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Medieval Manuscripts Support Learning

Posted on: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 11:40am

Topic(s): Feature Story, Resources, Updates

Professor Katie Vulić has been bringing her medieval literature classes to Western Libraries Special Collections ever since she first began teaching at Western. For the first several years, Vulić taught students exclusively from copies of original works; Special Collections owns a number of facsimile reproductions of medieval manuscripts that helped her students gain an understanding of the original context and culture of their class texts.

At the same time that she was using these facsimile materials, Vulić was also very interested in finding an opportunity to introduce original materials into her courses so that her students could engage directly with original manuscripts and learn from them firsthand about medieval literary culture.

“One of the goals in using original manuscripts is for students to recognize how hugely different their reading practices are between reading mass-produced, cheap, clean texts versus hard-to-produce medieval luxury goods, the kind where every letter written is its own work of art,”  explained Vulić. "Additionally, with the facsimile materials, I could say ‘Here is what is known, here is what has already been discovered.’ With the original materials, I can do that too, but then I can also come back and ask, ‘What can we learn from these materials that is not yet known? What are the differences between medieval reading practices and our own?’”

Last year, Vulić was able to pose these questions to some of her graduate students after she made arrangements to borrow some original manuscript fragments and incunables (early printed books) from Washington State University’s Special Collections for her class to use. These materials were kept in Western Libraries Special Collections, and her graduate students were then able to spend a number of hours over a two-week period working directly with the borrowed materials.

“I had them go the whole nine yards with the manuscript fragments: transcribe passages, prepare a thorough description of their features, and check the existing databases in order to identify what they were. Students did say it was a lot of work but they also really enjoyed it and said I should keep the project going,” stated Vulić.

Though all of the medieval items loaned from Washington State were just individual leaves of parchment separated from their full original manuscripts, students can learn a lot from scraps and fragments. “If a book was taken apart like that, it was often because it was considered commonplace, outdated, or not valuable. Old manuscripts could be used for scrap, or for reinforcing the binding of other more current books. What that means is most of the scraps we can afford and that we see tend to be in Latin and church-related, but one advantage of that is they also tend to be searchable,” explained Vulić.

While some of the manuscript fragments have cataloged information as part of their records, other fragments have very little documented information accompanying them. However, for the fragments that are not searchable, there is still a lot that can be discovered.

“It’s hard to make a huge discovery in just one day, but sometimes we could use context clues to figure things out. And students come away with a real appreciation for the unique methods, challenges and experiences of this profession. They also gain firsthand experience with archival practices and discovering something ‘new’ in an archive, sometimes even contributing quite a lot to existing knowledge. Students are surprised by how hard these materials are to read, but they seem to have a lot of fun with it, as if they are working out puzzles. It’s an opportunity that undergraduates don’t usually have—a chance for them to see and interact with materials that are usually kept behind glass.”

This experience with her graduate students made her think of piloting a similar project in her undergraduate classes, and one year later,  Dean of Western Libraries Mark Greenberg helped facilitate another loan of original materials from a rare book dealer with whom he has worked in the past.

Vulić has since used these original manuscript fragments this past quarter in two of her undergraduate classes. She synthesized the highlights of what her graduate class did over a two week period into two days, and Vulić thinks her classes have enjoyed the experience. She noted that access to these materials gives students an enhanced sense of the culture, can correct misinformation from movies, video games, and popular culture, and can help students become more grounded in the time period from which the pieces were produced, while simultaneously creating opportunities for interaction with the original materials about which there might not be a lot of known information.

Vulić explained that while she wished Western Libraries would someday have its own collection of original manuscripts, she also wanted her colleagues to know about the resources available to them that Western Libraries can help provide. She stated that she is always surprised when she meets someone who teaches at Western who has not visited Special Collections.

“It would be lovely if more of our colleagues would take advantage of these resources. I have found it to be fantastic working with library staff. They are always so willing to work with me and to meet my teaching needs. They have always been the best partners in just the best possible ways. I cannot say enough good things about them. For faculty thinking about setting up a new class and using some of these resources, it may take a little work to get things going, but it will be worth it in the long run, and you will always get the support you need from the library!” 

