NCLCA Newsletter Fall 2021
Happy Holidays! We hope this quarterly newsletter finds you well and preparing for the Holidays in whatever way suits you best. As Fall 2021 comes to a close, we want to wish each of you a happy, healthy, and restful holiday season. We are grateful for the students, staff, faculty, and administrators who make our learning centers remarkable.
Thank you for a wonderful year together, and we look forward to enjoying 2022 with you as NCLCA members!
Amy Caton & the NCLCA Publications Team
NCLCA Leadership Team
THE LEARNING CENTER REVIEW
Teach Students How to Learn
Reviewed By Raul Martin IV
Learning Support Specialist, Lamar State College Orange
Student academic success is not just a matter of intellect or talent. In Teach Students How to Learn (2015), Dr. Saundra McGuire presents metacognitive learning strategies as solutions for unlocking student potential in higher education. Specifically, Dr. McGuire illustrates key challenges to student learning that begin with faculty and staff’s expectations. Drawing from her own foibles as an undergraduate student of chemistry, Dr. McGuire leads the reader into scenarios familiar to any member of academia: student, staff, and faculty. In her acknowledgements, she describes writing this book as a labor of love, which not only shows her commitment to the strategies she shares but also solidifies her dedication to students everywhere. The strategies in Teach Students How to Learn lay a foundation for academic success. The book suits two audiences; educations, faculty and support staff who create and facilitate learning environments; and students who want to improve how they learn. Naturally, both camps would benefit from the wisdom Dr. McGuire imparts.
The crux of Dr. McGuire’s book is metacognition. Metacognition is learning to think about thinking, which may sound confusing at first, but with Dr. McGuire’s plain descriptions, readers will understand that metacognition as similar to having a big brain outside of your brain looking at what your brain is doing (McGuire & McGuire, 2015). The learning strategies Dr. McGuire presents provide educators with a set of pathways to lead students into first understanding why metacognitive learning strategies work and secondly how to apply them in the classroom. Reading about the application and benefit of learning strategies helps a tutor, whose role is to support academic success, reinforce their role in higher education. Dr. McGuire also makes a special case for faculty led instruction on metacognition at the most critical times of the semester. So, what are these metacognitive learning strategies?
Surely, Dr. McGuire includes more than three metacognitive learning strategies in her book, but for the sake of brevity, I have selected three to discuss. The first metacognitive learning strategy is to discuss attribution, which means to evaluate self-talk with an intent to improve student’s self-narratives. Often, students are their own obstacle. Discussing attribution is an extension from Socratic dialogue, where the tutor asks the tutee open ended questions while in conversation over a paper or when a student feels discouraged about an assignment. Discussing attribution with a tutee means asking- Why do you think that is true? The second strategy is discussing mindset and emotions with students. Learning centers must provide required tools for students to succeed in college. A figurative hammer to break misconceptions is part of that toolkit. The fixed mindset is one such misconception and leading students through Socratic dialogue and guided self-assessment can do wonders for their motivation. The third metacognitive learning strategy is to play learning games. We often forget we’re learning when we’re having fun- but these “learning games” make the learning experience that much more memorable and immersive. By experimenting with innovative ways to create interactive, yet dramatic, presentations over learning strategies, tutors can build student interest and attendance in topics their education requires.
McGuire’s book leaves educators with a well-laid out pathway to stimulate, inform, and motivate students in the classroom. Her book is for the educator concerned about whether students are meaningfully learning concepts instead of memorizing content. She writes, “If you teach students how to learn, and give them simple, straightforward strategies to use, they can significantly increase their learning and performance” (McGuire & McGuire, 2015). I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I promise you, Dr. McGuire’s book should be on every educator’s book list.
McGuire, S. & McGuire, S. (2015). Teach students how to learn: strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Stylus.
The McDaniel Writing Center
By Molly Sherman
McDaniel College, Westminster, MD
Students stop to refill their water between classes and take a pause in the makeshift lounge area by the door, warm lighting from bargained lamps color the room. The McDaniel Writing Center is adapting to become a place students not only want to learn in but want to be in, too.
Our Writing Center has the oddest-shaped room in all of Hill Hall, the academic building that houses the Center. As an awkward pentagon, with two sides already reserved for blackboards and windows, it hasn’t been the easiest for our Director, Vanessa Flora-Nakoski, to style. So, she had to get creative.
The peer education area is set off behind a bookshelf and two room dividers and our two tutoring tables were moved to the back of the room, separated by a freestanding room divider. Whereas before we had tutoring stations in the center of the room in an open concept layout, this new configuration changed the vibe dramatically. Spaces that would otherwise just be tables against a wall become their own places, preserving both comfort and personality.
