Virtual Study Rooms with LibCal and Zoom

On April 10, I sent a note to two co-workers about virtual study rooms that said: “this is a weird yet maybe good idea.” Twenty days later we’ve not only implemented virtual study rooms but have heard positive feedback from our students and plan to continue offering them this summer, particularly for those students studying for the bar.

Why virtual study rooms? While I personally would find it deeply unsettling to “be” in a room online in a group study setting, many people like it for accountability, including legal writing professors. Just a little over a week ago, there was a discussion on the Legal Writing Institute’s LRW-PROF listserv about improving concentration with a writing group that could be replicated online with a platform like Zoom, or with a program called Focusmate. (More about that discussion here.) Another reason: providing students a “place” to study eliminates a small piece of their cognitive load while studying for exams. Yes, they could figure out how to put together an online study group themselves using many of the various technologies at their fingertips, but this option is a simple as a few clicks. It’s one less thing for them to think about.

After we decided to give it a try at Lewis & Clark Law School, we first tested Google Calendar’s appointment feature to offer two-hour appointments but opted instead for LibCal. Because LibCal is a scheduling platform particular to libraries and library spaces, the customization options were better suited to our needs. We decided to offer three study rooms with two main restrictions: the rooms could only be reserved by a student with our email domain, and the rooms should be reserved 12 hours ahead of the meeting time during the weekdays and by Friday at 4pm ahead of all weekend meeting times. Students could also email Reference to request a sooner time during the workday.

The lengthy booking requirement is required because there is not currently a way to automate the process of sending Zoom room credentials when the student reserves a room. Right now, we have one librarian sending the Zoom credentials to the person who made the appointment through LibCal, and that same librarian is the one notified when someone makes an appointment. We will expand this if it gets too unwieldy.

We decided on three study rooms because they needed to be tied to Zoom institutional accounts to allow for meetings longer than 40 minutes and there is a limited number of institutional accounts available on our campus. We were able to use three email addresses that already belonged to the library to register these Zoom accounts. Once a student reserves a room, the librarian emails the student with the Zoom credentials and it’s up to the student to share those credentials with people in their study group. Each time slot is given unique meeting credentials with a password to prevent Zoom-bombing and Zoom settings allow attendees to enter without a host.

Since we launched virtual study rooms, students have thanked us and we’ve had repeat users. I’ve been in touch with Springshare about a Zoom integration with LibCal and was told, “We are working on a feature to integrate Zoom with LibCal’s Appointment module 🙂 Please keep an eye on our blog for more information on when that will be released!” I’m hopeful that this feature is coming soon, which will potentially eliminate our need to mediate bookings and Zoom credentials.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the response rate to our virtual study room option for students, and it’s been great to hear the positive feedback.

Update, 5.8.20: Springshare announced a LibCal Zoom integration on April 30. This requires that you have access to your Zoom API/Key. At this point, I haven’t been able to experiment with the integration, so for now, we are using the method described above. 

 

Assistant Director, Research and Instruction, at Boley Law Library, Lewis and Clark Law School, in Portland, Oregon.