A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Collaborative Learning in Libraries

by on June 21, 2016

Collaborative learning puts a group of people in a situation where they learn something together, no matter their skill level. We at the Chattanooga (TN) Public Library started co-learning classes on the 4th Floor, our public laboratory and educational facility with a focus on information, design, technology, and the applied arts. as a less intimidating approach to learning new skills. Our co-learning classes have consisted of three strategically different workshops: HTML and CSS, 3D Design, and Arduino. These workshops highlight not only what we have to offer on the 4th Floor but also the twenty-first-century skills that will make an impact on people’s careers and personal interests.

4th Floor staff member Michael Grilo brought this idea to my attention and said, “The inspiration for co-learning workshops comes from the obvious recognition that everyone learns in various ways and at differing paces. Rather than struggling to keep everyone working at the same pace, co-learning encourages guided self-learning while maintaining the social and collaborative aspects of a classroom environment.”[1] With or without makerspaces, libraries are offering more tech classes, and even though our staff on the 4th Floor is highly talented, we are not experts. A co-learning environment that uses existing teaching resources to teach others new skills does not require instructors to have an in-depth subject knowledge. This gives libraries the opportunity to bring people together to learn without the burden of being the expert in these very specialized subject areas.

Our first co-learning workshop taught HTML and CSS using Codecademy, an online platform that offers coding classes in several programming languages including Python, Java, PHP, SQL, JavaScript, Ruby, HTML, and CSS as well as application frameworks Ruby on Rails and AngularIS. Codecademy offers a free and a PRO version of their website. We had a very diverse group of people—including a retired accountant, a schoolteacher, two friends looking to start a blog, and an experienced coder—who attended the class. Grilo facilitated the class with our guest, David Alfonso Castaneda, a Pro Chat Advisor for Codecademy David who assists several students live online with any support and questions they have on the lessons or projects they are building on the platform, so it was a privilege to have him join us in person.

Castaneda added, “The Chattanooga Public Library is a wonderful hotbed of technology and innovation right now. As a long time fan of the 4th Floor at the library, I always try to participate and contribute where I can. When I heard that they were having a co-learning event using the Codecademy platform, I felt obligated to help where I can. I helped set up the 4th Floor with Codecademy’s teaching resources. With these resources, we were able to gauge everyone’s knowledge level with HTML and pair up people [based on skill level].”[2]

We had everyone log on to their accounts and join our classroom using the platform’s teaching resources. Throughout the three-hour session, people were working at their own pace through the lessons and asking each other for help along the way. While working, conversations about life, work, and more created the social environment that we were striving for. The classroom resource also gave us the opportunity to track the progress of our participants after the class concluded and if they were continuing to learn on their own, which is very useful information when measuring impact of this program.

We are hosting a series of co-learning workshops this summer based on the success of this learning environment and the teaching tools readily available for staff on the web. If you have any questions or want to start your own co-learning classes at your library, please feel free to contact Meredith Levine at mlevine@lib.chattanooga.gov.

[1] Michael Grilo, Chattacnooga Public Library staff member, in an interview with the author, May 4, 2016.
[2] David Alfonso Castaneda, Codecademy Pro Chat advisor, in an interview with the author,  April 28, 2016.

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