SPARK to offer students access to support services anytime and anywhere

In Sept. 2013, The Learning Commons at York University will extend beyond the physical space at Scott Library, to a modular and multi-modal online environment. Awarded ongoing funding in 2012-2013 by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF), the Virtual Learning Commons project, known as SPARK: Student Papers and Academic Research Kit will be a 24/7 eLearning resource for students who need assistance with the completion of any aspect of an academic markassignment.

Mark Robertson

Over the past two years project leads, Associate Librarian Mark Robertson, Head of Frost Library Sarah Coysh and Librarian Adam Taves, along with a steering committee and advisory board, have been developing ten of SPARK’s 13 online modules that focus on enhancing students’ academic literacies.

“I think the online modules that we’ve co-written and co-developed with the Learning Commons partners – the University Libraries, the Writing Department and Learning Skills Services – will improve our students’ learning experience, especially for those in their first year at York,” Coysh explains. “We know it can be challenging for students who commute to and from campus, or need a question answered at 10pm at night, to get the support they need. We thought it was essential that students have an online learning ‘hub’ that can be accessed around the clock – even from a mobile device.”


The SPARK modules are presented in three categories, “Getting Started,” “Exploring” and “Pulling it Together” and focus on developing academic literacy skills in areas such as: time management, academic integrity, research strategies, essay structure and creating bibliographies. The modules are approximately eight to 10 minutes in length and consist of interactive quizzes, videos and printable worksheets.  The intent is that the SPARK modules will reflect, and guide students through, the holistic and non-linear nature of the scholarly process.

Focus groups conducted with faculty members helped to identify where there may be gaps in students’ academic literacy skills and these discussions informed much of the modules’ focus and content.

“It was important for us to solicit input from faculty members to gain an understanding of the academic literacy milestones they’d like to see their students reach,” says Taves. “We want to deliver modules that complement curricula so faculty members can incorporate them into their courses.”

The initial SPARK modules have undergone usability testing, receiving very positive feedback from students. SPARK links to a new virtual orientation project for students with disabilities that is also under development and is supported by the AIF.

The final modules are currently in development and SPARK will officially be launched in September 2013.

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