Category Archives: Learning Commons

Six Months in with the Writing Center

University Writing Center reception area. Image courtesy Gensler.
University Writing Center reception area. Image courtesy Gensler.

When the Libraries began investigating the possibility of having the University Writing Center (UWC) become the first campus partner to inhabit the new Learning Commons at the Perry-Castañeda Library, there were high hopes that the marriage would reap significant benefits for library users, patrons of the writing center and the larger campus community. One of the primary goals of the effort was to co-locate complementary services and resources in a central location in order to facilitate greater success in referrals from the Libraries to UWC, and vice versa.

So how has the partnership worked so far? We sat down with UWC program coordinator Alice Batt to get her perspective on the first half-year of life at PCL.

What does the landscape look like for UWC six months into life at PCL? Have you settled in?

Alice Batt.
Alice Batt.

Alice Batt: Definitely. Right now there are 13 consultations happening outside my door—lots of energetic conversations! And our presentations team is making good use of the Learning Labs. About 10% of our writing presentations last semester were delivered in those labs. It’s great when that happens because, after the presentation, students can come right down to the UWC and make an appointment.

University Writing Center consultation area. Image courtesy Gensler.
University Writing Center consultation area. Image courtesy Gensler.

Any takeaways from what you’ve seen so far? 

AB: One of the things that strikes me most is what it’s like to be central again, and to be in a library. Collaboration with our library partners is easier, we’re much more convenient for students, joint workshops are easier to plan and put on, and we’ve been able to experiment with programs like Long Night Against Procrastination. We’re seeing more students, and we’re more confident that, when we refer them to a librarian, they’ll actually go.

What’s the most unexpected outcome?

AB: It took us a while to get used to seeing people on the consulting floor when we arrive in the morning—some of them have been here all night! Now we just tap them gently and send them on their way to class, breakfast, or home.

How has the integration with relevant Libraries staff and services worked? 

AB: Overall, it’s going beautifully. Trish (UWC Director Patricia Roberts-Miller) and I are part of the Learning Commons Steering Committee, which meets once a month to iron out wrinkles and make sure we’re all pursuing the same goals. Lately we’ve been talking about cross training: we had a well-attended workshop for our consultants conducted by two librarians that gave consultants some of the basics about the services, when to refer students to them, what sorts of resources are available. Since our consultants are students, it was helpful to them in both capacities–as students doing research, and as consultants working with students on researched writing.

University Writing Center consultation area. Image courtesy Gensler.
University Writing Center consultation area. Image courtesy Gensler.

Have you changed or adapted in some way you didn’t foresee?

AB: I haven’t checked the data to confirm this, but I get the sense we’re seeing a more diverse group of students coming to the UWC—more diverse ethnically, racially, linguistically, and also more diverse in their majors. We think it’s because this location is where students already are; they don’t have to make a special trip up to FAC.

What’s been the student response to the new space?

AB: Overwhelmingly positive. Everyone—our administrators, consulting staff, and the students we serve—loves working in a bright, cheery environment. And loads of students come here for private study after we close.

Are you considering any developments that you’d like people to know about? 

AB: Our first semester working with grad students in College of Liberal Arts has been a big success. Grad students particularly like the 6-week writing groups; nothing improves productivity like being held responsible by a group! We’d like to expand our services to support graduate students throughout the university. Grad students who would like us to support their writing should tell their deans.

Any other thoughts? 

AB: In the Learning Commons, we’re right in the path of students who need our services. We’ve always been a busy place, but now our numbers are up 4% from last year—and they’re rising!

University Writing Center work space. Image courtesy Gensler.
University Writing Center work space. Image courtesy Gensler.

Commons Learning

Cindy Fisher teaches first-year students in a class at PCL.

Leading up to the opening of the Learning Commons, we’ve spoken in broad terms about the impact of having a suite of student resources and services co-located for ease of access and use, and how that convenience is expected to improve student outcomes. Much of the talk regarding that impact of the Learning Commons has centered on the process and completion of finished products of a more temporal nature such as reports, projects and other assignments, but beyond the resources — technical help, knowledge resources and technology — that will serve as the basis for user productivity, it’s worth considering the persisting influence that the learning opportunities supported by the new space will provide to the next generation of Longhorns.

