Task force proposes learning commons

November 18, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Howard Fluxgold

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All SFU campuses should have a learning commons to coordinate learning support service for students, the student learning support services task force recommends.

“The learning commons should be a showcase on each campus, materially declaring the university's commitment to advancing students' skills as learners,” says the report of the task force chaired by education professor Phil Winne. The commons would be a communication and information hub for student learning services on campus.

The task force was appointed in June by VP-academic John Waterhouse to make recommendations on how best to support students who will be presented with a new curriculum in September 2006. “There was a concern that when we implemented the new undergraduate curriculum requirements, that we provide adequate support for students who must meet the writing, quantitative and breadth requirements of that curriculum,” explains Waterhouse.

The report concludes that currently, “all learning support services are operating at or very near capacity,” and “demand will rapidly outpace supply as the university community becomes aware of learning support services.”

To help alleviate the heavy and growing demand for services the report recommends “intensely exploring and developing technology-supported media for learning support services.”

The report also advocates a new first-year course in learning skills “to provide wide-ranging and in-depth instruction about general learning skills students can apply across the spectrum of the university's curricula.”

But the report maintains that most support services should remain within the disciplines. “As much as possible, students should receive instruction about focused learning skills in the context of their courses,” it says.

While recommending upgrading learning support services, the task force acknowledges a lack of research on the value of these services. “Empirical data validating the effects of educating students about learning skills on students' performance are not abundant,” it reports. It sets out to rectify the situation by proposing that “research and intensive formative evaluation should be hallmarks of SFU's learning support services program.”

For Winne, this is a key recommendation. “I think it's really important that what we do be continuously and intensely investigated. We can learn from what we do and improve it only to the extent we gather information about what we're doing and how well it's working.”

In all the task force makes 11™¡ recommendations, but does not put a cost on its proposals. Winne maintains, “It is an investment that can pay a lot of returns. Students would have a greater opportunity to succeed in their education. This should increase their satisfaction and help them be more productive in their careers.”

Waterhouse adds that, “while funds are scarce, the university is certainly prepared to consider putting funds behind the learning commons.”

Waterhouse is seeking comments on the report by Nov. 19. The full report is available at Reports.

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