The Barber Learning Centre, UBC

McCrea, B. (2010) Remaking the College Campus Campus Technology, August 5

This article focuses on Glasgow Caledonian University’s Saltire Centre, the centerpiece of learning and student services. The Saltire Centre includes a 600-seat learning café, 400 computers, and 250 laptops that students and faculty can borrow and use wherever. WiFi is available throughout the building, where students can work independently in carrels, study in small groups in the learning café, or converge for some fresh air on the building’s rooftop terrace.

The article goes on to describe similar kinds of centres in universities in the USA, such as George Mason University, Virginia Tech and the University of Central Florida. The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at the University of British Columbia could also have been included. The article includes an interview with Curtis Bonk who states:

“New buildings must be constructed in a way that factors in how learning is fostered in an environment where myriad technologies are integrated,” said Bonk. “Getting there means universities will have to rethink how they spend money on construction, technology, and student support.”

The article ends with the comment:

Expect that transformation to take place slowly as universities and colleges realize that building bricks-and-mortar to house traditional, lecture-type classes is no longer enough to support the tech-savvy student.


I think learning centres such as those mentioned are excellent and certainly the Barber Learning Centre at UBC is heavily used and much appreciated by students and faculty alike. However, the thinking is still limited to upgrading classrooms and building a single central learning centre around the library. If technology is to be fully integrated, we need to think about the whole campus differently.

We will need a much wider variety of learning spaces in every academic area, depending on their specific needs. We should stop thinking of traditional classrooms and laboratories and start designing new campuses from scratch to fully integrate learner-controlled, faculty-controlled and administration-controlled technology. Building new or retrofitting existing large lecture classrooms and even smaller face-to-face seminar rooms and wet labs is anachronistic. We have too many of them already. What we don’t have are enough learning spaces that enable truly blended learning.

The first step is to get the institution to accept the need for the strategic use of technology for teaching and learning. Once that step is taken, architects, administrators, instructors and students then need to sit down and think through the implications of using technology for teaching and learning for  the design of campus facilities, accepting that a great deal of the learning will be done off campus or in student residences. This has to be linked to new designs for teaching and learning. Trent Batson has highlighted the fact that existing campus facilities such as traditional classrooms really drive the use of learning technologies. It should be the other way round – we should be designing facilities to meet the way we want to use technologies for teaching and learning.

UBC's Irving K. Barber Learning Centre


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