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Learning in libraries: New center marries instructional and study space

Students in an electrical and computer engineering circuits class in WisCEL at Wendt Commons

The WisCEL structure enables students to collaborate and to take full advantage of technology for classroom learning. Similarly, technology in WisCEL enables instructors to spend more time teaching and interacting with their students.

At two UW-Madison libraries, newly remodeled instructional spaces ripe with technological upgrades are helping turn the 1,000-year-old, lecture-based, "one-size-fits-all" instructional model upside down.

Together known as the Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning Center, or WisCEL (pronounced "whistle"), these new instructional areas also increase daytime use of College Library and Wendt Commons—the engineering library—where students study primarily at night.

Each location offers a new perspective on the library of the future: Instead of row after row of books, there are a variety of flexible, multi-use, technology-rich spaces, including classrooms and areas for small-group discussion, tutoring and peer-to-peer learning. Rather than being the end of libraries as we know them, initiatives such as WisCEL will write an entirely new chapter in the lives of libraries as cutting-edge educational partners—vibrant commons areas that offer a suite of academic tools and services in a location students already frequent.

Based on existing approaches tailored to UW-Madison needs, WisCEL still enables faculty and staff instructors to educate large groups of students—but in ways that foster student participation and allow instructors to spend more time interacting with their students. 

Students in an electrical and computer engineering circuits class in WisCEL at Wendt Commons

Students in ECE 230, an electrical and computer engineering circuits class in WisCEL at Wendt Commons.

For example, students could prepare for class by reading the text or viewing a video lecture. In class, they might use video monitors to discuss the material in small groups while the instructor circulates—then complete a quiz, homework assignment or practice test using special web-based software that provides them immediate feedback.

Instructors began teaching classes in the new spaces in spring 2012. College Library offers Math 95, 101 and 112, elementary mathematics courses for which research has shown students excel in peer-collaborative environments. At Wendt Commons, students can take statics and circuit analysis—traditional "weed-out" courses in which student success is tied strongly to retention in engineering.

A primary WisCEL objective is success for all students, says John Booske, a UW-Madison professor of electrical and computer engineering who spearheaded the initiative. "We aim to provide a personalized learning experience, even while teaching large numbers of students," he says. "In part, we are teaching students how to think. Ultimately, we hope our efforts will help them develop as confident, independent, lifelong learners."

WisCEL was made possible through funding from the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, with strong support from College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy and College of Letters and Sciences Dean Gary Sandefur, and UW-Madison Provost Paul DeLuca and Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell.

Connected via videoconferencing software, both spaces will host a grand-opening ceremony Feb. 28 from 3-5 p.m. Speaking from College Library, UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Aaron Brower will deliver remarks, while UW-Madison Provost Paul DeLuca and Booske will speak from Wendt Commons. The event also will include tours and demonstrations at each location. College Library is located at 600 N. Park St.; Wendt Commons is located at 215 N. Randall Ave. RSVP for the grand opening

Renee Meiller