Working with Lau Lab

Posted in Announcements

The university library is a place of sanctuary and discovery. Over my years of teaching, though, I began conceiving of the library not just as a resource for study and materials, but also as an active site of making knowledge. The library has become as integral a space for learning, discovery, and experimentation in research and writing as the classroom. 

So it was fortuitous when, in mid-spring semester 2019, an email advertising “Lau Lab” courses came across my inbox, asking for proposals that incorporated more library resources into Georgetown College courses through a new, experimental model: “Would the learning goals of your class be enhanced by weekly, sustained engagement with Library resources, such as:

  • Archival Research
  • Text Mining
  • Digital Publishing
  • Podcasting
  • Data Visualization
  • GIS (Graphic Information Systems)

If so, consider converting your 3 credit class to a 4 credit “Lau Lab” class, with the fourth-credit skills/content delivered by the Library in consultation with the course instructor.”

This would be a pilot program undertaken in a tentative, build-the-plane-as-you-fly mode. The theme for my Fall WRIT-015 class was “Security, Gender, and Texts,” a theme I had taught before: students researched a 20th century conflict and produced a comic & essay; students wrote a scholarly introduction to an item in the Booth Family Special Collections; students experimented with public and professional writing genres; and students created a reflective artefact or essay. I was intrigued by the possibility of further collaborating with the librarians and archivists, as students were already slated to go into the Georgetown archive to write about an item. 

I had also been thinking quite hard about writing to an audience beyond the classroom and how to create that opportunity for students in a way that seemed natural. Exhibiting student comics was one way to achieve that goal. Some student comics were stellar and I wanted to share them – and the library had the resources to support putting together a digital exhibition.

My two 3 credit WRIT-015 Lau Lab courses ended up looking like this, with four Lauinger spaces incorporated into the curriculum. I’ve also listed transfer implications or learning goals for that activity: 

  1. a normal WRIT-015 introduction to library research session with our English subject librarian Melissa Jones for Project 1 which replaced a class session. (Dubin Room / Introduction to and facilitation of college-level research)
  2. a class session in Special Collections with Rare Books Curator Ethan Henderson, where students explored documents, maps, and books from the national security archive at Georgetown and chose the item they wanted to examine for Project 2. (Booth Family Special Collections / Academic writing and research)
  3. a visit from Megan Martinsen to discuss data literacy and digital curation as students uploaded their Project 1 comics to an archive created in Omeka. Students tagged their comics with search terms and voted on which six comics – across the two sections – would represent the semester in an online exhibit. Students voted in then wrote brief introductions for the public reader on their comics. (Digital Scholarship office / Audience awareness and digital literacy)

View the Online Comic Exhibit here.

4. students were encouraged to visit the Gelardin Media Center or Maker’s Hub for creating their Project 4 reflective pieces, which had two options: a creative item (text, sculpture, painting, voice recording, commercial, poster, etc.) or a reflective essay. (Gelardin & Maker’s Hub / Meta-cognition, problem solving, & transfer across the curriculum)

Me as clay figure, rendered in a student’s reflective Project 4. Note the flags discussing the writing program’s learning goals and finding confidence in writing at the college level in the background.
Me as clay figure, rendered in a student’s reflective Project 4. Note the flags discussing the writing program’s learning goals and finding confidence in writing at the college level in the background.

In working with the library staff during the course, I wanted to model for the undergraduate students an example of interdisciplinary, integrated collaboration. Students, particularly first-year students, often see instructors in siloed disciplines and working alone at the front of the classroom; I wanted them to notice and experience how sites of inquiry at the university can take place outside of our assigned four walls and that others on campus have an expertise pertinent to the undergraduate curriculum. 

At the end of the course, students filled out a special course evaluation form I devised to address the Lau Lab aspect of the course. Overall, students found that the Lau Lab course design integrated research organically and purposefully into their WRIT-015 educational experience, which made the process of linking research to writing more authentic and easier to enact in their projects. Although all positive, here are a few choice comments from across my two sections:

I really found our work with Melissa Jones very helpful in obtaining proper scholarly sources. I use the library search engine now for all my projects. A professor even commented impressed on one of my sources that I found through the method she taught us.

The collaboration between this writing course and the library allowed for exposure to library resources that can be utilized throughout the reminder of our time at Georgetown.

I think collaborating with the library was valuable in teaching me new skills especially how to interact with new mediums. I think I got a lot better at research by working with the library instructors.

We were able to utilize the resources we have at Georgetown and being able to have the perspective of other qualified instructors give input on ideas for my project.

Indeed, some students wanted even more time in the library, and that’s something I’ll consider the next time I run a Lau Lab WRIT-015!

-Laura Hartmann-Villalta