“In the last 15 years, learning communities have become a national movement reaching more than 600 educational institutions” (Washington Center Journal, 2006) In higher education, curricular learning communities are classes that are linked (paired) or clustered in two or more courses during a semester, often around an interdisciplinary theme, and enroll a common cohort of students. A variety of approaches are used to build these learning communities, with all intended to restructure the students’ time, credit, and learning experiences to build community among students, between students and their teachers, and among faculty and staff members and disciplines.
Everyone! Students, faculty, staff from various programs and areas of campus, and administrators and community members are all involved in learning communities. Learning communities are found in First Year Experience Programs, Developmental Education, General Education courses and with courses for special populations. Productive learning community partnerships involve faculty, student service professionals, librarians and community based-partners. A climate of respect that is based on a collaborative process is redefining campus roles and is influencing the broader concept of student learning.
In a variety of institutional settings (community colleges and universities, primarily) and in a number of forms, learning communities have been shown to increase student retention and academic achievement, increase student involvement and motivation, improve students’ time to degree completion, and enhance student learning experiences. With an emphasis on interpersonal dialogue, collaboration, and learning within the context of diversity, these programs address the problem of isolation that many students experience.
Faculty/staff members involved in learning communities report that working together in this way facilitates cross-discipline collaboration such that they may expand faculty repertoire of teaching approaches and enjoyment in working with colleagues in other disciplines.
Learning communities can be sites for innovation in curriculum and strengthen teaching and learning which can improve the institution as a whole. The emphasis is on “integrated learning” rather than the viewing of courses as separate, unrelated disciplines.
Learning communities offer another way to structure courses, one that we hope will address the crisis of student retention on this campus; nearly 50% of LMC students drop out after their first semester. Learning communities offer an innovative approach to a serious problem.
Beginning in the Fall, 2006 semester, faculty and staff are invited to participate in a Curriculum Planning Retreat that will focus on beginning the creation of learning communities of one type or another – from linked or paired classes to fully integrated courses such as Political Science with English. Workshops and conversations will be about strategies for integration of courses and linking assignments, designing assessments and syllabus exchanges.
Teams will continue to refine and work together throughout the Fall semester in preparation for offering courses for the Spring, 2007 semester or later. Faculty compensation for Startup participation is $1000, and resulting “deliverables” for work in designing and implementing learning communities will come from the HSI Title V Grant.
Over the years, there have been many pilot learning community efforts on this campus. Each has taught us something; students have enjoyed the “communities” and faculty report that they felt “enriched” by the experiences. With funding from the Title III Grant, 10 faculty and managers from a variety of discipline areas and support services, including President Peter Garcia, were able to attend the Summer Institute’05 on Learning Communities for a week at The Evergreen State College. This group became committed to the development of learning communities at LMC.
Many learning community programs work intentionally to be reflective of the institution’s student population at large. Questions to consider in this intentional development of learning communities are; Who is currently enrolling in your learning community? Who do you wish to enroll? How can teaching strategies used in the learning community foster a dialogue that promotes inclusiveness of others and community in the context of diverse learners? Can the curriculum itself reflect diversity or diverse perspectives?
Who do I contact for more information?
For more information on Learning Communities, contact Rosa Armendáriz at ext. 3213.