Vanessa revamped the relaxing area at the front of the room with new-to-us furniture over the summer (McDaniel has an active internal curb alert network), replacing our beloved, saggy brown couch with a stylish striped set of chairs and a loveseat, increasing the spots for students to sit and making a personalized look for the Center. Because it is separated from the tutoring area by dividers, it exists by itself and has become a new facet of the learning center services we provide.
Students use the lounge as a layover between classes and before appointments or as a study area. Some students make it a habit to use the Center after class, sometimes for a session with a peer educator, other times as a conducive place to work. By giving the ‘halfway’ space attention in the design of the Writing Center, it makes it part of students’ routines, and it seems to make the Center more approachable.
Our center has always had a station for refreshments. Tutors enjoy being able to offer tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. You can often find them using the station during shifts, particularly when needing a pick-me-up in the chillier months of the year. These days, our numbered mugs have been replaced with to-go cups, but the hominess that the cozy drinks represent still holds true.
Changes to our Center were made with the comfort of all students in mind, including our tutors. We always want to encourage students using the Center to be in it with us, but Vanessa also hopes the space encourages peer educators to come to work early and hang out after shifts, and enjoy the community our Center is.
Photo credit to Vanessa Flora-Nakoski; Director of the Writing Center & Lecturer in English
Formal Learning Center Co-Director, Mount Saint Mary's University
For decades social scientists and learning center administrators have used very standardized forms and categories of demographic data collection in research and evaluation. Practically everyone has checked the box off for race, age group, gender affiliation, year in school, or similar choices when completing a survey. We are socially conditioned in our culture to do this, and sometimes are even irritated when the survey categories don’t match our pre-programmed response reactions. For example, if our race or ethnicity is not a clear choice on the checklist, there may be an impulse to be frustrated or even stop completing the survey.
Also, there has been a growing question mark about the need to gather certain types of demographic information. In an age where gender diversity is expanding, what good does it do to identify only male and female subjects, for example? In some cases, demographic information has been misused to make educational access more difficult, rather than the other way around–for example we may privilege identifying struggling freshmen and ignore struggling seniors.
In my own research I have begun to question and rethink what categories and types of demographic information I really need and what purpose they can serve. In my current Human Services 305 Program Evaluation class I discussed with students why we might want to know about race/ethnicity in our social media survey project. “Wouldn’t it be more relevant to know about status as an athlete, or year in school?” I asked. Students pushed back a little and said if students from a particular background used social media in specific ways, wouldn’t we want to know that? My reply: we are all so diverse that a handful of homogenized choices like “white” or “black” simply won’t cut it anymore.
A wonderful student came up with an idea that had never occurred to me. She said, “make replying optional, but offer a text box to write in their ethnicity/race identification in their own words.” At first, I was skeptical—too much of the old psychometrician’s habits in me. But we tried it on our social media survey and I was instantly blown away. Almost everyone chose to respond, and everyone said something different—the diversity of spelling, terminology, and mixtures was truly amazing. I suddenly realized this is much more powerful than any series of checkboxes.
It empowers respondents to claim what they see as their fundamental identity—in their own words, in their own spellings (occasionally interesting), in their own combinations. I am still processing and wondering why I never thought of this before. Black African and Asian Indian, half Hispanic half White, Caucasian and Slavic—what wonderful combinations which have deep meaning for the student/respondent, and for me as a researcher (although obviously there is a little bit of a challenge in compiling and making meaning of such data).
The message to the respondent is clear—tell me who you are in a way that matters to you. I would encourage all social scientists and learning center administrators to rethink how they gather data for assessment and evaluation, and whether the actual act of gathering data can become a moment for empowerment in and of itself.
Coordinator of Academic Support Services, Center for the First-Year Experience (CYFE);
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, University of Wisconsin-Madison was particularly concerned about transitioning and supporting second-year students among learning support programs and understanding how to engage students in online educational environments throughout Fall 2021. This concern prompted the Greater University Tutoring Service (GUTS), a student-led tutoring service on campus, to consider ways to contribute to the effort of supporting second-year students at UW-Madison.
In Fall 2021, GUTS proposed and created a Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Program (P2P) pilot. This program is intended to support not just first-year students, but also targets second-year and transfer students at the university as they navigate the in-person setting. P2P matches participating students with an upper-class peer mentor who can provide guidance and advice in navigating campus spaces and resources, respond to questions, support their social well-being, and help them develop academic confidence.
