Keeping the Focus on Student Needs: Collaboration in Creation of UNK’s Learning Commons


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The Learning Commons at University of Nebraska Kearney will have its “Grand Opening” in the Calvin T. Ryan Library in November 2011. However, the Learning Commons has been operating successfully in temporary space in the Library for an entire year. We will 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.

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  • Introduction of Presenters: TaffneeFaimon, Assistant Director of the Writing Center; Keri Pearson, Coordinator of Academic Peer Tutoring and Assessment; Ronald Wirtz, Coordinator of User Services; Jon Ritterbush, Electronic Resources LibrarianThe UNK Learning Commons will have its official “Grand Opening” in the Calvin T. Ryan Library during the Fall Semester, 2011. However, the Learning Commons has been operating successfully in temporary space within the Library for a full year. This presentation will describe how the Learning Commons was developed over a 2-year period from its inception to the completion of a renovated facility. It will also address our vision for the future of the UNK Learning Commons.This is a condensed version of a presentation given last week at the National College Learning Association annual conference in Indianapolis, and we will have time for Q&A at the end of our session. If you’re online and on Twitter, you can also send questions to this hashtag: #UNKLC
  • First, a little background about University of Nebraska Kearney: UNK is a 4-year institution, with approximately 6,500 students, of which 5,100 are undergraduate students. UNK also offers a growing number of online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.Undergraduate research is a foundational element at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Students have an opportunity to research and publish in a wide array of disciplines, ranging from history to chemistry, from human performance to psychology and political science. This screen highlights some examples from UNK’s “Undergraduate Research Journal,” an annual publication of selected articles submitted by UNK undergraduate students. Many UNK students also attend the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.Because of this emphasis on research, and opportunities for publication, students must be able to utilize information literacy skills and be able to write well for audiences in their respective areas of inquiry.
  • We have structured this presentation in five different sections. For those of you who may be 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 separate units toward the reality of shared space and cooperative programs, and a look at what the future might hold.
  • So what is a Learning Commons?On this slide we’ve cited several principles that help define a learning commons. Each of these emphasizes the collaborative aspects of gathering, evaluating, and using information to complete an assignment and to learn.Some of you may ask what distinguishes a Learning Commons from an Information Commons? I’ve asked this myself…Paraphrasing what Scott Bennett wrote in a 2008 article in the Journal of Academic Librarianship:“Properly understood, librarians and academic computing staff cannot alone create a learning commons, as they serve but do not define institutional mission.” Other academic units, which establish learning goals, do define the institutional mission and must join librarians and technologists in creating a learning commons. “The fundamental difference … is that the [information commons] supports the institutional mission while the [learning commons] enacts it.”
  • In the literature, we’ve also found that, physically, a “Learning Commons” can take on many forms and describe very different spaces. 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. Many of these elements may already exist within your campuses (maybe even in tandem), but in a Learning Commons there is a deliberate effort to co-locate these services, making them seamless from the student perspective.
  • At UNK, our Learning Commons model currently focuses on three main partners in facilitating student success: the Library, the Peer Tutoring program, and the Writing Center. …We’ve come together in one space with the common vision of helping students succeed. Having defined what is a Learning Commons, I’d like to turn this over to ________________ to talk further about the vision.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 students, 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.
  • The designated 4800 square feet for the Learning Commons remained stripped but mostly untouched as funding sources were sought by higher administration.
  • When it became apparent that construction in the new Learning Commons area would not be completed on schedule, 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 despite the halted construction and less than ideal situations of staffing and space!The Library saw huge growth in 2010-2011.
  • 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 constructionplan was finalized in Spring of 2011 and construction began immediately, completing in May 2011.
  • Gate count statistics are gathered automatically by counters installed in electronic gates at the entrance and exit of the library. This chart shows monthly total gate counts over a multi-year period – gate count figures are generally several times a month, then totalled:As noted in this quotation from Dean Janet Wilke addressed to SVC Charlie Bicak:“In Library jargon, "Gate Count" 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 "usage." (By-the-way, the numbers can be "shocking" (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.”
