Students reacted with shock when the announcement was made that the NAITSA Computer Commons in the HP Centre would face an hours reduction starting this summer. Effective June 1, the computer commons was no longer a 24/7 facility and the reason might come as a surprise.
“We did a usability study over the past three years … to take a look at usage overnight, to determine whether it makes sense to continue providing the overnight service; whether the usage was high enough,” explained alison lewis, director of Learning and Teaching Commons. “So we did that usability study, we analysed the results and we made a decision that we would shut down the commons [for overnight use].”
NAIT facility statistics showed that only a handful of students were utilizing the 24/7 space overnight. With such low utilization, the value for maintaining the service in that space is arguable.
So what does this mean for student access to a 24-hour space on campus? Are we doomed to limited study hours and few opportunities for late night group work? Apparently not.
“We’re in the midst of opening up a new space for students and that’s the study lounge,” said lewis.
The study lounge found its home in the old Project Factory location on the second floor of the U-Wing, after the Project Factory move into the third-floor library last year. After a substantial remodel, this new study lounge features both quiet and group study space, something that was missing from the computer commons as a study location.
“The study lounge is a space that came about from repeated requests in the student surveys. One of the things that continually came back, that NAITSA brought to the Learning and Teaching Commons, was the idea that students needed a space that was theirs,” said lewis.
“There are lots of spaces but they would get shut down if there was a function. For example, the North Lobby, if students were writing an exam that space got shut down and students couldn’t go in there to study.
“If someone was holding a function, that space would get shut down and students couldn’t go in there to study or visit or eat, things like that.
“So that came forward to the Learning and Teaching Commons and what we decided is that we would re-evaluate our internal spaces, what space we had, to see if we could meet that need for students.”
This is excellent news for many students, as spaces in addition to the North Lobby, like the eighth floor of the Business Tower and outside of Fresh Express in the U-Wing were often considered study space but would also frequently be closed.
The new study lounge also provides 24 computer workstations in addition to it being a fully-wired space for students who bring their own personal devices.
Will this new study lounge be a full replacement for the computer commons though? All indications are yes, as plans are in place to make it the new 24/7 space for students.
“That study space is going to be open overnight,” lewis said. “It is the new 24/7 space for students.”
During the switch, there was some confusion between NAIT and NAITSA.
“[NAIT] did consult with NAITSA but with the turnover of executives, I don’t believe everything was passed forward,” said lewis.
The NAITSA executive transition happens at the end of May each year and, although incoming executives do get a few months with the outgoing students and receive guidance from NAITSA staff, no transition is entirely smooth.
“It took us by a bit of a surprise,” said this year’s NAITSA president, Allannah Wrobel.
There was also some criticism from NAITSA regarding how NAIT communicated this change to students.
“Ideally, there would have been more communication, as in ‘here’s a heads up, this is going to be happening’ versus ‘oh by the way, as of tomorrow this is changing’,” said Wrobel, “Communication was very last minute and that’s why I believe it caught everyone by surprise.”
Time will tell if students find the new study lounge beneficial as a computer commons substitute for overnight hours. This change is just one of many at NAIT this year, including the opening of the new CAT building with its own computer commons area. Students will be watching for communication from NAIT on other upcoming changes and, with students on campus, those changes will be noticed much faster.
However, in the long-run this change is not as negative as it first appeared to students this summer. A new study space, and a continuation of 24/7 access in a new location, is usually more than most students can expect. A new space, as well, that NAIT students can be proud of.
“It’s a beautiful space, it’s all been re-done,” said lewis. “It’s a great space for students.”
– Nicolas Brown, Issues Editor
Image via NAIT
Editor’s note: Ms. lewis requested that her name be spelled without capital letters.