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Learning Commons

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Brock University Learning commons
Brock University Learning commons


[edit] What is the learning commons?

A learning commons is an inviting place designed around the social and informal dimensions of learning. It provides an enriched learning environment to support students in their use of scholarly information, and help them develop critical thinking and multiple literacy skills, such as information, writing, numeracy, and technology. A learning commons generally embodies an integrated service model where collaborative services are delivered from a common physical space by units that traditionally have worked independently.

The Brock Learning Commons is on the main floor of the James A. Gibson Library.

Learning Commons Tour

[edit] Who are the learning commons partners?

The Library, the Student Development Centre, Career Services and the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Educational Technologies are all partners in the Learning Commons.

The Learning Commons will become a hub for the design and implementation of many services and programs geared to both undergraduate and graduate students. The partners who are taking part in this project will be working on centralizing all their programming in one spot and workshops to enhance student development.

[edit] Why is a learning commons important?

A learning commons fosters and supports the formal and informal learning that takes place outside of the classroom. As a hub of learning activity on campus, the learning commons at Brock will be a welcoming space, bringing together in one central location the people, services, resources and technologies that support and enrich the student learning experience. Co-ordinated referral to other services on campus will be an important component of the learning commons service model.

[edit] Learning Commons Programming

Learning Commons Programming working page

[edit] More information on the Learning Commons: from Vision to Design

Planning for the Brock University Learning Commons has gained considerable momentum in recent months. With input from the Learning Commons partners, students, and various advisory groups, Diamond & Schmitt Architects Incorporated completed a major feasibility study in late 2006, and produced an exciting design layout that incorporates and transforms the upper level of the former Book Store and the main floor of the University Library.

The successful BUSU referendum outcome in November 2006 marked a significant milestone for the Learning Commons. In that referendum, students provided a strong endorsement of the Learning Commons by approving a proposal to commit $1 million to the project over the next five years. In developing an architectural design for the Learning Commons, our major focus has been on the creation of academic space that will promote and facilitate informal learning (i.e. the learning that takes place outside the classroom). Our planning has been informed by site visits to learning commons at other universities and by the developing body of research related to the relationship between design and independent learning. It is clear that a number of elements are critical for such a space to be successful:

  • it should be welcoming, comfortable, and inspiring – this involves physical comfort (furniture, ambience and proximity to food), as well as display space to celebrate the accomplishments of learning
  • it must provide group study space in support of collaborative learning, as well as areas for individual study, with appropriate zoning for noise
  • it must offer a robust technology infrastructure where students may use provided equipment or their own wireless devices; and
  • it must afford ready access to an array of learning support services.

With respect to this last requirement, the Brock Learning Commons incorporates a Writing Centre, thereby providing increased emphasis on services that will help students improve their writing skills. The design of the Brock Learning Commons will facilitate the integration of learning support services provided by the Learning Commons partners (Library, Student Development Centre, Career Services, and the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Educational Technologies).

Collaborative programming will provide students with opportunities to acquire essential academic skills, and will help them to establish connections among processes such as critical thinking, studying, reading strategies, information seeking and essay writing.

Student peers will play a vital role in the delivery of Learning Commons’ programming, and will serve as important role models to other students. Referrals to additional support services on campus (e.g. academic advising) also will be an important aspect of service delivery.

[edit] How can the learning commons benefit teaching and learning?

As described by Michael Ridley and Dr. Nancy Schmidt in their CTLET 5th Annual Best Practices Day presentation on May 6, 2008, Using the Learning Commons as a Platform for Transforming Teaching & Learning, the Learning Commons needs to be:

  • Supplemental
    • Instruction in university-level learning, writing, numeracy and research skills
    • one-to-one assistance, help desks, workshops
    • online and printed resources
  • Integrated
    • workshops delivered at the request of faculty on discipline-specific research, writing, learning, numeracy and/or academic presentation topics
    • co-curricular learning opportunities
    • course-specific study groups (SLGs)
  • Embedded
    • Collaboration with faculty at the course design or curricular level to embed academic skills with course content
      • Critical reading, researching and writing
      • Critical thinking, argument development and poster design
      • Analyzing stats, integrating data and writing
      • Thesis writing and time management
      • Academic integrity, the research process and writing

Vygotsky and Learning Commons: Library as Curriculum Partner. CTLET 4th Annual Best Practices Day. Brock University. May 5, 2007.

[edit] Key Lessons Learned from Michael Ridley and Nancy Schmidt

  • Service/Learning not structure
  • Seamless integration
  • Focus on the whole person/student
  • Diversity is good
  • Flexibility (for them, by you)
  • Control (by them, not you)

[edit] Michael Ridley and Nancy Schmidt: How to Build a Community in a Learning Commons

  • break down the barriers that separate us by discipline, discourse, and the design of space that keeps us apart
  • create opportunities for individuals to work and learn together
  • grow a community that is knowledgeable about and champions for the quality of student learning

[edit] Proximal Learning and Technology in the Learning Commons: Case Studies

Now that the Brock Learning Commons is completed, it will serve as one of the most unique and exemplary academic facilities on the entire university campus. Designed by the highly regarded architectural firm of Diamond & Schmitt Architects, Inc. , the Learning Commons incorporates a variety of study and instructional spaces in a welcoming, dynamic environment that promotes social learning and is rich in services and technology. Technology permeates all aspects of teaching, learning and research at the University. It also underpins the design of the Learning Commons, and will be fully integrated into the multi-faceted activities and extensive services of this facility. Students and faculty will have access to high-speed desktop computers, to laptops/tablets and other wireless devices that they may borrow through the Learning Commons’ lending program, and to state of the art equipment in the instructional spaces, Writing Centre, Career Services Resource Centre, and the 9 enclosed group study rooms. A complete list of hardware requirements for the Learning Commons is attached.

