Tips from the Trenches: Putting the “Learning” Back in the Learning Commons

Author: Cinthya Ippoliti, Head, Teaching and Learning Services, University of Maryland Libraries

Editor’s note: “Putting the “Learning” Back in the Learning Commons” is the fourth in a series of blog postings, “Tips from the Trenches,” by Cinthya Ippoliti.

Workshops are a natural extension of the services of the commons. These days there are a wide variety of offerings geared towards giving students the basic skills they need to either use the equipment and software in the commons or learn about basic tools such as citation management programs.

But is there more? This Fall in the Terrapin Learning Commons (TLC), we decided to try something different. We began in Fall of 2012 with an informal TLC Workshop Series in response to need for citation management support. There was no one library department who “owned” it, so we began with Endnote Web and expanded to include other citation management tools such as Zotero as well as additional skill-based sessions on poster printing utilizing our new printer. We had over 100 students enroll in these various workshops and the initial feedback suggested we should continue to offer these types of learning opportunities.

In the meantime, digital badges arrived and we wanted to see if we could formalize learning while offering students something a little extra. This Fall, students attended in-person workshops under four main tracks, taught by a variety of experts across the libraries:

1. Visual literacy/Primary Sources
2. Multimedia software and techniques
3. Citation Management
4. Production: Poster and 3d Printing

They had the option to enroll in a Canvas course comprised of matching modules which became available after the last workshop ended and access additional readings and videos as well as quizzes designed to test their learning of the in-person elements as well as the content for each module. Upon passing each module with a 75% or better, they could earn a badge for each of the four competencies. The opportunity to win an iPad was probably the main motivating factor-we will assess this for future offerings.

Five people enrolled, two finished the entire course. Their average scores at the end of the class were 91.7% and 97.5% respectively. What did we learn from this experience and what are our takeaways?

– The numbers of attendees has decreased, while our workload has increased especially with this new curriculum. It simply might be that students do not want to devote the additional time to another “course” outside of their classes

– Interest in some things like poster printing is no longer high-presumably students know how to use the equipment

– The workshops are not always held at a convenient time for students and in-person may not be the best format

– There is no disciplinary context for the content, so students might not see it as relevant

– How do we accommodate the just-in-time vs just-in-case needs? We need a more flexible curriculum

We are planning on gathering feedback from all those who attended our workshops (34), not just those who completed the course, to determine how we can improve. We will also determine if we can offer more online content for the workshops where appropriate. Finally, we will collaborate with specific campus-wide partners to see where in the existing curriculum a format such as this might best fit. For example, might a freshman orientation course benefit from having this type of online content tied to specific competencies that could be assessed for a badge? Or might this fit better in a broader academic setting where a campus-wide badge might be awarded?

We are still exploring all of the possibilities available to us, but the idea of creating an original curriculum that goes beyond offering independent workshops for students has intrigued us and is challenging us to discover what lies ahead.

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