  • …and on to the future!
  • So what lies ahead for the UNK Learning Commons?We hope to secure additional funding for updated furniture, more comfortable yet flexible in design to better accommodate groups of various sizes -- flip-top tables and chairs on casters, for example.Along with furniture that allows collaboration, we’d like to add more technology which facilitates tutoring and group-work as well. Having super-sized monitors or LCD TVs connected to computers in the Learning Commons and other group study rooms in the Library would be one example.The Learning Commons is a learning process for all of us, and so assessment is an essential component to gauging success. The Learning Commons staff are exploring new software tools and processes for tracking student use of peer tutoring and the writing center. Accudemia and TutorTrac are just two of the software applications being evaluated to replace our current system (AccuTrack).While Peer Tutoring and the Writing Center are now co-located within the library, our efforts to integrate our services and workflows are continuing. Student workers in the Writing Center may soon be required to complete an “information literacy” tutorial in Blackboard, as part of their training. Currently, the Reference Desk and Learning Commons are located on separate floors within the library. In the future, we might consolidate these service points.In the future, we may also be successful in bringing the IT Help Desk into the library, to provide better technology assistance to students during and after business-hours.
  • One major change may be years in the making…The main floor of the Library also houses UNK’s Communications Department. The space is no longer adequate for this academic program, and the Library’s Academic Program Review included a proposal that the space revert to the Library for Learning Commons programs.With additional space, other student services – such as the IT Help Desk – could move into the Library as well, facilitating further program “seamlessness” for UNK students.
  • Q&A Time!
  • Keeping the Focus on Student Needs: Collaboration in Creation of UNK’s Learning Commons

    1. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs:Collaboration in Creation of UNK’s Learning CommonsTaffneeFaimon, Keri Pearson, Jon Ritterbush, Ron Wirtz<br />
    2. Strategic Focus & Foundation<br />
    3. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs<br />What is a Learning Commons?<br />Phase 1: Vision<br />Phase 2: Transition<br />Phase 3: Reality<br />The Future<br />
    4. What is a Learning Commons?<br />SPACE: “… an environment that enhances social interaction and cross disciplinary learning outside the classroom.”1<br />GOAL: “The main goal of the Learning Commons is 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<br />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<br />1<br />2<br />3<br /> %22Learning%20Commons%20Nebraska%22<br />
    5. What is a Learning Commons?<br />Learning Commons models vary but often include:<br />reference/research help<br />IT point-of-need assistance<br />writing and math/statistics help<br />study skills help<br />assistive technology for students with disabilities<br />desktop computers with a variety of software packages<br />laptop computers for loan, printing<br />bookable study rooms<br />
    6. What is a Learning Commons?<br />The University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) Learning Commons:<br />Calvin T. Ryan (CTR) Library: book collections and electronic resources for student research with ample study space and technology access<br />Peer Tutoring: peer assistance for general studies courses (especially math and science)<br />Writing Center: peer assistance at any stage of the writing process<br />
    7. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs<br />What is a Learning Commons?<br />Phase 1: Vision<br />Phase 2: Transition<br />Phase 3: Reality<br />The Future<br />
    8. Phase 1: Vision<br />Siloed Existence<br />Library housed the Writing Center but there was no effort towards cooperation<br />Writing Center was shifted from one funding source to another<br />Peer Tutoring was housed outside an academic context in Student Affairs and often regarded as a remedial service <br />
    9. Phase 1: Vision<br />serendipity, n.<br />Pronunciation:  /sɛrɛnˈdɪpɪtɪ/ <br />Etymology:Aword coined by Horace Walpole, who says (Let. to Mann, 28 Jan. 1754) that he had formed it upon the title of the fairy-tale ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’, the heroes of which ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.<br />The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Also, the fact or an instance of such a discovery. <br />From: Oxford English Dictionary (Online)<br />
