A recent article on the BBC website describes a reporter visiting a university library filled with hundreds of students. Nothing too unusual in that – apart, of course, from the fact that the reporter was there at midnight. Many university libraries are now open 24/7 and students are eagerly taking advantage of the chance to do extra revision or research.
Some universities have even started providing ‘napping stations’, recognising that although students might want library facilities available to them 24/7, even the most eager learners need to recharge their batteries!
With the proliferation of mobile devices and tablets making it easy to access learning materials whenever, wherever, it’s hardly surprising that students have an increasing expectation that they will be able to revise on their own terms, with unlimited access to any resources they need. In fact, the BBC article itself notes that most of the work taking place in the packed library is happening online, with smartphones and laptops outnumbering the number of printed books out on the desks.
And far from being the vast, silent rooms of old, the article talks of the hum of student discussion as they work together. What these articles show is the emergence of a new library culture, which is highly connected, social and driven by student demand for revision and learning facilities that meet their changing needs.
But libraries aren’t the only thing changing at universities. The lecture, for instance, has had its own 21st century makeover with the advent of lecture capture. An increasing number of institutions are now making all of their lectures available 24/7 to students through on-demand video recordings. Their video libraries, just like their real-world counterparts, are available constantly. Lecture recording powerfully combines established teaching practice with the convenience of anytime, anywhere access to the learning content. This is similar to the way in which the 21st century library is mixing tradition (books, quiet zones) and innovation (mobile learning, group working space).
And just as students keep coming to the library in their hundreds – preferring the social aspect of being surrounded by their peers when they could just as easily do revision online in their room – students also keep going to lectures in their hundreds, even though they could watch a recorded lecture at home. In fact, some students even make the process of watching a recorded lecture for revision purposes social and collaborative, as Newcastle University student Daniel Doyle describes in this post.
The continued popularity of the library as a physical space and the lecture as a physical event contradicts many dire predictions that technologically-enhanced learning would fragment the university experience and isolate learners. Instead, the accessibility of educational resources seems to be allowing more emergent forms of social learning to take place — fostering, for example, the kind of student study group that Daniel Doyle describes where learners meet in person to watch a recorded lecture back and collaboratively bookmark key points so they can skip to these quickly when they do their own personal revision.
The key with both 21st century libraries and their video-based analogues is flexibility — offering students agile access to educational resources on their own terms and not second-guessing how, when, or with whom, learning will take place.