Welcome to the Learning Commons

Professional Learning Community - Workshop

What is a Learning Commons?

“A Learning Commons is a flexible and responsive approach to helping schools focus on learning collaboratively” (Ontario Library Association, 2010, p.3). These exciting learning opportunities are based on a whole-school approach that forms relationships between students, teachers, teacher librarians, parent(s)/guardian(s) and community members. Such an engaging and inviting environment facilitates ongoing learning in the 21st century. In this presentation we will discuss how “a Learning Commons becomes the physical and virtual catalyst where inquiry, imagination, discovery, and creativity come alive and become central to…personal, academic, social and cultural…growth” (Ontario Library Association, 2010, p.3).

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The 4 Key Elements of the Learning Commons

Physical & Virtual Spaces

“The learning commons is a playground for the mind where students discover and develop a love of learning that can last a lifetime” (Crow & Robins, 2012, p.42). In the 21st century classroom, “no single method can reach all learners [which is why] multiple pathways to achieving [learning] goals are needed” (Hitchcock et al., 2002, p. 18). Students, staff and community members can enrich their learning and engage in a shared Learning Commons that contains rich multi-media, multi-lingual and multi-cultural resources. The abundant and accessible resources in the Learning Commons will create a safe physical and virtual space that fosters students’ questions, investigations, explorations, creativity and imaginative processes. As students are given these opportunities and tools to discover their preferences for learning they ultimately develop a natural curiosity and understanding of said object, topic or strategy. The result is student engagement and such student-focused and play based lessons or activities “allows autonomy yet promotes collaboration…and…creates information seeking habits of mind” (Crow & Robins, 2012, p.42). Not only is the Learning Commons an open-space and open-platform that offers collaborative spaces but its 24/7 virtual presence facilitates discussions and shared and innovative experiences. For instance, the Makerspace is “a place in which students compile and assimilate information into new knowledge” (Abarbanel, Davis, Hand & Wittimer, 2013, p. 71).

Students are given the tools to become co-creators of knowledge and are immersed in physical, virtual and interactive environments that embrace inquiry and learning (e.g., Google docs, Wikis, Blogs, Skype, Online/Worldwide Book chats and Virtual Book Clubs). It is the goal of the Learning Commons to “build common places and spaces to learn” and to enable collaborative, innovative, creative and visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning experiences. “Students, with a vested interest, see learning as more relevant and take on more responsibility for their own learning” (Koechlin, The Teacher Librarian Vol. 17, No.2, p.23).

Image adapted from Haiku Deck, 2010

Equitable Access

The guiding principle around equitable access starts with understanding that “each child has his or her own unique patterns of learning… [and through] universal design and differentiated instruction [we] are [able to] effectively…meet the learning or productivity needs of any group of students” (Ministry of Ed., Education For All, 2005, p.4). This inclusive model celebrates diversity and accommodates students, staff, parent(s)/guardian(s) and community members with appropriately designed physical and virtual spaces that are accessible and tailored to the unique learning strengths of all individuals/users. For instance, in the Learning Commons there is assistive software that offers speech-to-text applications to students who are unable to demonstrate proficient literacy skills (e.g., an English Language Learner who is still developing their understanding of the English Language and cannot write. This learner may still participate in the activity and present their ideas through oral discussion. The following resource “unlocks Learner’s Potential with Comprehensive Literacy Technology” (Kurzweil Education, 2015, www.kurzweiledu.com).

By implementing the principles of Universal Design “each student can benefit from a flexible curriculum. [This curriculum offers] clear goals, multiple pathways for reaching those goals, and fair and accurate assessments…[that fairly recognize] each learner…[as] unique” and equally important to our community of learners (Ministry of Ed., Education For All, 2005, p.10). It is in the Learning Commons that shared learning takes place. Furthermore, the teacher librarian is able to implement an inquiry model that “accommodates all manner of learning experiences, while continuing to… [facilitate students’] access [to rich] resources" (Kirkland, 2009, p.1).

Images adapted from Climage Change, 2013

Library to Learning Commons - Saanich School District (No. 63)

Learning Partnerships

Everyone is capable of learning and in the Learning Commons students, teachers, teacher-librarians, library techs., administration, parent(s)/guardian(s) and community members are all engaged in the learning process.

The Learning Commons is a dynamic and engaging environment that encourages collaboration in a physical and virtual setting. This ongoing communication allows for peer- or self-assessment and reflection, which will provide the necessary feedback to help “us” define a shared vision of the Learning Commons. In a Professional Learning Community educators can network and share their knowledge, expertise, pedagogical and assessment practices in order to program plan and facilitate relevant and meaningful learning experiences for students. Furthermore, educators can use this shared space to recognize “that a commitment to ongoing professional learning is integral to effective practice and to student learning…[whereby] self-directed learning is informed by experience, research, collaboration and knowledge” (OCT, 2015, p.6). Such reflective practices and the development of information literacy “contributes [to] collaborative activities, such as shared thinking, shared planning, and shared creation of integrated [and cross-curricular] instruction” (Montiel-Overall, 2005, p.1).

The flexibility of “technology-enabled learning partnerships foster the mutual exploration of ideas, [which] leads to innovation and creativity” (Ontario Library Association, 2015). In terms of the educator these integrated learning opportunities are intended to support student’s academic achievements (e.g. literacy & numeracy) and functional performance (e.g. life and social skills). Careful co-planning involves respectful attention to students’ needs and how to accommodate preferences in learning (e.g., Differentiated Instruction).

The Learning Commons facilitates an inclusive learning space whereby students, teachers, teacher librarians, staff, parent(s)/guardian(s) and community members can learn from one another and make connections to personal or shared experiences. Our goal is to pursue learning and model this example so that our students may take ownership of their work and showcase their efforts within our global community.

Images adapted from Ontario Library Association, 2015

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Education- Collaboration

Technology in Learning

“The Learning Commons [is a transformative space that utilized technology to] liberate the exploration of ideas and concepts, encouraging inquiry, imagination, discovery and creativity through the connection of learners to information, to each other and to communities around the world” (Together for Learning, 2010, p.6).

The concept of ‘digital citizenship’ involves the respectful publication and sharing of resources that are appropriate and respectful of multiple viewpoints. As critical thinkers in a global community we are able to use technology to create opportunities to connect, communicate and share learning experiences. It is important to note that ‘being online’ means being present and accountable for our actions when accessing and sharing online resources. Online publications are permanent and may be accessible in the future which is why students must be taught about the appropriate use of technology as well as how to “create a positive digital footprint for their future” (SCDSB, 2015, p.2).

Image adapted from global digital citizen foundation, 2015
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Additional Resources to Support your Students

Please review a detailed account of Technology in the Classroom: 5 Undeniable Reasons to Embrace It. Written by Meghan Mathis

Over a 100 FREE technology resources to enrich 21st century learners experiences in 2015.



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