    10. Phase 1: Vision<br />Three serendipitous elements: <br />1. Administrative Program Review involving Peer <br /> Tutoring<br />2. Conversations between administrative Deans <br /> about shared needs and goals.<br />3. Available space in the Library<br />
    11. Phase 1: Vision<br /> Available tutoring space in the Library<br />
    12. Phase 1: Vision<br />Come Together, Right Now1 describes the different types of initiatives operative in libraries and Learning Commons models today as being:<br />Top-down, envisioned and started by administrators<br />Bottom-up, envisioned and started by faculty or staff <br />Combination, envisioned and promoted by administration, faculty & staff <br />1Come 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. <br />
    13. Phase 1: Vision<br />Planning continued between Deans and moved “up” to higher administration<br />The UNK Mission Statement was a focal point for these conversations<br />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.<br />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.<br />Bridge Academic and Student Life programming to integrate living and learning experiences for students…<br />
    14. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs<br />What is a Learning Commons?<br />Phase 1: Vision<br />Phase 2: Transition<br />Phase 3: Reality<br />The Future<br />
    15. Phase 2: Transition<br />One Initial Design<br />
    16. Phase 2: Transition<br />Peer Tutoring offices moved in with the Writing Center in May of 2010<br />Plan: build the LC over the summer to open in August 2010<br />“Challenges Arose”<br />The Writing Center Director resigned.<br />Using a designated alternative space in the Library, the “UNK Learning Commons” opened softly in August 2010<br />
    17. Phase 2: Transition<br />
    18. Phase 2: Transition<br />
    19. Phase 2: Transition<br />
    20. Phase 2: Transition<br />Collaboration between programs and with the Library was ongoing despite the temporary delay in construction.<br />Hiring process for a Writing Center/Learning Commons Assistant Director<br />Additional technology in the general Library space and technology support<br />Project planning at Dean and higher administrative levels<br />
    21. Phase 2: Transition<br />Shazam! (success)<br />Funding acquired for Learning Commons construction in November 2010<br />Writing Center/Learning Commons Assistant Director hired in January 2011<br />Construction began and ended Spring 2011<br />
    22. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs<br />What is a Learning Commons?<br />Phase 1: Vision<br />Phase 2: Transition<br />Phase 3: Reality<br />The Future<br />
    23. Phase 3: Reality<br />The UNK Learning Commons opened with much fanfare in its permanent space in Fall 2011.<br />
    24. Phase 3: Reality<br />Library Resources<br />and Services<br />UNK<br />Learning<br />Commons<br />Academic<br />Success<br />Services<br />Technology<br />Resources<br />
    25. Phase 3: Reality<br />Many “united front” efforts were made to ensure the success of the LC and, thereby, its student users.<br />Marketing pieces work to tie the programs and the Library together.<br />
    26. Phase 3: Reality<br />
    27. Phase 3: Reality<br />
    28. Phase 3: Reality<br />
    29. Phase 3: Reality<br />“BlueTube” video for prospective students:<br />“Louie the Loper Learns a Lot” for first-year student orientation:<br /><br />
    30. Phase 3: Reality<br />Many “united front” efforts were made to ensure the success of the LC and, thereby, its student users.<br />Marketing pieces work to tie the programs and the Library together.<br />Several programs working together<br />Peer Tutoring<br />Writing Center<br />Supplemental Instruction<br />First Year Student Peer Leaders<br />
    31. Phase 3: Reality<br />Gate count for Sept. 2011 was 38,876, up more than 24% over Sept. 2010 <br />
    32. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs<br />What is a Learning Commons?<br />Phase 1: Vision<br />Phase 2: Transition<br />Phase 3: Reality<br />The Future<br />
    33. The Future<br />Further funding for furniture<br />More collaborative technology throughout the library<br />Improved tracking of student use of services<br />Continue integrating services; formalize this with a memo of understanding<br />
    34. The Future<br />Gradual migration of other student services as more Library space is available<br />Shaded area shows proposed expansion space<br />
    35. Keeping the Focus on Student Needs<br />
    36. Q&A<br />Ask now!<br />Tweet your questions to #UNKLC<br />Email us: <br />Taffnee: <br />Keri: <br />Jon:<br />Ron:<br />More readings on “Learning Commons in Libraries” at:<br />