York’s Learning Commons offers a fresh take on student support

York’s new Learning Commons pilot project offers students a fresh take on learning and academic support with its comprehensive one-stop support.

The initial phase of the University’s new Learning Commons is located in a bright, airy alcove on the second floor of the Scott Library, at the heart of York’s Keele campus. When fully realized, the Learning Commons will provide integrated learning space that brings together – in one convenient environment –  tools and support services for students to help them fully research, develop, enhance produce and finalize their academic work.

Above: York student Amy Meng (left) receives some one-to-one instruction from Professor Gill Teiman, a tutor in York’s new Learning Commons

Staffed by York faculty members, including writing tutors and librarians, as well as Learning Skills Program staff, the Learning Commons pilot project is jointly coordinated by the Office of the Associate Vice-President Academic Learning Initiatives and the York University Libraries. It draws from a number of similar initiatives currently underway in universities and colleges across Canada and the United States. The learning commons model functionally and spatially integrates support for research, writing, information technology, academic skills and counselling support services into one location.

The services now available through York’s Learning Commons include workshops and one-to-one consultations offered by the Atkinson Writing Program, Atkinson Counselling & Supervision Centre and York’s Counselling & Development Centre along with assistance from the Scott Library’s Research Questions Desk.

“York’s Learning Commons brings together people from various writing programs and learning skills offices around York into one central location,” said Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York’s associate vice-president academic learning initiatives. “The library is a place where people can be brought together very well because it plays such a key role in students’ lives. The physical location of the Scott Library makes it a very good space in which to bring people together.”

When she began working on the pilot project model last fall, Fisher-Stitt consulted with Brent Roe, former associate University librarian, information services, to design York’s first Learning Commons. Following Roe’s departure to take up a new position, Catherine Davidson, associate University librarian, collections, took on the project. “We see the Learning Commons pilot as a key means of enhancing the student experience by making it easy to access the support they need in one place,” said Davidson. “The Learning Commons has a writing skills component and learning skills component, in addition to library services associated with research and information technology support for students.”

“What I’ve heard from the librarians is that they do get many questions from students that go beyond the research component – once they have gathered the information, many students then ask how they should go about organizing it into a paper,” said Fisher-Stitt. “York’s Learning Commons brings those resources together in one location.”

“In the past, when librarians encountered these kinds of questions, they would refer the student to the appropriate support service and that often meant sending the students to another location on campus,” said Davidson. “Now, the Learning Commons, when fully implemented, will offer these supports in one convenient location, so referrals will be easy for students. The library offers the perfect location for a learning commons because the students are in the library in droves doing all kinds of work, so having a commons centrally located in the Scott Library will be very important to them.”

Universities across Canada and the US have a variety of different models for their learning commons. Some libraries at other institutions just have a bank of computers with no learning support, said Fisher-Stitt, while others offer counselling and learning supports without information-technology support. “York’s Learning Commons, when completed, will be a friendly, welcoming space for the University’s students to come and access a full range of supports including learning, counselling, and research and information technology.”

Fisher-Stiff envisions that in the future, York’s Learning Commons will be built as a fluid and dynamic space with group study and individual learning areas. “One of the challenges we are going to have in fully implementing this project is how to create a space for our students, where they feel they can come to get the support they need – a space where, if they need quiet, they can get it and, if they need to work in groups, there is comfortable, moveable seating,” said Fisher-Stitt.

While the learning commons concept at York is still in its infancy, the response from students has been positive, said Fisher-Stitt. At present, York’s Learning Commons, which soft-launched in late May, offers a blend of drop-in consultations and workshops that cover a variety of skills. In addition to the library’s existing research and information literacy services, the Learning Commons now offers a variety of writing workshops including revising and editing papers, effective reading and how to quote and cite academic references, as well as learning skills sessions in time management and exam preparation. Additionally there are drop-in writing and learning skills sessions available.  

The pilot will continue until the end of July. The project team will then assess the concept, refine it and roll out a fuller version this fall.

For more information on services currently offered in the Learning Commons project, click here. Visit the Learning Commons Web site to learn more about the project and other learning commons models.