Centralized navigation system will help students access support on topics including academic advising, available study spaces, class syllabi and low-cost textbooks.
By Ruth Steinhardt
The George Washington University Division of Libraries and Academic Innovation (GWLAI) this summer launched the Academic Commons, a centralized, comprehensive online and in-person system directing students to academic support resources.
Students can use Academic Commons to find peer tutors, get language assistance, discover and reserve study space, access software licenses, understand software availability and more.
“Our hope is for Academic Commons to be a one-stop shop for students,” said Geneva Henry, dean of libraries and academic innovation.
Academic Commons originated in a request from last year’s Student Association for a streamlined academic resource center for students. The website pulls together academic resources in 15 categories:
- Peer coaching (tutoring)
- Writing help
- Study spaces
- Study skills
- Academic software and technology
- Undergraduate research
- Workshops and academic events
- Language support
- Accessibility and disability
- Undergraduate academic advising
- Syllabus bank
- Schedules and courses
Each category lists a broad range of available services, with the goal not only of suggesting directions for students to investigate but also getting them as directly as possible to a solution. Students can search for and request a peer coach by subject and course number or schedule an appointment with a writing coach. The database of available fellowships is filterable by subject and application criteria and lists important dates, award information and direct links to online applications. And the study space search engine provides a database of study spaces filterable by noise level, natural light, outlet access and more—and, where available, links directly to each space’s reservation system.
“We’re trying to create solutions for anything a student might want to know,” Dean Henry said.
For students who aren’t sure what service best suits their needs or who would prefer to speak directly to a consultant, trained in-person service is available from student “navigators” indicated by T-shirts and signage in the entrance level of Gelman Library.
“If a student walks in and says they need help, navigators are trained to help them understand what they need and then to connect them to that service,” said Robin Delaloye, GWLAI director of communications and outreach. “That might mean walking them there physically or calling to make an appointment.”
Searchers will leave in-person consultations with a card detailing their needs, the staffer’s recommendations and contact information for both Academic Commons and, if necessary, the recommended resource.
"During our student experience townhalls, students kept highlighting that the support mechanisms we offered were great, but hard to find. This was something that we clearly needed to address. Academic support is a critical component of the GW educational experience," said Provost Forrest Maltzman.
Though Academic Commons is spearheaded by GWLAI, part of its function is to unite and direct students to services offered across the university.
“GWLAI offers peer coaching and research consultations, but the majority of academic support services are offered in other locations,” Dean Henry said. “School-specific advising isn’t part of GWLAI, for instance. Neither is the writing center or language support. So we’re not trying to offer every service—we’re just trying to point people to what they need.”
George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc said he’d had a chance to peruse the site himself.
“I found it full of information that I wanted to know, so I imagine it will be of great use to our students,” he said.