From "Library" to "Learning Commons"
On the path to creating an environment that supports the 21st century learner
Learning + Knowledge = Opportunity. At least that's been the equation behind K-12 education for the past century or more. But in a world where the collected knowledge of nearly all human endeavor is often just a click away, the "learning" part of that equation has changed dramatically over the past few years.
In today's electronic and connected world, the traditional process of learning – digging through encyclopedias and journals at the library or sitting in a classroom – has been impacted significantly by the availability of knowledge. And for many, that has led to a kind of disconnectedness in the way today's students approach learning.
So what are schools doing to re-connect the learning / knowledge equation?
One way in which Randolph Union High School is trying to meet the needs of 21st century learners is in the transformation of its traditional library to a "Learning Commons" – a place where information is made available to students through a wide range of resources in a collaborative, learning-centered way. A learning commons is both a physical and virtual space that is user-centered, flexible, and dynamic; and which promotes collaboration between students, teachers, and the community. It is a transformation from the perceived notion of the library as a quiet "reserve" of books and information to a vibrant center for learning and growth; a place where people can explore, learn and create.
Michelle Holder, the library media specialist at RUHS, has embraced this new concept and has been working to integrate it into a wide range of learning activities at the school.
"In an effort to move toward the learning commons model," she said recently, "my work in the media center has focused on collaborating with classroom teachers to design, implement and evaluate lessons on research and inquiry. And while the number of teachers and students seeking this type of collaboration has been increasing – which is a very positive sign – what I find more significant is that the types of these collaborations have become more involved. In other words, students are showing more interest in and excitement about 'learning' than in just how to use the library's resources."
Holder's role in this process is very much a supporting one. She doesn't simply point students towards a stack of research books or spell out the steps they can take to find what they're looking for. Rather, she works with them to identify key words and issues, as well as the types of resources they might need for their research. She also acts as a sounding board for their ideas. Then, in collaboration with their teachers, para-educators, community resources, and others, she helps them achieve their research and learning goals.
"Throughout the year, I have worked with a number of students, teachers and departments on developing research and learning skills. Sometimes classes come to the media center, other times I go into the classrooms. Lessons include searching techniques, evaluating resources and citing sources. I also help teachers create resource lists and pathfinders for units. Behind the scenes, I meet with teachers to help plan the units. I go to department meetings to try and support the work they're doing on research and literacy."
"Senior project is another wonderful collaborative effort between the community, teachers, the media center, and students. Working together, we explore a wide range of resources to help them concept, research, and create some pretty amazing projects." And the focus, Holder noted, is on refining research skills and helping students see that learning can be exciting and engaging. "And that, she said, "is something they can take with them as they move forward into the next stages of their lives."
"One of our goals, Holder said, "is to continue and expand wherever possible collaborative opportunities with the community. The more we can make inquiry authentic and relevant, the more students will be engaged in the learning process. And as we move even closer to the learning commons model, we anticipate that our space will eventually become a collaborative one not only for students and teachers, but for the local community as well.