12/17/2015 Kevin Burke

A Spark for Shadek-Fackenthal

This magazine article is part of Fall 2015 / Issue 83
  • inside marquee 2 Image Credit: Peter Durantine

Time was, all you could really do in any library was read and study—quietly. Now you can write on the walls.

At least, you can in a newly renovated area on the ground floor of Shadek-Fackenthal Library known as the SparkSpace. Its walls are covered floor-to-ceiling by a special paint that mimics the surface of a white board and allows faculty, students and others using dry-erase markers to scribble, sketch and share ideas as inspiration and imagination strike.

"We want to encourage its use as sort of a sandbox," says Alan Caniglia, F&M's vice president for planning and vice provost. He was among the small group of campus leaders from the Office of the Provost, College Library, Information Technology Services and Facilities & Operations that brought the project to life after the concept was first raised during a meeting with faculty in the fall of 2014.

"We imagined something that could be used for a class, but our real goal was to provide a space that would be un-programmed much of the time," Caniglia says. He notes that in its first year of operation the multifunctional learning space—replete with document cameras/visualizers, BrightLink projectors, and 14 PCs loaded with Adobe Creative Cloud, the ArcGIS mapping platform and the College's standard suite of software—is supporting just five classes.

"That room in the old days was kind of a common room, with a fireplace, where students could go," adds the longtime F&M faculty member and administrator about what, more recently, was the library's cataloging office. "It was academic, but it also had an inviting club-like atmosphere that students enjoyed. So, we thought what an attractive thing it would be to restore it to a sort of general learning space."

Although fitting for an electronics-filled room meant to kindle new ways of thinking, researching and collaborating, the term SparkSpace actually traces to former Lancaster resident Anna Diehl Sparks, whose late son, George, was a 1966 graduate of F&M. Her bequest of roughly $300,000 to the College financed most of the renovation and outfitting of the area, as well as the library's adjoining periodicals room. Total investment in the summer project was about $375,000, according to Caniglia.

Amy Mulnix teaches the Connections I class "Brain, Mind and Education" in the SparkSpace this fall; the other classes occurring there span disciplines from business and economics to art and Latin.

"There's a lot of research that shows learning is enhanced by novelty, by movement and social interaction, from students having the time and space to wrestle with ideas," says Mulnix, who was a professor of biology and the associate academic dean at Earlham College in Indiana before her arrival at F&M in 2014 to become director of the College's Faculty Center.

Mulnix, a fan of the popular PBS series "Sherlock," thinks of the space along the lines of the fictional sleuth's "mind palace"—a colloquial reference for the very real method of loci, a mnemonic device dating to the ancient Romans and Greeks. In the most basic terms, it is a method of mental training that uses visualization and spatial cues to organize and recall information.

"Learning is about constructing knowledge, nailing things together," says Mulnix. "Information comes to us in so many ways, and in college you should be able to explore as many of those ways as possible to make the most of any situation in the future. And we have a wealth of opportunities to learn more about learning in this type of instructional space." 

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