Many students will use the computers in the Learning Commons much as they use the equipment in the University’s computer labs – to search for information, to write an essay, prepare a PowerPoint presentation, create a spreadsheet, or connect with their friends on IM or Facebook. However, what distinguishes the Learning Commons from these facilities is a thoughtful design that combines, in one physical location, the technology, resources and services that students and faculty need for learning, teaching, writing and research. The following scenarios highlight some of the exciting and innovative ways in which technology in the Learning Commons will be used.

[edit] Scenario #1: Variance from the Mean

Robert is a second year Psychology student who is in the Learning Commons to have a cup of coffee and study for an upcoming mid term. He is reviewing his notes from his stats course and realizes that he doesn’t understand one of the more difficult lecture concepts just presented. He knows, however, that his professor routinely audio records explanations of challenging course concepts and uploads them to Brock's iTunesU site. Robert goes over to one of the study pods to use a desk top computer. He accesses his course on Brock's iTunesU site, downloads the files to his MP3 player, and resumes his seat. People walking by think that Robert is simply listening to music. He is, however, listening to his professor explain standard deviation, again and again.

[edit] Scenario #2: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Karen is a third year student whose International Studies course uses Brock's Learning Management System for both file dissemination (videos and audios) and also for discussion of course concepts. Karen enters the Learning Commons and, as she heads for the coffee bar, she passes the Commons’ technology loan desk to sign out a laptop. She finds a comfortable chair overlooking the courtyard, and curls up with a cup of coffee in one hand and her iPhone in the other. She enters Brock University iTunesU site using the Library’s robust wireless network and finds the content for her course. A vodcast of last week’s lecture awaits: she had attended the lecture, but is still unsure of two of the key concepts that had been presented. Fast-forward to the latter half of the lecture where the professor used the board to draw diagrams that demonstrate how the process unfolds. Ok, now she’s got it. She signs on to the discussion space in Brock's Learning Management System and posts a few comments. Her coffee is still warm.

[edit] Scenario # 3: Collaboration Station

A group of students congregates in one of the group study rooms in the Learning Commons to begin to prepare a presentation for next week’s seminar. Two students have signed out laptops and one is anxious to show the others the preliminary PowerPoint presentation he has prepared. As they gather around the table, they decide to take advantage of the presentation technology in the room. The draft presentation is projected and the brainstorming begins. Together they view and annotate each slide, adding and deleting as a group. One of the students consults with a librarian at the Help Desk to identify the most relevant library databases, and then proceeds to use the second laptop to search for information. Citations are saved on RefWorks, and quickly transported into the presentation. An hour later, the final product is ready to go: the presentation has been annotated and the group is ready.

[edit] Scenario # 4: Taking Technology to the Stacks

Students in a second year Political Science course are divided into groups and assigned a research project to look at past government records on electoral reform. The groups go over to the Learning Commons where each member signs out a compact, web enabled hand held device. They then disappear into the library stacks to research a specific sub-problem of the topic. Using the devices, students record notes, citations and information summaries. As they progress, they upload their findings to the course wiki, where each member is able to read the others’ uploads, annotate and change entries on the fly. Using instant messaging, they also remain in contact with each other as each discovers new sources and possible avenues to explore. “I need help” a student declares. Another instant messages a librarian subject specialist on the main floor of the Learning Commons: “I am on the 7th floor looking for a recent article on electoral reform.” The subject specialist instant messages back with some suggestions, and includes a link to a database of scholarly full-text articles. An hour later, the groups reconvene over coffee in the Commons to review their findings. The instructor monitors their progress as their work evolves on the course wiki.

[edit] Scenario #5: The Perfect Job Interview

In a Learning Commons workshop on resume writing, Masoud, a third year Biotechnology student, is intrigued to hear about some mock interview software provided by Career Services. He thinks this might help him prepare for some upcoming interviews with prospective employers for a work placement term. A week later, he and a fellow student return to the Learning Commons where they sign out a web cam, retreat to the quiet of a group study room, and proceed to practice their responses to system-generated interview questions. They record and review their responses, and decide to make an appointment with one of the Student Employment Advisors for further advice.

[edit] Scenario #6: A Productive School Day

Dominic is a second year Education student who was determined to spend the day being productive at the University. Having finished his essay assignments to date, he entered the Learning Commons to attend a workshop on Making a Speech/Presentation by Learning Skills. Afterwards, he planned to go to Career Services and sign up for Experience Plus! to jump start his resume.

[edit] Scenario #7: A Helping Hand

Arda is a third year Biology student. Althought strong in writing and researching skill, she has always been a little daunted at the prospect of working with equations. Her TA has suggested that she speak with one of the peers from Learning Skills Services who specializes in numeracy skills in the Learning Centre of the Learning Commons. This drop-in support will help Arda reinforce her skills in working with equations.

[edit] Scenario #8: Know what I Did Not Know

Tessa is a first year Business student who has been doing very well on her numeracy courses such as math, finance and accounting, but has been having problems with writing courses such as marketing and organizational behaviour. On the suggestion of her TA, she signed up for one of the essay writing workshops offerred by Learning Skills Services in the Learning Commons to explore her writing potential and identify her weaknesses.

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