The idea of hosting an academic study table came back to CSC from a session at a Higher Learning Commission Conference. The principle is that students who might benefit most from visiting faculty during office hours to discuss class material, study habits, and writing are unlikely to do so. First-generation college students are reportedly the least likely to visit with faculty in a one-on-one situation. In theory, moving office hours out of the office and into a more public space that accommodates group meetings encourages greater contact between students and faculty. Presumably, greater contact facilitates improved student success.
Although study table is a common practice at colleges and universities, there is not a significant body of scholarship on the topic. Many athletic departments at Division I and II schools set aside library time – labeled study table – for student athletes, but they are not usually moderated by either faculty or tutors. While the rationale for mandated study time for athletes appears to be continued eligibility, there is a small body of literature that addresses the importance of scheduling times for study when student athletes are not exhausted from their practice sessions.
Many institutions also schedule study table as part of their supplemental instruction programs, which are generally hosted by peer tutors. Some engineering programs set aside time and space for unmoderated group study on a drop-in basis. Modern language programs still host tables that focus on language immersion. Faculty-led study tables are either uncommon or have received little scholarly attention. The promise of improved student success and the dearth of information about study tables is what compelled me to experiment throughout the 2015-16 academic year. I cannot ascertain at this time whether holding a study table in the Library Learning Commons is holistically successful or not, but I feel it is worth continuing – with some modifications – in 2016-17. I have come to this decision not because I collected much data on the practice (a quantitative approach) but because of my general impressions about student engagement (a qualitative approach).
In fall 2015, I started a study table for my freshman-level World History survey sections. Combined enrollment in the two courses was about 95. In addition to presenting historical content, the study table is designed to help students read and write at a college level. All exams and in-class assignments are in essay format, and there is a formal essay based on an ancillary monograph. I hosted my study table in a main-floor study room in the library every Monday at 1 pm and every Tuesday at 6 pm. Attendance at the 6 pm session, I feel, was acceptable, although a large number of the regulars were student athletes who would have been in the library anyway. Three to four students attended most evening sessions. The largest groups were about a dozen students, but this only happened in sessions just prior to exams.
Student success was likely improved, although those in most frequent attendance were individuals who would have succeeded anyway. There were also students who utilized study table to pass the course. Three of my study table students were in the Transitional Studies program, and they attended (at least in part) because other professors and tutors asked them to do so. They all earned Cs, and their work improved dramatically as the semester moved forward. Availability of study table was noted positively on student evaluations.
I expanded my sessions to Wednesdays at 6 pm for spring 2016 and opened up study table to students in all of my courses, as requested by several seniors. Up until mid-term, attendance had been markedly down. My spring course load, however, is less focused on freshmen; I have only one large survey section, and most students were already successful for at least one semester. However, I regularly see both of my independent study students during the evening hours. I read essay drafts for about ten students prior to the first deadlines, but spring term has not been as active as fall.
In 2016-17 I will likely continue the 1 pm Monday sessions. In the fall term, I will schedule two evening times, one at 6 pm Tuesdays and one other to be determined, in part, by library usage statistics. Spring term, I will reduce the hours to just 6 pm on Tuesdays. I opt for the Tuesday slot to encourage students to attend the Graves Lecture Series at 7 pm. I will reevaluate after next academic year.
If you would like to learn more about my study table experiment, please attend the TLC Seminar “Academic Study Table” on April 14 (3-4 pm, ADM 030). If you are a faculty member interested in starting a study table of your own, the librarians in the LLC are happy to assist you. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 308.432.6271.