The Learning Commons: A Year in Review

Much has happened since the grand opening of The Learning Commons! We extend a special thanks to the students who come in for our services and spaces, as well as to our many partners throughout USM.

December 2011 Opened the new spaces in Gorham and Portland, with research and writing assistance brought together

January 2012 Launched the Open Room website for self-service reservation of group study rooms; enhanced learning spaces opened in the library on the Lewiston-Auburn campus in coordination with the Writing Center

February 2012 Added a new array of weekly workshops for English Speakers of Other Languages

March 2012 Installed the card swipe for USM students in Greek organizations and Athletics to document study hours

May 2012 Staff presented our model of learning spaces and service delivery at the Canadian Learning Commons Conference

April 2012 Outfitted the multimedia recording studio in the Portland location

May 2012 Began offering Chemistry and Physics tutoring in partnership with those academic departments

June 2012 Acquired four rolling white boards in each location for student use

November 2012 Enhanced printing options with a color laser printer

January 2013 Added Finance 320 and drop-in Economics tutoring to the list of subjects supported at The Learning Commons; upgraded to the new e-Reserves module to be seamless with Blackboard

Some highlights from this past year include:
• Increasing use of Reference services to assist students with research, up 28%
• Increasing scheduled math tutoring appointments by 147% (that’s not a typo!)
• Enhancing our web resources to include “how to” demonstrations of Excel, Word, and other software programs
• Adding thousands of free videos through the Academic Videos Online and Films On Demand databases
• Expanding tutoring subject offerings to include Chemistry, Physics, Economics, and Peer Academic Coaching

Posted by on February 13th, 2013 No Comments

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Multi-Tasking:  Does It Work?


It is common as students to use “multi-tasking” (doing more than one activity simultaneously) as a strategy for managing our busy lives.  The question is:  does multi-tasking actually save us time?  The answer:  it depends on the nature of the task.

If the task at hand is “non-cognitive” (such as doing laundry, mowing the lawn, going for a run), combining it with another task can be an effective approach to being time efficient.  However, for tasks involving thought and attention (such as having a conversation, learning new information in class, writing a paper) multi-tasking can create a cognitive “bottleneck”, impairing the attention needed for the task.  According to brain research, it can take a person longer to complete EACH of the two tasks by attempting to multi-task than it would to do each task separately.

Technology adds an additional layer of opportunity and challenge when it comes to multi-tasking.  For example, according to recent research, texting or using Facebook while attempting to focus upon an academic task actually limits cognitive processing ability, preventing deeper learning from occurring (Junco, 2012).  This does not mean that spending leisure time on Facebook reduced my capacity to learn; rather, it means that if I check Facebook during class, studying, or writing a paper, it reduces my brain’s ability to learn and perform at my best.  This impact is not just upon one individual task, but also has a cumulative effect, reducing overall GPA the more I text and Facebook during academic times.

The learning process begins with ATTENTION.  Paying enough attention to a process, concept, or piece of information in the moment is what allows learning to move to the next phase:  working memory.  If I’m deep in thought about a class project or thinking about what my professor is saying in the front of the room, quickly checking a text arriving on my phone or opening up Facebook will take me out of deep thought.  How long does brain research say it will take to get back to that same level of deep thought?  20 minutes.

The bottom line is the brain’s ability to multi-task:  when it comes to cognitive tasks, it can’t!  Instead, the brain rapidly shifts attention between tasks, and neither tasks receives the full attention it needs for maximum learning, memory, and performance.  The key is to be selective when it comes to activities I may choose to do simultaneously.  If I really want to maximize my learning, the key is to “single task” in any academic situation.

Posted by on November 21st, 2012 No Comments

Introduction to The Learning Commons

An Introduction to The Learning Commons

Greetings from USM’s Learning Commons!  The Learning Commons was developed through a partnership between USM Libraries and the Division of Student Success, opening in December of 2011.  It was not designed as a quiet study space, rather one for active collaborative learning. Students can work with Reference Librarians, tutors, faculty and each other in this dynamic environment. The Learning Commons is here to help students achieve their academic goals through providing:

  • Library and research help
  • Computers for individual and group use
  • Assistance with technology
  • Collaborative group study and small instruction spaces
  • Tutoring in person or online
  • Consultation for developing effective and efficient learning strategies
  • Online resources, including tutorial videos and helpful links
  • A recording studio for creating low-tech audio and video files

Since opening, The Learning Commons has become an “academic home” for more and more students.  On one day, a student may work with a Reference Librarian to find sources for a research paper.  On another day, the same student may have reserved a group study room to plug in a laptop or iPad to a big screen as part of a study group or group project.  Perhaps this student just wants to use a campus computer, or print wirelessly for black or color copies.  It’s all here!

One of the new services offered in the space is tutoring.  Tutoring is not just for students who are struggling, but also for those who want to excel academically. We offer free tutoring in Mathematics, Writing, and English for Speakers of Other Languages, Technology, Chemistry, Biology, Physics and more.  Our Writing tutors can help students with any aspect of the writing process; from guiding them on how to create an outline for a paper to providing feedback on the final draft of the work.  In addition to topic-based tutoring, students can learn how to effectively and efficiently read textbooks, take notes in the classroom, manage time, and prepare for and take exams.

If I were to summarize what The Learning Commons is all about, it’s “academic time on task”.  The Learning Commons is located on the second floor of the Glickman Library and the first floor of the Gorham campus library.  To learn more about our services, reserve a group study room, or schedule a tutoring appointment, our website is a great place to start:

Make sure to “like” us on Facebook if you want to receive the latest updates on workshops, new resources, and extended hours!

Paul Dexter is the Coordinator of Academic Support for The Learning Commons.  He can be reached at

Posted by on November 13th, 2012 No Comments