Students attend one of the LIbraries' classes at PCL.Staff in the Libraries’ Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) unit has played a central role in planning the Learning Commons, and their activities will have a significant impact on the success of the initiative. The longstanding relationship between TLS and the University Writing Center was essential to the relocation of UWC to the Perry-Castañeda Library, and much of the vitality in the Learning Commons will be determined by how the partnership between the two groups evolves over time. UWC’s nascent presence has already reaped ideas for collaborating with the Libraries on programming in the new space, and coordinating with other student resources around campus — such as the Sanger Learning Center — will allow a crossover between the provisional service needs of users for the purpose of completing assignments and the generation of lasting skills like interviewing, public speaking, information literacy, and much more.

TLS emerged in 2002 — at the time designated Library Instruction Services — to take the place of the Digital Information Literacy Office (DILO) and expand on its mission to integrate information literacy into the campus-wide curriculum for general education, which it successfully accomplished in 2010. The unit’s name evolved to Teaching and Learning Services as its mission has expanded to represent a more comprehensive view of the academic landscape and the ways in which students and faculty interact to share knowledge and experience.

By its increased involvement in campus curriculum via information and digital literacy, TLS has routinely collaborated with faculty on assignment design and presents course-integrated classes in hands-on classrooms in the libraries. They’ve also created video tutorials on subjects such as avoiding plagiarism for integration into course web sites and embedding in online courses. Through a combination of these methods, TLS now reaches almost 3,000 lower division undergraduates every year.

Head of TLS Michele Ostrow at an information literacy conference organized with regional high school librarians.“The Learning Commons isn’t just about co-locating academic support services for ease of access but is about collaborating in new ways across those departmental lines to better support teaching and learning,” says Michele Ostrow, head of the Libraries’ Teaching and Learning Services unit. “We’re fortunate to work closely with a lot of fantastic faculty who teach in our freshmen programs and are committed to helping the excellent high school students who get into UT become excellent college students.” Continue reading

Art in Progress

Hipstamatic photography by Stephen Littrell.

Though the Learning Commons is starting to take shape and less imagination is required to envisage the finished space, it is still a construction area, and not the spanking future version of itself quite yet.

Stephen Littrell is Head of Access Services for the Libraries, and an avid fan of the Hipstamatic digital photo app, which allows users to customize mobile-native photography using a variety of lens, film and flash filtering options, creating images with a nostalgic feel. Littrell recently used his digital photography skills to coax some subtle beauty from the otherwise drab, dusty and cluttered space that will soon be the new Learning Commons.

“When the Learning Commons opens in August it will be a lovely and vibrant space,” say Littrell. “But before the space opens to the public, there’s an opportunity to capture some of the construction process in a way that’s less documentarian and more playful…maybe even a little artistic.”

Littrell has posted his work on Instagram, and uploaded selections to Hipstography, a site that features galleries of work by Hipstamatic users.

Halfway Home to the Learning Commons

Hallway to staff offices.

We’ve mentioned in past summers that even while students are mostly taking a well-deserved break and faculty are about and abroad staying abreast of trends and developments in their respective fields of focus, the Libraries use the regular academic hiatus to upgrade and transform services and spaces to meet the evolving needs of a constantly changing campus community.

Learning Commons concept drawings by Gensler.This summer is no different. We’ve highlighted the new space to open for an incoming class of Longhorns — the Learning Commons, a different kind of learning space that will inhabit a renovated space of some 20,000 sq. ft. on the ground level of the Perry-Castañeda Library, and represents the largest transformation of space in the PCL since its construction in 1977. The concept has been a long time in planning, but will finally be realized as construction of the new space ramps up to meet a mid-August deadline.  Continue reading

Texas Exes Dallas Chapter Welcome Vice Provost

Vice Provost Lorraine Haricombe with Libraries' Advisory Council member Ken Capps.

