Written by on February 28, 2017

Supporting student learning through creative spaces

Supporting student success is at the core of the Kennedy Library’s mission. As a resource for studying, research and collaboration, the library is a popular place for students to come together independently or in a group, to push academic boundaries.

As part of creating and maintaining spaces where students can succeed, Stern Neill, professor and Interim Associate Dean at Orfalea College of Business, and Mark Bieraugel, Business Librarian at Kennedy Library, conducted a study on various campus spaces’ effectiveness in fostering creativity. According to the study,Ascending Bloom’s Pyramid: Fostering Student Creativity and Innovation in Academic Library Spaces,” the library excels in reinforcing preexisting knowledge for students.

“Traditionally you think of the library as a repository, where you find existing knowledge– but there are other ways of learning than looking at the past,” Neill said. “Rather than only relying on existing info, we can create new ideas through sharing, experimenting and other behaviors.”

Neill and Bieraugel set a goal for the library to be a place where students can obtain, “the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy: creating new knowledge,” in their study. They see the library moving more toward nurturing new knowledge by providing settings where students can experiment. These kinds of spaces include makerspaces, such as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Innovation Sandbox in Bonderson Project Center. The area is equipped with hardware equipment, a 3-D printer and group tables, to name a few of the elements.

Bieraugel envisions students using the library as an environment where they can try something new, fail, and learn by doing and starting over.

“We will look to the spaces to understand how we might foster risk taking, failing and trying again, and foster that in the library,” Bieraugel said.
Neill agrees, saying that the library has the potential to take the intangible and make it tangible to foster more of a creative atmosphere for learning.
The study focused on the two aspects of learning– through exploitation and exploration. Exploitation occurs when students apply current knowledge to their studies. The study found this type of learning would most commonly occur in computer labs. In contrast, exploration happens when students obtain new knowledge. Students are more likely to engage in creating something new when in makerspaces.

While Neill and Bieraugel recognize the potential of students to invent something new in a variety of study backdrops, they also value the preservation of what already works for the students, such as the computer labs.
“You don’t want to throw something out. We don’t mean to diminish exploitation, but how can it coexist with exploration?” Neill asked in his approach to making room for new places at the library.

While Neill and Bieraugel acknowledge the need for more student spaces that encourage exploration, Neill said there’s also a need for a variety of surroundings, from those that require intense, quiet settings to those that create group discussions.

“They need a space that supports reflective thinking, but they also need to hash out ideas and write on walls, Neill said. “It’s all based on individual learning.” To reach the top tier of Bloom’s taxonomy, Neill and Bieraugel suggest the library incorporates more spaces that encourage innovation and creativity. Specifically, they would like the library to become a more “flexible” environment, one that includes conditions for both exploitative and explorative learning.

“Different types of spaces are needed to address the concerns of the learner. We need to build on those strengths,” Bieraugel said. The library’s second floor is a good example, serving as a collaborative environment, according to Neill. The second floor home to aisles of magazines, newspapers and other popular print publications. Additionally, it houses several “fishbowls” where groups meetings can take place.

Because of the collaborative group spaces present on the second floor, it is a more upbeat and lively scene, especially with Julian’s Cafe & Bistro right around the corner. While some people may study better in a busier climate, others won’t– and accommodating each student’s needs is a priority of Neill and Bieraugel’s project. “Students feel this is their space and they have a degree of ownership,” Bieraugel said. “Given we have 21,000 students, we need to have the feeling that you’re welcome to come into this space.”

From the study, Neill and Bieraugel see the Kennedy library rising to the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy– where the library is not just a place to gather and conduct research, but to push intellectual boundaries by creating new things.”We have to ask: ‘are we giving students opportunities to grow?'” Bieraugel said in regards to improving the spaces in the library.

Through research, and by taking direct input from students, Cal Poly’s faculty and staff show their support for student success. In particular, Neill and Bieraugel are helping to inform new spaces that can encourage students to reach their full potential. Kennedy Library actively supports student learning by providing them with the creative spaces they need to thrive at Cal Poly. By collaborating through partnerships and services, the “Learn by Doing” environment here at the library grows.


Megan Schellong is a fourth-year journalism major with a concentration in news and editing at Cal Poly, and works as a communications student assistant for Kennedy Library.  As both a student and a library employee, she brings a unique perspective to sharing stories with the library’s friends and neighbors. Originally from Connecticut, Megan enjoys the abundance of sun and Mexican food in California. She is on a mission to find the best place to eat tacos.

Read more on academic research, cal poly, kennedy library, learn by doing, Library, mark bieraugel, marketing, orfalea college of business, stern neill, and study.

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