SciCommons offers one-on-one experience for students

Photo by EvyJo Compton | The SciCommons has entered its second semester as a bridge between natural sciences instructors and students.

Photo by EvyJo Compton | The SciCommons has entered its second semester as a bridge between natural sciences instructors and students.

EvyJo Compton

Staff Writer

The SciCommons, located in the L-wing, has started its second semester as a one-on-one help center for natural sciences students.

At SciCommons students can approach professors of various expertise and ask questions.

“The SciCommons is for all students who are taking a natural sciences course. This would include kinesiology, earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy,” said Dave Wilson, a full-time biology and chemistry professor. “We encourage students to use the facility even if their own instructor does not hold an office hour there, as all our faculty have experiences and knowledge which can benefit students in most of our department’s courses.”

SciCommons is simple: there is no sign-in and no requirements for students to use it. It is also located in a convenient area for students.

“It’s as simple as you can imagine; just show up and ask anything you want,” Wilson said.  “SciCommons is located in the commons area on the first floor of the L-wing. It’s directly next to the vending machines. There is no sign-in process. There are no forms to fill out. You don’t need anyone’s permission. Just show up and ask a question.”

There is a schedule detailing which of the professors will be available at what time online. This is part of the simplicity of the SciCommons, and is available to all students.

“The schedule will tell you the instructors name and their areas of expertise,” Wilson said. “The nice thing about this service is that students are getting help directly from content experts and experienced teachers. It’s almost like having your own expert tutor, for free.”

This is the second semester of the SciCommons. It began last spring as a resource to better connect students and professors.

“It emerged naturally from a number of discussions our department has had over several years related to how we can better encourage students to take advantage of their faculty as a resource outside of normal class time.,” Wilson said. “Students seem to perceive the faculty office as a barrier to engaging with faculty. The thinking was that if we could remove that one barrier, more students might seek out help from faculty in a more timely manner.”

Wilson says many faculty were involved in creating an idea to break down the barrier between staff and student.

“It was a joint effort of faculty and chair for the natural sciences department,” he said. “I initiated the conversations that were needed to come up with a structure for the SciCommons and I continue to coordinate some of the functions. Mindy Tidrick, one of our outstanding part-time faculty, was also instrumental in the original vision for the SciCommons and she also continues to coordinate some of its functions [as well].”

The SciCommons had a successful first semester and the faculty involved hope to continue that success.

“A lot of careful thinking and planning went into developing its original structure, and that has worked quite well so far,” Wilson said.

As there is no sign-in requirement, it is difficult for faculty to monitor the utilization of the SciCommons by students. To gauge the student’s knowledge and opinion on the SciCommons, the faculty added questions about the SciCommons on the course evaluations. It was a mix of results.

“We don’t collect much data on usage so it’s hard to know if more students are using,” Wilson said. “However, we did ask some questions on our course evaluations last spring to see if students were using it and finding it valuable. We got many positive comments, but we also got a number of students who clearly knew nothing about the SciCommons. So, we have done some small things to improve signage in the area and are trying to encourage more faculty to inform their students about the opportunity we provide.”

Some of the ideas mentioned beforehand have resurfaced, and are being discussed. Nonetheless, the feedback on the SciCommons has been positive.

“We have nothing in particular that we’re planning for the future,” Wilson said. “But some of the ideas that have been tossed around is having a system for monitoring usage of the SciCommons. This might be a sign-in form, or an electronic signature like they use in peer tutoring. We have also talked a lot about what resources we should have in the area to assist with tutoring. In the future, we may add additional resources that are relevant to instruction. It seems like the SciCommons is getting some positive attention from other areas of the college—perhaps similar commons areas will crop up in other parts of the college in the future.”

To see the schedule of professors available at the SciCommons, visit tinyurl.com/SciCommons.