Last week, the Texas Exes Dallas Chapter hosted a reception featuring Dr. Lorraine Haricombe, Vice Provost and Director of University of Texas Libraries.

Lorraine shared her highest priorities to:

  • Strengthen UT Libraries core mission to support UT’s mission of teaching, research and learning in new and creative ways.
  • Fill key positions to align with new roles for libraries in teaching, learning and in the digital environment and to expand collaborative partnerships on campus (and beyond) and re-purpose prime real estate in our libraries to meet the expectations of 21st century learners.
  • Position UT Libraries to help transform teaching, learning and research at the University through open access to ensure that the ground breaking research conducted at our University will reach beyond the Forty Acres, nationally and globally.

She also expressed her excitement as UT Libraries is set to open 20,000 sq. ft. of repurposed space in the Perry-Castañeda Library, our main library, where we will partner with the University Writing Center, the Sanger center and others to provide a rich and energizing learning experience for our students.

To close, Lorraine reminded everyone, “supporting the Libraries has the potential to touch the lives of every student, staff and faculty member to ensure that what starts here really does change the world.”

Looking forward, UT Libraries plans to partner with Texas Exes Chapters across the country to host similar events that showcase the work being done at UT. If you are interested in hosting a similar event, please contact Gregory Perrin.

The Price of Transformation

 

Building the Learning Commons in the Perry-Castañeda Library and the Creativity Commons in the Fine Arts Library come with a big price tag. The University of Texas Libraries has invested time, money, and staff to these projects, however, there is still a need for funding.

Phase one of the Learning Commons will transform 20,000 square-feet on the entry level of PCL. In addition to adaptive-learning classrooms and a new media lab, the Learning Commons will serve as the new home for the University Writing Center. These changes are all part of making the Perry-Castañeda Library a one-stop-shop for student research and productivity. The  overall cost for the first phase of the project — roughly $4.5 million — has been shouldered with the help of the Office of the Provost ($2 million), the College of Liberal Arts  ($500,000), and the Libraries ($1.5 million). The Libraries will still need to raise roughly $500,000 in order to fund the technology needs,  the most critical of components for the Learning Commons. Funding opportunities for the Learning Commons:

  • Digital Media Lab Sponsor – $75,000 (2 available)
    Provide a space for 50 students to access state-of-the-art technology to assist them in creating presentations, media production, gaming projects and collaborative assignments.
  • Learning Labs Sponsor – $50,000 (2 available)
    Provide technology-enhanced large classrooms available for instruction and student study.
  • Learning Labs Sponsor – $35,000 (3 available)
    Provide technology-enhanced smaller classrooms available for instruction and student study.
  • Technology Sponsor – $25,000 (3 available)
    Provide hardware, software, technical assistance and installation of digital technology in the Learning Commons.
  • Collaborative Space Sponsor – $15,000 (5 available)
    Provide general study and work space for graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Learning Commons Sponsor – $10,000
    Support enhanced research, writing and academic assistance each student in the Learning Commons will receive.
  • Student Sponsor – $1,700
    Provide services in the Learning Commons for one student. Students will have access to research and writing assistance, tutoring, academic support, digital media production training and assistance.

The Fine Arts Library’s Creativity Commons will transform the way students and faculty use the libraries at the University of Texas. The Creativity Commons will include maker workshop tools found in colleges elsewhere on campus, like 3-D printers and shop tools, in addition to game development, recording and video production studios. The Libraries believe that hosting these labs is pivotal to students’ success because while these tools are available in other areas on campus, they are restricted to students of a certain major. The University of Texas Libraries has partnered with the College of Fine Arts to fund staff to create and manage the various aspects of the Creativity Commons. The overall cost of building the Creativity Commons is $175,000. Funding opportunities for the Creativity Commons:

