Monday, July 8, 2013

A Big Step Forward for the Learning Commons

This summer marks a major milestone for the college. After years of planning and hard work, the Learning Commons began operation in the new location in the Thigpen Library. It’s much more than a major construction project; it’s the next step in an entire sea-change for developmental learning at Vol State. That work began as a major redesign of curriculum and course delivery, now known as Learning Support. The Learning Commons is the new home for Learning Support classes and much more.

Let’s take a look at the most obvious change first. The new Learning Commons space, located on the first floor of the Thigpen Library is bigger, brighter and designed for learning. Careful consideration was given (and often debated) over the type of tables used and the set-up of the room.  Sure, there are lots of computers, but those computers are positioned to help the interaction between students and instructors. Students may not see that at first, but they certainly notice the change.

“It’s spectacular,” said Keri Williams. “It’s so much better. It’s much more user friendly. It’s really comfortable over here.”

“This is a lot more spacious,” said Jean Ingram. Of course, with the accolades come suggestions. “I wish there were blinds on the windows (looking out into the library), so I don’t get distracted.”

And debate over those suggestions. “I’m the opposite, I like looking out,” said Williams. “We’d all like to see refreshments.”

And refreshments, especially coffee, are on the way. It’s part of the effort to make the Learning Commons seem like a learning home for students.

“My goal is that a student who comes in here will feel comfortable and welcome,” said Learning Commons director, Kay Dayton. “I think the students like having a one-stop shop. They can work on math and then switch to reading or English.”

The Learning Commons finally combines Learning Support math, reading and English in one location. They have been scattered around campus in various rooms. The transition is also the next step in a several year process of turning the NewSkills staff into the Learning Commons staff.

“It’s all falling into place,” said Kenny Westmoreland, developmental reading and writing specialist. “It’s gone from being something small to being a reckoning force- it gets bigger every year. We’re seeing many more students this summer.”

The real test will come this fall when the new Learning Commons location goes to full operation.

“At the beginning of the semester it’s a little bit of chaos showing a whole new group of students a new process,” said Dayton.

Those students will be able to do more than just Learning Support classwork at the Learning Commons. It’s envisioned as a clearing house for information about all sorts of student academic support, including Smarthinking and other College Success Zone programs.

“The students won’t have to run around campus,” said Dayton. “They can get the information they need here.”

Faculty and staff are encouraged to come take a look at the new Learning Commons. An open house will be held in August.

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