7 Classrooms: library as pedagogical incubator

April 10, 2015, 2:15 pm

Three years ago we had two classrooms in our library. They looked like this:


The former “training-based” classrooms at VT Library. Photo: R. Miller

These were suitable for training-based instruction but our program has evolved. Librarians wanted to be able to reach more students (larger class sizes) as well as utilize many different teaching methods. We’re upgrading both rooms this summer.

One is based on Steelcase Verb:

The other will be a Node classroom:

This all started with a partnership between the Library and VT’s College of Science when we built a SCALE-UP classroom together.


Scale-Up – VT Library

Shortly after that we introduced a Multipurpose Room. While this technically is not a classroom, we do use it occasionally to host large class sessions as well as course project showcases, guest lectures, and related events that support the learning enterprise.


Multipurpose Room – VT Library

Then we built three Teaching Studios in partnership with VT’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology.

soundDISIS – Digital Interactive Sound and Intermedia Studio


animation DAAS – Digital Arts and Animation Lab



In my library we talk a lot about partnerships as currency. The output of various relationships is one metric we use to measure impact. By converting underutilized space into learning environments we opened the doors for numerous new collaborations.

Not only do we use these rooms to expand our teaching capacity, but they also enable us to observe and learn from others. Watching Jill Sible operate in SCALE-UP is inspiring. They help us become better teachers. Hosting courses and related activities invites spontaneous encounters and conversations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The added value is using these spaces for other purposes: workshops, seminars, symposiums, exhibits, showcases, media labs, meeting rooms, study rooms, group work rooms, tutoring rooms, and other activities.

So there is a functional layer. We can teach more. We can teach differently. Other people can also teach more and differently as well. We can partner more with them on instruction and other projects. When the rooms are not “classrooms” they can serve a multitude of other needs.

There is also a symbolic layer. The Library is committed to the teaching mission of the university. These seven spaces are not just more classrooms— each one is different. They encourage experimentation and new types of assignments and class interactions. Students and instructors feel differently when they meet here compared to most other rooms on campus. These classrooms are helping us become a pedagogical incubator.

I think there is an even higher level though. I’m fascinated with the concept of neural Wi-Fi. The idea that “our brains are constantly reacting to the environment and literally changing based on the people around us.” We are gathering a bunch of people together who are constantly trying new things—constantly pushing the status quo of learning. That has to have some type of psychological impact. Learning (in the Library) is exciting!

Even though the rooms have different intentions, configurations, and capabilities— collectively they can nurture activities that foster creativity, inquiry, adaptation, and collaboration. All this is wrapped within an experimental and experiential ethos. It’s a great era to be a librarian.




None of this would have happened without the financial and philosophical support of our Provost. His encouragement of “hands on, minds on” learning opened a path for the Library to have a more involved role on campus.

See also: Libraries as Enablers of Pedagogical and Curricular Change

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