Baker-Berry Library readies for new learning center

by Kelsey Blodget | 10/28/04 5:00am

The southeast wing of Baker-Berry Library has been cleared of everything from furniture to asbestos and is ready to be renovated for Dartmouth's new learning center, officials said. But the red tape involved in receiving a Hanover building permit has apparently left progress at a standstill.

The Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, which was established in July thanks to two alumni donations totaling $4.5 million, is designed to facilitate the sharing of faculty teaching methods and ideas, according to organizers.

Despite its current lack of a physical plant, the center is still active. On Wednesday, about 14 faculty members and four selected students met for a teaching roundtable in the Rockefeller Center to discuss classroom cultures and diversity.

This program is one of many the center has organized this year.

Similar centers have existed at other Ivy League institutions for years. History professor Steven Ericson said he made use of Harvard's Danforth Teaching Center as a graduate student in the early 1980s, where he administered a course to a class of 400.

Ericson said it was helpful to have feedback about his teaching. He recalled going over a tape of one of his discussion sessions with a staff member at the center who gave him pointers on how to draw students into the discussion.

"It helps to get critique," Ericson said. "I found that to be very useful."

Ericson said Dartmouth will benefit from having a similar program.

"Even the senior faculty can get a rut in their methods," he said. "It could be very helpful in terms of integrating new technologies and reevaluating discussion leading and lecturing techniques."

The Class of 2008 will be the first to be affected by the center's involvement with faculty for their entire College experience. But some are concerned about the center's potential effectiveness.

"I have a professor that when you ask a question will say, 'It's not important, it's in the book,'" said Laura Cherkas '08. "It makes us feel like nothing in the class is important."

Cherkas said that her professor would definitely benefit from learning how to deal with students' problems with his lectures, but she fears he wouldn't seek out assistance on his own.

"Some of the professors who need help most probably don't realize they have a problem," she said. "The biggest problem the center will have is getting the right professors to go and utilize the resources."

English professor Thomas Luxon, the center's chairman, said he is glad that the center doesn't have any coercion mechanisms to force the involvement of specific faculty members. He said all the center can really do is to try to entice the faculty with interesting programs.

Other students voiced concerns over the center's allocation of funds. When renovations are completed, the center will house a state-of-the-art video conferencing room, with Ethernet connections to every chair.

"The center is a good idea, but not a $4.5 million good idea," said David Villagra '08. "The technology they're going to be using is a little superfluous. All they need is a space to meet and discuss their ideas."

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!