To infinity and beyond

By Patrick Boyle

Dr. Randy Garrison is a man with a vision.

The new Director of the Learning Commons at the University of Calgary hopes to combine this vision with hard work. He wants to make his facility an integral part of every- day campus life.

The Learning Commons occupies most of the fifth level of the Biological Sciences building. Though chronically underused by U of C students, the Learning Commons is a haven for educational advancement. It has two principle focuses: learning technology and curriculum redesign.

"On the technology side, we provide support training and information about learning technologies that a wide range of people relate to and make use of," explained Garrison. "On the other side are teaching, learning and curriculum. The university has defined seven features for curriculum redevelopment including things such as critical and creative thinking, and various inquiry skills and abilities."

The Learning Commons’ mandate is to lead future technologial endeavours. These include the integration of technology in the classroom and the definition of new, superior curriculum features. The commons will achieve this in a variety of ways, ranging from seminars and conferences to the offering of expertise in the field of curriculum renewal.

Garrison’s qualifications for the job are plentiful. His area of research is in teaching, learning and technology in a variety of contexts. As Dean of the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta, he oversaw the establishment and subsequent success of "Academic Technologies for Learning," a program very similar in concept to the Learning Commons. Additionally, his time as Dean provided experience in the administrative and organizational abilities required as Director of the Learning Commons.

One of the biggest hurdles that Garrison’s team must overcome is informing students and faculty of the existence of the Learning Commons and getting them to use it. As it stands, the facility is a largely untapped resource.

"I think there is a misperception about what the Learning Commons is all about, that all it’s about is technology," said Garrison. "In fact, it is the opposite. What we are really about- and what I want the Learning Commons to be known for–is its expertise, leadership and research in teaching, learning, curriculum, and technology, as well as in the application of technology for proper educational goals.

"The fact is, students use the Learning Commons, but we would like to see both students and faculties use the facility to a much greater degree."

According to Garrison, the first step in making his facility a part of the U of C community is to reach out to potential users and inform them of the Commons’ true nature. Garrison understands this is a step in a series of many.

"The Learning Commons is a very visionary idea, and sometimes when you have ideas like this, it takes awhile for people to understand what it’s all about," explained Garrison. "Certainly it will take awhile for us to reach our full potential."