How The LINK Elevates Student Learning

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March 05, 2024
two students collaborate on their laptops
Co-Designing Curriculum: reflections from The LINK

Dartmouth Libraries has a new collaborative teaching and learning space - The LINK! Discover how one Dartmouth professor partnered with library specialists in The LINK to blend history and science while sparking new ideas and knowledge.

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In Professor Ross Virginia’s Arctic science courses, “understanding the past is a way to consider the future of the Arctic.” To build a connection between Arctic science and the region's history, Ross partnered with librarians, archivists, and digitization specialists, and co-designed an interactive course that would do just that. He also knew this unique approach would need a dynamic classroom environment to engender active learning and partnered teaching - a combination that Dartmouth prides itself on and the Libraries excel at.

Where is such a space? The LINK! It's the Libraries' newest collaborative teaching and learning space located in Berry 180.

From literally getting hands-on with Arctic historical items with Jay Satterfield and Scout Noffke from Rauner Special Collections Library to learning with Laura Braunstein, Elizabeth Shand, Daniel Lin, and Samara Cary from the Digital by Dartmouth Library team - the 41 students in Ross’s Winter Term class, Environmental Issues of Earth’s Cold Regions, participated in and benefited from a re-envisioned active learning experience.

Bringing these students into a classroom that’s inside a library - that’s special. There’s human contact and the free flow of information, so the learning is different - it’s better - and the retention is better. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy.

Professor Ross Virginia
students in Ross Virginia's class transcribe E. Lorne Knight's diary

Using a diary from a failed Arctic expedition, the Digital by Dartmouth Library team created a learning task around transcribing the handwritten text. “The students got a deeper appreciation of how much material is in the Rauner Library collections and of the material itself by helping digitize it all, which dovetailed with team-based learning and collaborative learning methodologies,” explained Ross. This is what The LINK is about - having experts in front of students demonstrating the interconnectedness and depth of library resources to enhance student learning. It not only elevates the student learning experience, but in this specific case, outcomes included tangible contributions to the broader Arctic body of knowledge and sparking new ideas and knowledge creation.

The diary the students collectively digitized belonged to E. Lorne Knight, a member of a failed Stefansson Wrangel Island expedition. In this expedition, all but one person, Ada Blackjack, died, though their diaries and writings remained. Stefansson summarized the account as “an adventure,” said Ross, belying the often tragic moments and encounters.

Professor Ross Virginia stands and speaks with his class

professor Ross Virginia in front of his class

Together with the library staff as co-facilitators, Ross demonstrated how, rather than relying solely on secondary sources like Stefansson’s account, previously unknown histories come to light by reading the primary resources. In this case, the students learned that Knight’s accounts offer alternative perspectives to Stefansson - from the mundane to the harrowing - that expand upon, question, and confirm historical ‘truths.’ 

Knight’s documentation and reflections deepened this failed expedition’s history and presented new dimensions and perspectives for the students to consider and explore. “A project like this emphasizes the thought process behind making original arguments versus recapitulating existing scholarship — which then continues to elevate their work beyond this class,” shared Elizabeth, Digital Collections Librarian.

Ross’s class was a chance to interpret primary resources afresh - some that have never been looked at - and in that way, create new knowledge to show a different form of mastery.

Jay Satterfield Head of Special Collections
students in Ross Virginia's class in The LINK

Incorporating primary resources within learning modules increased the chance of new lines of inquiry, knowledge, and research pathways.

“To be serious about research, you have to go to the source. Yes, you can learn a lot from other people’s writings about that first document, but you’re creating another filter on top of a filter. The primary documents matter so people can come to conclusions without any filters,” said Jay, as they can spark new ideas and foster original scholarship. He mentioned Van Wyck Brooks’s notion of a “usable past.” In 1918, Brooks was “concerned with the state of literature and the arts in the US. He sought to find a new way to have this scene flower. He thought if there was an ‘American thread’ - a historical one - then artists could create a cultural flowering from a common US history.”

Taking Brooks's desire for a usable past, Jay correlates the Libraries' collections of primary resources as an important factor in finding those historical threads.

students discuss their assignment in Ross Virginia's class

“If there’s a change you want to have happen, you can yell about it, or you can look backward and find a thread through history that justifies the outcome you want so you can then create a persuasive argument for change. That can be used for good or bad. But, I believe that access to history is what creates the potential for developing a usable past that creates meaningful change in the future, so we can help create the world we want to live in.”

Generating new knowledge and research are two key outcomes that drive so much of the active learning experience that library-faculty-partnered teaching can achieve in The LINK. 

Laura, the Head of Digital Scholarly Engagement, mentioned how “this course allowed students to contribute to the workflow for producing a digitized primary source. The hybrid learning environment provided by The LINK enabled Samara to teach remotely in collaboration with those of us in The LINK. I’m excited about this space’s possibilities for both digital resources and digital learning.”

Their curiosity and interest were great to witness - whether looking at the handwriting together, reading it out loud, or questioning one another - they helped answer the mysteries of the diary.

Professor Ross Virginia
Elizabeth Shand librarian stands at the front of Ross Virginia's class

Ross and his library partners weren’t sure how the students would react to transcribing an early twentieth-century diary. Throughout the process, though, student enthusiasm increased, and this historical document proved to be a valuable catalyst for learning.

Gretel, a student, described the experience as solving a mystery “as I attempted to fill in what I couldn’t understand and looked at the writing from their perspective. Transcribing is an interesting task because it is easy to let your own experience and knowledge creep in when what you are trying to do is preserve this old perspective.”

Read more about the student’s experience with transcribing the diary.

When comparing this year’s class syllabus to his last one, Ross noticed one big difference. This year, he partnered extensively with people across the libraries who offered unique contributions through the lens of their differing expertise, helping him achieve his teaching goals.

Thanks to Ross Virginia and his students for sharing their perspectives.  

It shows the level of teamwork and interest and how hard everyone works to help make Dartmouth what it is, which is really unique and special. We’re all committed to that shared learning experience. I’m proud to be engaged in that.

Professor Ross Virginia
students in The LINK working at their laptops

Ross’s winter-term long class is just one of three subjects taught in The LINK during the Winter Term. Amelia Looby from Feldberg Library, Susan Simon from Dartmouth Libraries’ Jones Media Center, and Research and Learning Librarian Tricia Martone worked with Professor Elizabeth Wilson and the 26 students for Energy and the Environment. Lastly, for lecturer Margot Kotler’s class, Performing Gender, Margot partnered with Laura Barrett, Head of Teaching and Learning at the Libraries, and Morgan Swan from Rauner Library to co-teach 26 students.

All three classes benefited from the intersection of a learning community, active exploration of the libraries’ physical and digital materials and artifacts, and integrated information, media, digital, and data literacies. This new space enhanced research methodology instruction, fostered curiosity, and deepened students’ appreciation of the Libraries’ vast resources.

The LINK is the latest in the Libraries’ offerings that will enhance and enrich collaborative teaching and learning.

You’ll find easy-to-move furniture, break-out spaces and private offices, the latest Zoom technology, multiple mics and cameras - including an in-built overhead projector - shelving to hold your course’s reserves and materials during the term, and a capacity for up to 45 students.

Are you curious about teaching your class in The LINK? Spring Term is already booked out, so start planning how The LINK might facilitate a unique learning experience for your students.

*all photos credit Dartmouth Libraries | Eli Burakian

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