Sometimes, college professors just need a break — a chance to enjoy a cup of coffee, a moment to check emails, or a big comfy couch to do work at instead of on a desk or in a classroom.
That’s the thinking behind the University of Delaware’s new Faculty Commons, a recently unveiled lounge space with couches, cubicles, classrooms and studios meant for full-time and adjunct faculty.
The space in Pearson Hall was previously a computer lab for students, but low-demand for computers on campus tipped off the school’s tech department to consider using it for something else.
“It was underused and getting old,” said Mathieu Plourde, an educational technologist in UD’s Academic Technology Services (ATS) department, and an adjunct professor himself. “We heard about 99 percent of students come to campus with a laptop here and want to use their own machines. There’s not a need for expensive software. There’s a drop in demand.”
ATS’s 10 employees work in the back of the Faculty Commons space and are on-hand to field any and all technology-related inquiries.
The front of the space is set up as a lounge, where users can kick back and relax. Many adjunct professors, Plourde said, set up shop for the day in the lounge area with their computers and teaching materials.
There’s also a welcome bar, where a few staff members help direct faculty and set them up with equipment. There are four workspaces, where six to eight people can meet and do work.
The new space — an old computer lab — features a recording studio, smart boards, even a 3D printer.
A classroom is set up in the space, which allows faculty and staff to test out potential equipment for classroom use. Last week, faculty tested out new clickers, which could be adopted into classrooms campus-wide. A conference room in the space is equipped with webcams, which can be used for video conferencing, Skype or Google Hangouts, Plourde said.
“The goal becomes to serve faculty members no matter what their needs are,” he said. “If there’s a technology or technique we think would be helpful — we have about 180 classrooms on campus — we try it here first. We let faculty members try the technology to see if there’s a reason to spread that technology to other classrooms.”
The Faculty Commons space also includes a recording studio with a green screen, a document camera with a sharp zoom feature, smart boards, a 3D printer and more.
Plourde said he hopes the equipment in the space can spark the imagination of professors on campus. As technology becomes obsolete, there are better tools for teaching that emerge.
“Having faculty members walk around with a tablet can really make a difference in the kind of instruction they have,” Plourde said. “Faculty members lecture all the time. We want them to walk away from the front so they can be closer to students and have more meaningful conversations with students.”
Plourde said he also hopes the physical space evolves into a meeting place for professors of all stripes. He’s advocating for more cross-collaboration among departments.
“A lot of people have been on campus for 20 or 30 years. We want this to be a place for people to meet. We don’t want disciplinary silos,” Plourde said. “The space allows for serendipitous encounters to happen.”