'A community of learners'

by Michelle Saport  |   

A student enters the Learning Commons new location in the Consortium Library.
UAA Learning Commons at its new location in the Consortium Library. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Academic tutoring and peer-to-peer learning initiatives have a new home on campus with the UAA Learning Commons' recent move to the first floor of the UAA/APU Consortium Library. The space is now open for studying and tutoring, following a successful grand re-opening celebration with more than 100 people in attendance.

The new location aims to be a hub of student engagement and learning at UAA with a community-centered design, creative study spaces, and free support services available in-person and online. "This space was built specifically to bring students in relationship to one another," said Melanie Hulbert, senior executive director of UAA's Office of Academic Equity and Student Support. "It's meant as a circle, a community of learners."

Previously located in Sally Monserud Hall, the Learning Commons' move was spurred by the expansion of allied health programs and facilities in that building following receipt of a $4 million federal grant. The library's existing resources and services, as well as its central location, made it an ideal location for hosting the commons. The bigger and more prominent location also aligns perfectly with UAA's emphasis on academic equity and student support.

"The new space will help us maximize academic potential and promote student success and retention through peer-to-peer learning," said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Denise Runge.

It's not just the physical space that's growing. With support from a $2.2 million Title III Grant, the Learning Commons is expanding programming to help address equity gaps inside and outside the classroom. 

This past fall semester, the commons launched a new Learning Assistant (LA) program targeting larger, gateway courses with a high percentage rate of students receiving a D or F grade or withdrawing (DFW). As part of the program, current students are trained on teaching and pedagogy best practices before being paired as an LA with a faculty member for every session of one course. Unlike a traditional tutor or teaching assistant, the LA supports students by facilitating engagement and peer interaction. Feedback from the first semester was positive: students taking classes with an LA recounted feeling more comfortable asking questions, the average test score for one course improved significantly for the first time, students serving as LAs appreciated the professional development, and faculty reported more engagement overall. 

Peer-to-peer initiatives will expand further in fall '24 with the launch of an academic coaching program providing one-on-one support with studying, time management and self-efficacy skills. As with all the Learning Commons' tutoring services and resources, the program will be free.

Hulbert stressed the space's supportive and welcoming atmosphere. "We have some of the finest tutors available. Come visit us. Don't hesitate or wait until the week before finals. Make this a regular part of your academic life at UAA." 

Creative Commons License "'A community of learners'" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.