A new multi-department coalition has led to the creation of the Learning Commons: a collaborative endeavor between the Teaching and Learning Center, the UW Tacoma Library and the Center for Equity and Inclusion in attempts to merge all three under one large roof. Why? Well, according to Tim Bostelle, Dwayne Chambers, Justin Wadland and Hannah Wilson, there are a lot of reasons. 

The Learning Commons envisions something that brings together three major areas of student engagement, hoping that by merging them together intersecting issues that may not be addressable by one department can be addressed by the whole. The effective goal can be understood as an attempt to delineate academic and social space, giving students the opportunity to engage with both other students and their teachers in a less formalised and rigorous environment, fostering a better relationship and thus a more personalised learning experience.

“Not all academic issues are academic,” said Chambers, the associate director of the Quantitative Center for the TLC. “For a student, it has to do with more than just their ability to perform in the classroom but also their ability to belong.The CEI wanted to start a tutoring program … why would they need to start a separate tutoring program where there is a TLC? Some of our underrepresented students were looking for mentoring and tutoring, which they had coming out of High School.” 

This would have been otherwise unobtainable with the CEI or TLC on its own, but together they could create something that transcended either’s individual functions. 

“Social support is not [the TLCs] area, it’s not what we’ve been designed to do,” Chambers continued, “It’s something that serves to happen when people gather together, but having the CEI right next to us blurs those lines in a wonderful way … We’ve already seen this with the library, where ‘oh, I have no idea how to do this citation, well right up stairs is a bunch of citation experts. Having the CEI right there makes a library more than just a library.”

Chambers went on to say that the TLC has offered professors unique opportunities to learn about their students when hosting their office hours in this space. “They’ve gotten to find out about things about students such as ‘oh this is why it’s hard for me to tackle this subject because my high school experience was this’ or ‘this is my end goal, I wanna do this why i’m taking this math class even though i’m not interested in math’.”

The library, too, hopes to see growth from the partnership, and Wadland is excited to both develop its space and function.Wadland, the interim director for the UWT Library, hopes to finally expand access, opening up its fourth floor to students — which previously had been storage space or gone unused.  

“It has the best view on campus,” Wadland said. “So it makes sense to turn it over to students.”

By expanding its floor space, the library hopes to expand the role it plays on campus, where it can serve multiple functions. 

“Libraries [are] not warehouses for books,” Wadland said.

The Learning Commons is excited to explore the idea of a builder’s space, but the details have yet to be fully fleshed out. Many students were fond of the 3Dprinter which is accessible, but Bostelle, who is the head of Library Information Technology, envisions something with much more scope to be coupled with accredited course work, calling it a “non traditional builder’s space.”

Wilson, the access services manager for the library, pointed out that some students are commuting all the way from Oregon, which meant they would be unable to just visit the TLC if they needed assistance. However, with the advent of virtual tutoring, they can schedule a session at their discretion. This same flexibility extends to students who may work long hours and not get off until after the TLC normally closed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has done a lot to expand the scope of the Learning Commons in a surprising turn of events to many who work there. Services that would have otherwise never been offered are potentially becoming a permanent installment of the TLC or Library, such as online tutoring. Online tutoring offers students and tutors much more flexibility in their ability to both provide and receive tutoring.

For more information, or to set up an appointment, you can visit the Learning Common’s online hub at https://www.tacoma.uw.edu/learning-research-commons/learning-research-commons

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