May 12, 2018

Library as Classroom | Office Hours

Michael StephensReading the new HORIZON Report for Higher Education 2014, I’m inspired as usual by the work of Educause and the New Media Consortium (NMC). This year’s study continues the direction. In fact, a new framework for presenting challenges and trends accelerating technology adoption and the key technologies for higher education makes the report even more useful for anyone and everyone involved in teaching and learning.

I’ve often argued for public libraries to use this report as a means for trend spotting and planning, and today it is more relevant than ever. As our colleagues in academic libraries embrace that students are creators more than consumers and welcome an influx of hybrid and online learning opportunities, they are not alone. Related courses are impacting public library customers in the form of Maker spaces, self-publishing, and library-led lifelong learning options both formal and self-directed. As a result, those guiding technology and training programs in the public sector would also benefit from a deep dive into this document.

Creative classrooms

The Elements of the Creative Classroom Research Model, developed by the European Commission Institute for Prospective Technological Studies and highlighted as part of the Horizon report’s methodology, represent the catalysts and potential for new models of instruction. The team’s report defines creative classrooms as “learning environments that fully embed the potential of [information and communications technology] to innovate learning and teaching practices” and the term classrooms is used “in its widest sense to include all types of learning environments: formal, nonformal, and informal.”

Elements of Creative Classroom Model

The graphic included in the report depicts the model. Radiating out from a center focused on innovative pedagogical practices are eight interconnected key areas, including curriculum, learning practices, leadership, and infrastructure. Further, 28 building blocks are identified around the outer circle, supporting each of the key areas. These include themes you’ve read about in this column: innovation management; learning by play/exploration/creation; emotional intelligence; meaningful activities; and networking with the real world.

A new kind of classroom

I’d argue that our libraries of all kinds also serve as creative classrooms, supporting learners by employing the building blocks mentioned above. Just explore some of the notable examples of academic, public, and K-12 library spaces shared here in LJ over the past few months. You’ll find community learning spaces that help people achieve, game-focused initiatives that make the library a laboratory for exploration, creation zones with requisite digital and 3-D hardware for building things, and potentially endless opportunities to connect virtually with people worldwide.

A recent example provides a glimpse of a life-changing use of a 3-D printer. You may have seen it on the national news. A teenager printed a prosthetic hand for a young boy at Johnson County Libraries, KS. This is the “learning by creating” highlighted in the model and so much more. Other areas of the model came into play that afforded this unique opportunity for such a caring act to occur. Leaders at Johnson County, a library I follow closely, are well versed in innovation management and social entrepreneurship and the recognition that offering learning events can bring people together. Consider the “Books and Butchers” program that featured a local butcher and “an actual pig, with actual knives and actual cutting of actual meat.” Sean Casserly, director of the library, told me the meeting room was packed and the crowd was mesmerized by the butcher’s skill and his discussion of local food and humanely raised meat.

Let imaginations play

The model calls for constant monitoring of program quality, innovative timetables that enable flexible programs and services to evolve without bureaucratic barriers, and a focus on fresh services. The library as classroom requires inspired and insightful management that can do those things and more. The library as classroom also requires well-trained, user-focused staff who understand how people of all ages can learn socially. Art programs, DIY tinkering, locally sourced expert forums, and LOOCs (local open online courses) are all part of this ­curriculum.

In A New Culture of Learning, authors Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown write, “Where imaginations play, learning happens.” This could and should define our services for now and in the future. The library as creative classroom means we approach the learning opportunities we create with thought, user-directed planning, and insights from research. This classroom may include physical spaces for instruction and discovery as well as online, multiscale platforms aimed at social learning and participation.

This article was published in Library Journal's May 15, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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