Learning in the Learning Commons: C&U/ITART Spring Meeting
6/04/2013 05:07:00 PM | Author: Christa
Learning in the Learning Commons: How UNK Moved Out of the Silos and into a Dance Hall
Keri Pearson, Dr. Ron Wirtz, University of Nebraska Kearney

College & University Section/ITART Spring Meeting
May 10, 2013

University of Nebraska Kearney Learning Commons


Siloed Existence – 2009 – writing center in the library, didn’t do much. Silo mentality kept collaboration from happening.

Peer tutoring program in student affairs building. Had outgrown the space. Noisy. Outside of academic context, viewed as remedial service when in fact they had everyone using their services – honors students, all areas.

Writing center – static student attendance, nobody had ownership of it, was part of Fine Arts, then English, all over the place.

Peer tutoring – a little growth in use over time.


Dean of student affairs and library dean happened to sit next to each other in a meeting and started chatting. SA – we don’t have enough space. LIB – we have space!

Deans talked about problems and need for learning commons in context of UNK mission statement. Helped get all admin support.

Why a learning commons?

Enhance social interaction between students. Knew it was not going to be a quiet space.
Coordinate several academic support services in one space.

Library open more hours than any other building on campus – could expand hours of tutoring and writing centers.

Not a place of instruction and lecturing, a space for people to collaborate.

Transition period

Library had the resources, space, technology expertise.

Focus on the LC not just being a ‘place’. Need to coordinate services.

Univ architect came up with a plan. Student tutors said no, this isn’t how we work. We need open space to work and collaborate. Took out walls and dividers.

Problems: Delay in construction. Assistant director left.

Found a temporary space. Every time they brought in a new table and chairs, a student would sit in it. It was working already!

Gate count went up. Didn’t expect that.

Now – staff meets every Friday morning to keep coordinated.


Movable furniture – wheels on all tables and chairs. Adjustable tables and chairs – height. Ability to reconfigure the whole space in just a few minutes is very valuable. Very flexible space.

Signage around the library directing student to LC. LC more prominent on library website.

YouTube videos – Blue Tube. Intro to using UNK LC. ”What exactly is the LC?”

Fall 2011 – “Game night”. Unconventional use of the space. Got students familiar with the surroundings in its opening semester.

Fall 2012 Freshman Orientation. Almost all staff and faculty participated. Bring students in to show them that this was their space. Wanted them to feel at home and welcome. Games. Lib Quiz – like a pub quiz – emceed by faculty member.

Administrative Support – Learning Commons Coordinating Council (LCCC or LC3) - 2 partners from Student Affairs, 2 from library.

Original services – library, peer tutoring, writing center. Now - also supplemental instruction, language tables, faculty member volunteering their time to help students (no extra pay, on their own time) – mentoring the peer tutors - students majoring in their department.

ACRL Assessment in Action – UNK has been picked. Tracking referrals between LC services and library services.

Programming – undergraduate research seminars.

The Future

Integrate more technology into the space. Library had a presentation room where students can collaborate. Looking to use the glass rooms in LC for that.

Currently using Google Docs form to track library referrals to LC. Not working effectively, need to find a better mechanism.

Tutor training – want to integrate information literacy into the tutor training. Help students use the library.

Potentially gradual migration of other services to LC. ‘friendly takeover’. As more library space becomes available. One stop shop for anything students need.


Staffing? Welcome desk staffed by students – try to get international students to show all types of students that UNK has. Students take on the responsibility for the LC. They promote the program – talk to classes, other students. Future – have a librarian in the LC, so they don’t have to go downstairs to the library all the time. 65+ student tutors. LC – 9am-9pm M-F, Sunday evenings. Tried Saturdays, but nobody came in. Writing center – appointment only, one on one. Tutors – open walk-in, but can also make an appointment.

How to separate quiet from group study areas? It can be both, depends on time of day. Alcove off to the side is quiet. Booth type seating.

Café? There is one elsewhere. They order in food. Want to have it. Trying to convince catering that there should be a Starbucks in the library.

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