Connect, Communicate, Create

Posted on: Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 9:25am

Topic(s): Feature Story, Updates

Learning Commons New Tagline: Connect, Communicate, Create

In February 2014, Western Washington University’s Learning Commons announced a tagline contest in which Western students, faculty, and staff were asked to help create a memorable and positive phrase that captured the Learning Commons mission. The Learning Commons brings together resources and programs to advance teaching and learning, online and across the physical space of Western Libraries. As added incentive and as a show of appreciation, it was also established that the winner of the contest would be awarded a $100 gift card to the A.S. Bookstore.


After reviewing over 60 submissions, the winning tagline of: “Connect, Communicate, Create” was selected. The Learning Commons partners agreed that each of the three key words in that phrase successfully captured the Learning Commons’ essence. Unbeknownst to the Learning Commons partners when they chose the winning entry, creator of the tagline, student Kathryn Jensen, also happens to be employed as a Writing Center Assistant.


As Learning Commons Director Carmen Werder stated, “I was delighted to find out that Kathryn is one of our very own student staff in her role as a Writing Center Assistant – no wonder she really gets the Learning Commons.  We are very grateful to her for helping us find a phrase that captures the Learning Commons dream.”


Jensen explained how she came up with the tagline after she began thinking about the mission of the Learning Commons during a discussion in her first-year intern seminar at the Writing Center.


We had been talking about how to establish it as a place students know they can go for all kinds of peer collaboration from working on group projects to writing assistance to math/science tutoring. I realized that the idea of 'connecting' with others was sort of the core of the Learning Commons, and created a tagline that emphasized that,” said Jensen.


Werder, who also directs the Teaching Learning Academy (TLA), and Writing Instruction Support (WIS), mentioned how the word “communicate” represents another significant component of the tagline.


“We also want everyone to think of the Learning Commons as a place to communicate in genuinely human ways – not only to gain information, but to engage in spirited dialogue about topics that matter most,” stated Werder. For example, “Conversations in Common,” a program that began during winter quarter 2014, is one way the Learning Commons offers the Western community opportunities for both making connections and communicating ideas.


Such programs and activities hosted in the Learning Commons naturally lead to the third component of the tagline, which is the word “create.”  Werder noted how she and other Learning Commons partners were “especially thrilled” to see how the winning tagline emphasized “the Learning Commons as a place to create new knowledge, and to create it together.”


In addition to Jensen’s winning submission, Carly Roberts, who is also President of Western’s Associated Students (AS), submitted a tagline suggestion that grabbed the attention of the Learning Commons partners. Learning Commons Program Coordinator Shevell Thibou stated that all of the partners were pleased with Roberts’ emphasis on the Learning Commons as a physical gathering space.


“We also liked how the phrase ‘gather here’ was both an explanation and an invitation, welcoming everyone into this collaborative space available for connecting, communicating, and creating knowledge,” explained Thibou.  Because of this emphasis, the Learning Commons partners expressed their appreciation to Roberts for her valuable contribution, acknowledging that the tagline and other future marketing materials will also incorporate the part of Roberts’ submission that includes the phrase “Gather Here.” The Learning Commons partners would also like to thank everyone else who participated in the tagline naming contest for offering their submissions. 

Kali Legg Awarded "Best Student Presentation"

Posted on: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 8:03am

Topic(s): Updates

Western Washington University students have a reputation for contributing to scholarship, research, collaboration, and service, and we here at Western are particularly proud of how they exemplify Western’s motto of “active minds changing lives.” Recently, Western Libraries very own Learning Commons student liaison Kali Legg received recognition for her significant contribution to research and scholarship when she was awarded the title of “Best Student Presentation” at the 2013 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (ISSOTL) conference.

Kali is an Environmental Science major who has also been actively involved with the Teaching-Learning Academy (TLA) here at Western as both a student participant and also through her role as Learning Commons student liaison. Incorporating voices from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, TLA was established at Western in 2001 with the mission of creating a community of scholars who could work together to better understand the existing learning culture, share that understanding with others, and enhance the learning environment by exploring multiple views of teaching and learning. It was partly because of her involvement with TLA that Kali was selected to attend the ISSOTL conference and act as a representative of the many exceptional students at Western who are actively engaged in exploring the research and scholarship of teaching and learning. Kali both appreciated and recognized the value of this tremendous opportunity.

