Learning Commons: more than a tutoring hub

“People [had the misconception that] if students came to us, they must be deficient in some way,” Learning Commons director Cameron Nay said. “That mindset is changing.”

Learning Commons tutors are available to help UAA students in a relaxed environment. Photo courtesy of Maegan Cieciel.

Located in the Sally Monserud Hall, what was first known as the Learning Resource Center has changed a great deal since it was established in the 1970s. Currently known as the Learning Commons, it has expanded to include the Center for Language Learning, the Writing Center, Math Lab, Science Tutoring, Academic Coaching Center, Communications Center, English Conversations Group and a computer and study space.

The first service available, the Center for Language Learning, is run by the College of Arts and Sciences. It offers tutoring in seven languages: American Sign Language, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

The Writing Center came about in the 1980s. Students may walk in for a 40-minute session where peer-educators read their essays aloud and suggest edits.

“Whether you think you’re a weak writer or a strong writer, it’s really valuable to have someone read over your work and pick up on those things that you may have missed,” Laura Barber, UAA senior and writing consultant, said. “It’s hard when you get so close to your writing to be able to be objective.”

The Writing Center also offers a digital consultation through email. This year, Live Google Docs Writing Consultations allow students to chat online with a consultant as they edit documents together.

In addition, students may study math homework in the Math Lab, where they can ask tutors, who are also UAA students, for help when they have questions.

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This summer is the last semester the Learning Commons offers science tutoring. It will be run by the College of Arts and Sciences in the fall of 2019.

Another service in the Learning Commons, the Academic Coaching Center, offers help with time-management skills, study plans, study skills, test strategies, increasing motivation and other non-course-specific areas during drop-in hours.

The Communications Center was added to the commons a year ago. It offers critiques on speeches and presentations, as well as the beginning outlines and planning for these assignments.

The Learning Resources Center changed its name to the Learning Commons two years ago. With the change in title came a transition in image.

The name “Learning Commons” is meant to reflect the connection directors hope students will have to the UAA.

The “express, share, connect wall” prompts students to leave notes or express themselves in some way. This wall is also used to display the Learning Commons’ annual art show.

“[The activities left out for students to contribute to are] just different ways for students to connect to the space and of course to each other,” associate director of the Learning Commons, Maegan Cieciel, said.

Employees continue to make the Learning Commons a welcoming place to gather. This summer, the physical appearance of the rooms will change through more color and other aesthetic appeals. The Learning Commons also has plenty of comfortable chairs and tables for the purpose of studying as well as hanging out.

“We are trying to keep a more lively, accessible space,” Cieciel said. “People will see changes before the fall semester.”

While the Learning Commons is becoming a common ground for community, the core mission remains the same.

“Our goal is to empower students to take control of their education and reach their academic goals,” Nay said.

During tutoring sessions, employees not only help students with a particular assignments when they come in, but also teach them how to fix similar problems in the future. For example, this might mean advising students on good study habits or encouraging them to speak up in class when they have questions.

“We’re helping them learn how to fish instead of just giving them the fish,” Cieciel said.

Many students come back to work at the Learning Center after receiving help from tutors.

“It also helps them to gain the professional skills they need when they’re moving on,” Nay said.

Peer-educators are better equipped to advise other students based on how they have handled similar situations. It is that sense of commonality that allows the Learning Commons to be a prosperous environment for UAA students.

“There is a lot going on in a student’s life and we’re here to lighten that load,” Barber said.

For hours of operations and more information, visit the Learning Commons page on the UAA website.