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Quiet spaces not conducive to collaboration

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Have you ever been to the Link? The space that connects the Center for Art and Dance (CAD) to the Hall of Music (HOM)? If you haven’t, let me describe it: there are funky couches, tables and usually four or five people reading or working on their computers. Whenever I cut through HOM to CAD or vice-versa, I feel the need to tiptoe past these quiet workers. Part of me doesn’t want to use the printer next to the wall, because it will beep loudly and make that humming noise as it prints. I find it ironic that a large room right in the middle of a creative arts complex is so incredibly silent.

“I was involved in the Link expansion in 2015,” Jane Becker Nelson ’04, the director of Flaten Art Museum, said. “So I can tell you that the space is functioning much differently than what was originally imagined. We envisioned a lively, lounge-like space where students from the fine arts and beyond could come together to socialize, create, study and perform. I’m always surprised at how quiet it is!” 

Where are the spaces where students collaborate? The Cage, for one, is always busy with students and is a popular place for group projects. You look around on any given day and see two or three students gathered around a table, snacking and working on a project. Sometimes there are even bigger study groups of seven or eight poring over a math textbook or two, working out the problems for the next day’s homework.

There’s also the third-floor beanbag room in Rolvaag. If you get there early enough, you can sometimes snag a booth. Those spaces are always busy and crowded. Why aren’t spaces like the Link used more often? Or what about the east and west Lantern in Tompson? Or the top floor of Holland? All those places have tables with more than one chair. They aren’t exactly the old study carrels in the library. 

“We envisioned a lively, lounge-like space where students from the fine arts and beyond could come together to socialize, create, study, and perform. I’m always surprised at how quiet it is!” – Jane Becker Nelson ’04

Director of Facilities, Kevin Larson, said when a space or building is remodeled, “student spaces” are given a lot of attention.  

“We plan for individual spaces and collaborative spaces by design,” Larson said. “How they are used is sometimes surprising. We have not put up signs that say ‘Yes, you can make noise in this area’ but it seems like so many are just working on their own computer and the collaboration is online.” 

I know I’ve worked on a number of group projects where we just each add our own slides to a Google Presentation. 

What does this mean for 21st-century learning spaces? Are we becoming less collaborative in a world that rewards collaboration? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is interesting how students are using spaces. It is worth noting that these silent collaborative spaces are usually much more populated than the aforementioned study carrels. There might be something to be said for creating spaces that are brighter and more open to collaboration, even if that is not how we always use them. 


Cristiana Hawthorne ’20 (hawtho1@stolaf.edu) is from Edina, Minn. She majors in French.