The Great Debate: Engagement vs Attendance?

Our third blog in this series is from Philip Kent – University Librarian and Director of Library services. 

You are invited to leave comments below.

It is timely that BILT’s next theme is ‘ReThinking Spaces’. This is something that exercises my mind daily and is front of mind as we commence planning for the new University Library. In terms of library and study spaces this is an area that has seen considerable progress in the past 15 years. The Information or Learning Commons concept has grown out of changing needs of modern curricula and support for collaborative and individual learning. It has revolutionised the physical environment and created inspiring spaces to research, learn and to contemplate new ideas.

It is important that we understand the difference between library and study spaces despite the overlap of concepts. Post-occupancy evaluation of such spaces ensures that we refine models over time. Nevertheless we strive to create timeless, inspirational spaces including a diversity of contexts to suit different learning preferences. There is some difference of opinion about the role of books in 21st century libraries. Of course discipline differences contribute but there is no right answer. Digitisation of rare books for example, has created greater demand from scholars to visit, consult, touch and smell the real thing! In my opinion, the digital and physical co-exist and the sum is greater than the parts.

The topic of ‘Engagement vs. Attendance’ also inspires valid debate surfacing varied academic theories and opinions. In a former life I had institutional responsibility for university systems such as lecture capture and learning management. I heard impassioned debates for both sides of the argument in Senate-like bodies. We must listen to student demand for this technology. I was fascinated to see that usage of lecture capture was not a single substitute for lecture attendance. Usage data proved that lectures were revisited many times as part of the revision process. At risk of being cast as a fence sitter, again I think it is not either/or but rather a great opportunity to increase understanding and better educational outcomes. It is incumbent on practitioners to maximise face-to-face teaching opportunities to instil magic into the process!

As we approach Teaching and Learning Week, we also can learn from our colleagues and open our minds to new possibilities to transform students lives through the power of higher education.

Philip Kent
Director of Library Services and University Librarian

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