Learning Commons UNK (C&U) Ronald Wirtz; Coordinator of User Services, Keri Pearson; Coordinator of Academic Peer Tutoring and Assessment, Taffnee Faimon; Assistant Director of the Writing Center, Jon Ritterbush; Electronic Resources Librarian: The UNK Learning Commons will have its “Grand Opening” in the Calvin T. Ryan Library at UNK for the Fall Semester, 2011. However, the Learning Commons has been operating successfully in temporary space in the Library for an entire year. We will present describe how the project developed over approximately two years from the inception of the idea to the completed facility and discuss our vision for the future.
One of the foundation elements of the University of Nebraska at Kearney is a continuing focus on research and publication by undergraduate students. This includes research of all types, ranging from history to chemistry, from human performance to psychology and political science. Because of this research focus, students must be able to write well for audiences in their respective areas of inquiry. They must also be able to be sufficiently information literate to keep up with publications, discoveries and advances in their research fields.
We have structured this presentation in five different sections. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Learning Commons concept, we will provide a brief definition, followed by the vision as it was developed at UNK, the transition involved in moving from stand-alone units to the reality of shared space and cooperative programs, and a look at what the future might hold.
Before we get started, we would like to address the Learning Commons idea as we discovered it ourselves through research. We found that, physically, a “Learning Commons” can take on many forms and describe very different spaces. It can encompass student services like tutoring and advising or focus on technology and information access. It can exist as stand-alone buildings or be housed within libraries or other campus facilities. It can brandish cutting edge architecture or simply tweak existing design. Of course, many of these elements already exist within your campuses (maybe even in tandem), but in a Learning Commons there is a deliberate effort to make services seamless from the student perspective.
But no matter what form a Learning Commons may take, the core ideas are the same.
At UNK, our model focuses on three main partners in facilitating student success: the Library, the Peer Tutoring program, and the Writing Center. … We come together with the common vision of helping students succeed, which sometimes gets lost across campus boundaries from building to building, program to program.
Serendipity also played an important part in the development of the UNK Learning Commons, at least in the origin of the project, which started with a discussion between Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Gail Zeller, and Dean Janet Wilke of the Library.
We focus on looking at trends over years rather than focusing on a single point in time. The Peer Tutoring program had far outgrown the space available for the program. A program review of the Writing Center showed a similar need for more space.
This graph of Writing Center use shows the fluctuation of attendance over years, due mostly to changing leadership (or lack thereof).
Office space was given to the Learning Commons when the Health Sciences Office moved back to Bruner Hall of Sciene following renovation.
Another important focus at UNK is a commitment to producing graduates who will possess the skills and attitudes needed for lifelong learning. As noted in the UNK strategic plan, this will include emphasis on technical and information literacy, as well as in the traditional literacy skills of reading and writing.
We like to think that although the Learning Commons at UNK started from the shared vision of our administrators, it has become a combination program that is also envisioned, supported and promoted by the faculty and staff of both the Library and Student Affairs.
Based on a concept created by Writing Center and Learning Commons managers, the campus architect quickly developed a preliminary plan for the space. In the course of many discussions among staff, administration, architects and student consultants , numerous modifications were made to this plan, including a number of changes during the actual construction process.
At the same time, the Writing Center Director who was tapped to run the Learning Commons moved to China. Also, Learning Commons construction was delayed due to design challenges and the realization that a quick remodel was not possible given the vision of the project.
A temporary reception desk was equipped with computers for scheduling and sign-in, and student employees were hired to staff the desk during the operating day.
However, when it became apparent that construction in the new Learning Commons area would not be completed on schedule because of budget restrictions, the entire west half of the second floor of the Library – an area of around 3700 square feet - was designated as a temporary location for both the Peer Tutoring Program and the Writing Center.
We were still busy! The Library saw huge growth in 2010-2011.
I am sure that you are familiar with gate count statistics, which are gathered automatically by counters installed in electronic gates at the entrance to the library. This chart shows monthly total gate counts over a multi-year period – gate count figures are generally collected several times a month, then totalled: As noted in this quotation from Dean Janet Wilke addressed to SVC Charlie Bicak: “ In Library jargon, &quot;Gate Count&quot; refers to the number of bodies physically passing through the library's gate counter. Since we don't require any type of formal check in when users enter, the numbers are most useful in showing broad trends but are less useful when assessing actual &quot;usage.&quot; (By-the-way, the numbers can be &quot;shocking&quot; (more people than live in Kearney!) but keep in mind that, for example, staff are counted when they head out the door to a meeting!) (Just by way of explanation: the gate mechanism counts people coming in and leaving. We then divide by two.) Gate Count numbers are compiled by week and month. Now that the month of September is complete, the total is 38,876, up 24.38% over September 2010 at 29,647.”
The AD position was filled in January 2011, providing needed support and leadership. Funding was appropriated through the UN Foundation after extensive efforts from administration. The construction plan was finalized in Spring of 2011 and construction began immediately, completing in May 2011.
The main floor of the Library also houses an academic department. The space is no longer really adequate for the programs of that department, and the Library APR includes a proposal that the space revert to the Library for Learning Commons programs. UNK’s Senior Vice Chancellor specifically asked for the inclusion of this information in the Library APR, and the academic department concerned is aware of and approves of moving to a location that will be better adapted to their needs.
Keeping the Focus on Student Needs: Collaboration in Creation of UNK’s Learning Commons Taffnee Faimon, Keri Pearson, Jon Ritterbush, Ron Wirtz
SPACE : “… an environment that enhances social interaction and cross disciplinary learning outside the classroom.” 1
GOAL : “The main goal of the Learning Commons it to provide, in a centralized location, as many academic support services for students as possible. These services are provided: · via one-on-one interactions or group instruction · face-to-face or virtually · by professionals in each area as well as peer mentors. ” 2
MECHANISM : “The core activity of a learning commons would not be the manipulation and mastery of information… but the collaborative learning by which students turn information into knowledge and sometimes into wisdom.” 3
Planning continued between Deans and moved “up” to higher administration
The UNK Mission Statement was a focal point for these conversations
III. Student Development Goal (Objective 1) : Develop a comprehensive strategy that will guide planning and activity outside the formal academic curriculum to enhance each student’s cognitive and moral development, interpersonal skills, and prospects for satisfaction and success at UNK and in life after graduation.
Articulate a framework of principles and common objectives, and establish collaborative mechanisms, enabling units to cooperate across organizational boundaries to enhance student retention, graduation, and career placement results.
Bridge Academic and Student Life programming to integrate living and learning experiences for students…
Come Together, Right Now 1 describes the different types of initiatives operative in libraries and Learning Commons models today as being:
Top-down, envisioned and started by administrators
Bottom-up, envisioned and started by faculty or staff
Combination, envisioned and promoted by administration, faculty & staff
1 Come Together, Right Now: The merging of public services and changing service models in academic libraries. RUSA program on changing service models. ALA Annual Conference, New Orleans, LA, June 27, 2011. http://connect.ala.org/node/151695