  • Video Production Studio Sponsor – $50,000
    Provide high-end video technology and equipment to check out and enable students to have access to high-end cameras and a responsive editing facility with large format monitors.
  • Game Developer Studio Sponsor – $35,000
    Provide equipment and technology for game development and testing.
  • Maker Workshop Sponsor – $25,000
    Provide a DIY space for students to create, fabricate, build, hack, and code.
  • Technology Sponsor – $25,000
    Provide all necessary hardware, software, and instillation for the Creativity Commons.
  • Recording Studio – $15,000
    Provide a variety of equipment for song/music creation – keyboards, computers, mixers, microphones and a “voice over booth,” that will have sound isolation for signers and narrators to practice and record vocal parts.
  • 3D Design Workspace Sponsor – $15,000
    Provide a cluster of medium-level 3D printing stations that will be fully support from design assistance to implementation.
  • Student Sponsor – $5,000
    Provide services in the Creativity Commons for one student. Students will have access to state-of-the-art technology and equipment as well as expert training.

The UT Libraries will embark on its very first crowd-funding campaign in March to raise $10,000 for the Recording Studio in the Creativity Commons. The campaign has partnered with five “champions” to spread the word about the Fine Arts Library Recording Studio. Fine Arts Librarian Laura Schwartz, UT Libraries Chief Development Officer Gregory Perrin, Psychology major Rosa Muñoz, Theatre and Dance and Advertising major Sara Robillard, and Librarian and local Austin musician PG Moreno are championing the project to students, faculty, alums, friends, and community members to gain their support. The campaign will kick off on March 23 and run through May 1. For more information or to get involved, please contact Natalie Moore.

Philanthropy continues to play a key role in the Libraries success. Individuals and corporations who invest in the Learning Commons and/or the Creativity Commons will be recognized with their name in the completed spaces they have sponsored. To support the creation of the Learning Commons or the Creativity Commons, please contact Gregory Perrin or visit our online giving page today.

Make It New: A Learning Commons at PCL

Learning Commons conceptual drawings by Gensler.
Learning Commons conceptual drawings by Gensler.

“A real building is one on which the eye can light and stay lit,” exhorted poet Ezra Pound, commenting on the need for architecture to be visually engaging in order to stimulate the mind — a thought that could just as easily apply to that which occurs within a given structure. With the Perry-Castañeda Library’s (PCL) recent entry in the Austin Chronicle’s “Best of 2014” issue with the dubious distinction of “Best Brutalist Architecture,” there’s little promise that the edifice of the 70’s-era building would meet Pound’s condition for generating intellectual inspiration, so the Libraries must instead focus on that which occurs within the walls of its spaces to spark creativity and innovation.

To that end, the Libraries is undertaking its largest transformation of space since the PCL’s construction in an effort to adapt to the changing needs and practices of its users, as well as to the expectations of the larger campus community.

This semester, construction is beginning on phase one of a project to create a cross-campus collaborative space in the Libraries’ flagship branch where student learning at the university will enter a new era. The University of Texas Libraries Learning Commons has been in development over the past 18 months through engagement with campus stakeholders and discussions with university administrators to envision the transformation of outmoded library space into a place where active learning and modern scholarship can occur.

“Libraries have learned from recent paradigm shifts to be more agile than they were traditionally,” says Executive Associate Director Catherine Hamer. “While shrinking budgets compound the difficulty of making wholesale changes to how we operate, we’ve continued planning and executing on efforts that are known needs for students, faculty and researchers. We’ve been developing the Learning Commons as a major strategic goal behind the scenes for some time, and I’m gratified that we’re finally able to announce it as a reality.”

Library space designed by Gensler.
Library space designed by Gensler.

The 20,000 square-foot renovation on the entry-level of PCL will include new technology-rich classrooms built for 21st century learning, consultation spaces and meeting areas. It will boast a modern media lab with high-end software and support for digital media creation that will be available to every student on campus — regardless of college or school — as well as support for faculty who want to incorporate digital literacy into their courses. The Learning Commons will also serve as the new home for the University Writing Center (UWC), the first-of-its-kind partnership between the Libraries and another campus service unit devised to streamline resources for students at UT by locating specialized service at the point of need. Continue reading