Program goals include:
1. Increase students’ confidence in themselves
2. Familiarize students with navigating campus resource and involvement
3. Create connection between students and the UW-Madison community
4. Increase students’ sense of being academically prepared
GUTS is a unique learning support service in that it is a registered student organization (RSO) administered primarily by student staff with the supervision of one full-time professional staff. GUTS funds are approved for FY22 through non-allocable segregated fees, student government, and the Chancellor. The primary cost of programming in GUTS is for student staff wages and one-time programming expenditures related to reserving space, providing refreshments, and purchasing supplies.
Participants are required to attend a two-hour program orientation, meet with mentor or mentee at least twice throughout the semester, and attend a social. As P2P is a student-driven program reliant on student engagement students can create a schedule and flexible meeting framework and variable hours.
Potential challenges of this program include recruitment of volunteer mentors and mentees, time and distribution of work for Study Skills Coordinators, and the evolution of the pandemic and public health status that may impact campus programming and policies throughout the semester. With the goal to match at least 10 mentorship pairs, the P2P Mentorship Program pilot in Fall 2021 matched 12 mentors and mentees. An unexpected challenge was the large number of students interested in being a mentor versus the lower number of students who signed up as mentees. This presents the opportunity for increased outreach to the campus community, specifically first-year, second-year, and transfer students.
Moving forward into Spring 2022 and planning for the 2022-23 academic year, GUTS will expand outreach by partnering with Cross College Advising Services (CCAS), the advising service on campus. Students who are undecided in their major are a specific population that could benefit from mentorship. Although the pilot served a relatively small number of mentor and mentee pairs, mentorship programs have the capacity to provide strong benefits for both mentors and mentees as they can build deeper connections to campus and the academic community. GUTS looks forward to developing this program further and creating strong partnerships across campus departments to promote this service to students and contribute to student success at UW-Madison.
Texas A&M University
SarahAnne Murray serves in many roles across Texas A&M University Galveston Campus (TAMUG) including Student Coordinator for The Center for Academic Learning Support and The Writing Lab, Writing Consultant since Fall 2019, Ambassador, Undergraduate Research Scholar, and Undergraduate Marine Biology Student. SarahAnne came to TAMUG as a non-traditional student with an associates in Journalism and a desire to begin her career in conservation and science communication.
From my experience working with SarahAnne, I greatly respect her ability to communicate with widely diverse audiences, manage scaffolded projects, initiate tasks, set learning goals, produce high-quality products, and share her knowledge and vision with peers locally and nationally. She recently presented at the NCLCA Annual Conference in Birmingham, Alabama about her redesign of our freshman orientation seminar titled “Choose Your Own Adventure”.
She is prized by faculty, staff, and peers for her excellence in work ethic, professionalism, and customer service. This shows in the high number of students and faculty that seek her out personally to tackle brainstorming and research processes, revision, and editing. Her talent for seeing the needs of a project and communicating well with others directed me to appoint her as student leadership for the Writing Lab managing daily operations for seven consultants as well as coordinate training & development, teaching workshops, and facilitating faculty discussions. SarahAnne has easily become the go-to person for competent and kind help in the Writing Lab. Even beyond her role in the Writing Center, faculty, staff, and students seek her as a strong partner across programs. Sarah willingly extends her organization and communication skills across programs as she also supports Library Reference Services, tutoring, and peer mentoring.
She is an influential, positive, and curious person. SarahAnne will soon be accepted into a wonderful graduate program and I have no doubt that her abilities and determination will only continue to grow as a graduate student.
In a vote held in July and ratified in August, NCLCA overwhelmingly approved TxNCLCA’s application as an official affiliate.
The goal of TxNCLCA is to promote professional standards in the field of learning assistance in Texas while developing services available in learning centers.
"We look forward to getting to know all of you in upcoming affiliate meetings" states sitting president, Olivia Fitch. Michael Frizell, President and affiliate liaison concurs: “It’s also exciting for the profession as a whole. The state of Texas has a thriving network of learning center professionals. The work of TxNCLCA will add a lot to the growing scholarship surrounding the development of learning centers.”
The Maryland College Learning Center Association is hosting the annual conference on Friday, March 25th 2022, in-person at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).
The conference theme is "Road to Success" and will start with a keynote by Neisha-Anne Green Director, Academic Student Services and The Writing Center, American University.
Presentations will fall under one of four tracks:
1) Recalculating: Using Different Methods to Reach the Same Destination;
2) Hands-On-The-Wheel: Building Tutor Communities As We Go;
3) Exits to Success: Supporting Students on their Unique Journeys; and
4) Intersections: Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.
We hope you will join us as we share our experiences navigating the "new normal" and finding new ways to support our students! Registration for the conference will open in January, 2022.