“This conference helped me further realize that I have a passion for education—well more for learning. I have a passion for learning. And I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to share and receive ideas about learning from some very brilliant and kind individuals from all over the world…” Kali stated.

Together with Western Libraries staff and faculty Shevell Thibou and Carmen Werder from the Teaching-Learning Academy, along with Tim Costello from the Center for Service Learning, Kali introduced and co-led the session entitled “Transforming Teaching and Learning Cooperatives.” Together they explored a number of “partnering” models and examined the concepts of “co-location,” “collaboration,” and “co-inquiry,” posing the questions: “To what extent are these partnering models distinct and yet interrelated relationships on a continuum? And how might understanding this cooperative continuum model facilitate institutional change for teaching and learning?” 

Using case studies, this group was able to provide an analytical model that defined co-location as referring to shared space, collaboration as sharing an interest in reaching a common outcome, and co-inquiry as sharing an interest in addressing a common question. One of the case studies used focused specifically on the Learning Commons, and illustrated how co-location has actually led to collaboration and co-inquiry. Such research is often inspired by the work that is being done in the TLA, which serves as the hub for the study of teaching and learning at Western, and engages student participants in its ongoing dialogue with faculty, staff, and community members.

The annual ISSOTL conference includes faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students from a number of institutions located throughout the world.  This international audience responded enthusiastically to Kali’s award-winning presentation, and Kali later explained how this conference was also valuable for her in that it affected her own views about education and the learning experience.

“I have come to realize that learning and learning theory should be present in every discipline. I would like to make what I've learned at the ISSOTL conference present in my learning experience and that of my peers whenever I can, no matter what kind of classroom or working environment I'm in,” Kali explained.

ISSOTL was founded in 2004 by a group of 67 scholars from several different countries, to recognize and promote scholarly communication on teaching and learning, to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and the integration of “discovery, learning and public engagement.” Each year, members of this organization come together to share research and experiences related to the scholarship of teaching and learning. This most recent conference was held October 2-5, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina, and focused on the theme of “Critical Transitions in Teaching and Learning.”

Jeanne Armstrong's translation of 'La grand misere' is published

Posted on: Friday, December 13, 2013 - 1:59pm

Topic(s): Feature Story, Updates

Jeanne Armstrong, a professor at Western Libraries, recently published her translation of La grand misère ("Great Misery") with the University of Nebraska Institutional Repository Zea Press as an open access e-book available in print on demand.

Great Misery is Maisie Renault’s story, as the editor's cover note relays, of her nine months in this “man-made hell, where brutality, starvation, sickness, filth, and degradation took a daily toll on women whose principal offense was having opposed the Nazi regime. Maisie’s story, however, is one of loyalty, devotion, faith, endurance, and the loving and self-sacrificing support that her circle of women gave each other, allowing some of them to survive the horribly cruel and inhumane conditions."

This work was originally published in French in 1948, and Professor Armstrong's translation is the first available published English version of Maisie Renault's compelling account of how she survived life inside an SS concentration camp,  "and the indomitable spirit that bound these women together and allowed them to emerge hurt, sick, battered, but unbroken and unafraid to testify about what they saw.”  For more information about this book, see the DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska here. 

Learning Commons New Look!

Posted on: Saturday, October 5, 2013 - 12:15pm

Topic(s): Updates

Western Libraries are excited to announce the completion of the Learning Commons renovations which began this past spring. Thanks to a generous donation from WWU alumni Dave and Ann Thomson Mann, and one-time funding from the Provost’s office, the Learning Commons has been transformed into an inviting, modern, interactive space for everyone on campus to enjoy. 

LC Update

During spring quarter, WWU students sampled demo furniture and voted on the pieces they preferred, and the Learning Commons program partners helped select the colors in shades of purple and green to provide a sense of relaxation. With its new furniture, carpet, and freshly painted walls, the renovated area in the Wilson entrance will serve as the central hub for the Learning Commons activities.

The Western Libraries’ Learning Commons brings together resources and programs to advance teaching and learning at Western. This space has been designed to promote collaborative opportunities in a flexible, functional, and attractive space geared towards student learning.

We hope you will stop by to see these changes for yourself and will find them as exciting as we do!


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