formation, meaning that the screen closest to a student might not be the one they can most easily view. That configuration leads to more eye contact and discussion among students.

"Davidson has always challenged students to write, think and analyze," said Muchane. "Recent changes enable our classroom infrastructure to not only catch up with what we already do academically, but to take it to the next level."