September 05, 2017

The SFU math department is welcoming its students back to school with a new integrated learning and social space that encourages community-building.

Called [math west], the innovative facility near West Mall Complex will enable social learning, collaborative computing and community study.

Former mathematics department chair Manfred Trummer and mathematics professor David Muraki were deeply involved in envisioning the facility’s functionality. They say their goal was to create an academic and social hub where math students, and others, could congregate and collaborate.

“We recognize this is a commuter campus and most of our students have no habitual place to go,” says Muraki. “New majors often don’t know who their fellow students are.”

With [math west], Muraki and Trummer hope to change that.

The three adjoining classrooms, which cover almost 4,000 square feet, are outfitted with moveable tables and chairs, floor-to-ceiling whiteboard walls and large LCD monitors. One of the rooms even gives students a glimpse of a bank vault, a reminder of the days when a Bank of Nova Scotia occupied the space.

The social area adjoining the classrooms gives students somewhere to congregate for post-lecture discussions, participate in exam review sessions, do project work and engage with their tutorial assistants during open-space office hours.

Sean La, a fourth-year mathematics major, welcomes a place to informally gather with other students and says, “it will be a great boon to the math community to have an inviting space to gather.”

Muraki is delighted the new facility will give students a reason to stick around after class, but he’s also excited about how it will change the way mathematics is taught.

“Knowing what specialized tools and technology are available in the classroom allows us to put more energy into creative use of them,” he says.

Muraki hopes his department’s ‘grand experiment’ will encourage other departments to imagine similar spaces that foster community-building by integrating learning and social space.

He says, “This is about building community and slowly changing the culture at SFU.”