Why every learning space might look a bit different

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When the first floor of the Albertsons Library is quiet, miniscule sounds unnoticeable in a normal setting are amplified and fill the room. At a table towards the back of the room, Stephanie Arth, a German exchange student majoring in elementary education, is having an almost-whispered conversation between friends. She says that the indistinct sounds of the library gives her a better sense of focus. 

“In here it’s just a learning space,” Arth said. “Everyone is studying, everyone is doing homework and it’s quiet.”

Finding a space that works best for an individual’s style of studying is important to the learning process. That could be a quiet room in the library or a bustling coffee-shop filled to the brim with other learners. Sometimes, though, students are forced to interact with a space in a way that inhibits their learning ability.

While Arth works best in quiet corners of the library, other students better develop their work when surrounded by their peers. George Evans, a graduate student studying literature, believes a sense of community is essential to his writing process. As a consultant in Boise State’s Writing Center, Evans believes that studying can also involve conversation. 

“There are times where you need to sit on one of the quiet floors of the library, close the door, write it up on the whiteboard, and get it out,” Evans said. “There are other times as well, where having that conversation is just so essential to the writing process, the making process and cognition, all those things.”

Dr. Jenn Mallette, an associate professor in the English department, says that new and non-traditional spaces can create confusion for students. When it comes to the learning process, a bad space can take more work to focus on. 

“When it’s a non-traditional kind of space, students don’t always know how to interact in those spaces,” Mallette said. “So it creates another layer of having to think about ‘what do I do when I come in this room?’”

While a student’s ability to stay engaged can be inhibited by ineffective learning spaces, so can a professor’s capability to teach. If a professor cannot effectively use an unfamiliar space, disengagement can occur. 

“Although there are opportunities that those spaces are used effectively by the instructor, the downside is like we’re not always trained to think about physical spaces and how to use them effectively to benefit student learning,” Mallette said. 

According to Mallette, actively engaging in learning is a two-way street. While it is the responsibility of the student to complete assignments and participate in class, the professor has the responsibility of creating engaging content. One of the ways for students and professors to make better use of their space is to integrate modern technologies. Technology allows students to gain a better grasp of material and can help students with accessibility needs to better interact with the space around them.  

“Accessibility for me is a huge part of what technology allows us to do,” Mallette said. “It gives students the opportunities to use different kinds of tools to improve their learning.”

A constructive learning space can look different depending on the individual, but it requires a student to take steps and set boundaries that gives them the best outcome. Whether it involves studying in the library or working with peers, the ability to study effectively is essential to the college experience.  

“Setting yourself up for success is really important,” Mallette said. “Things that require that deep connection, you can’t have a TV on even if it’s a show you’ve watched 100 times, because it’s just going to be interference.”

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