Yesterday I posted this tweet and it received a lot of attention so I’ll expand my thoughts.
About a year ago we opened our Multipurpose Room in the library. We framed it as a gathering place for creative, cultural, academic, and social experiences. The one major rule is that everything has to be public: no private events.
We officially opened the doors in January 2014 and hosted many lecturers, film screenings, receptions, workshops, panel discussions, poetry and prose readings, and town hall meetings. But also some unique events too: fashion shows, comedy shows, musical and art performances, digital exhibits, mini-conferences and symposiums, cooking demonstrations, a hackathon, and live TEDx broadcasts. I believe there were some World Cup matches in there too.
We’ve also seen the rise of digital poster sessions. The room has eight large monitors on the walls and two additional mobile monitors that can be utilized. We can clear out tables and chairs to create an open room where students move around the screens and talk about projects. Think of a poster session but with 70-inch monitors instead of tack boards. While most of these sessions have been static (jpg or ppt) some have included video or interactive web content.
Last spring we hosted a handful of these classes and that has continued into the fall. I think we’ve reached a tipping point now as several faculty members approached us this week about doing something similar in the future. We’re on track to host about 15 of these sessions in the spring.
What I like about the digital poster session format is that not only do students conduct research and articulate a problem or solution, but they openly present on it as well. This has led to new instructional opportunities related visual literacy and related content. Students have to give careful thought to how they express their ideas.
We’ve done these sessions with history, religion, science, engineering, art, agriculture—it is a format that is accessible to every discipline. An unexpected element is that students and faculty from outside the course often drop in and check out what others are doing. These sessions are promoted across campus and always offer lively conversations. Light refreshments help too.
One class was involved with a service learning project and they invited teachers from a local high school who they had worked with. The students presented on their experiences and then had a small reception to share and reflect on the work together.
So what have we done?
If I wear my startup hat I’d say: we created a new market (digital poster sessions) that previously didn’t exist on our campus.
If I wear my library administrator hat I’d say: the library is serving as a platform for engagement, helping transform the way learning happens.
But I’ll just say this:
What’s cool about our Multipurpose Room is that it makes students and faculty feel special. It’s an exclusive room that is not open for studying. It is only open for campus events. In this manner we shine a spotlight on their learning—we celebrate it by inviting them into a unique place. The accumulation of a semester-long project is on display for everyone to see.
Of course they could just do these presentations in their regular classroom but by hosting them in the library it becomes a bigger deal. Students take it more seriously. It simulates presenting at a conference—and there is more informal dialogue rather than just a formal presentation. And with people from outside the course attending the event that adds the element of surprise.
A year ago digital poster sessions were barely on our radar but they are quickly becoming a significant part of our learning program. They are opening new pathways for our librarians and staff to engage with students and faculty across a wide spectrum -- from physical and technological considerations to content, literacies, knowledge expression, design, and multimedia.
Other examples of the room in action: