Learning Communities

In 6th grade (the early 1970s) I was in a linked, team-taught social studies/language arts classroom, where two instructors co-taught and created interdisciplinary assignments, connecting the writing skills instruction, the introduction to literary analysis and history.  The class was large (over 50 students) but we often broke into small groups for group work, and smaller class discussions.

That was my first exposure to Learning Communities.

I had to wait another 20 years for my next LC experience when I was adjuncting at a variety of colleges in the Big City: I taught several paired courses, where I taught my own section of writing, the other instructor taught his or her own section of a content area, and the same group of students took both courses.  The best partnerships were when the other instructor and I worked to create shared or linked assignments on a regular basis, but that, naturally, didn’t always happen.

Targeting the cohort group of students (say, at risk students, developmental students, honors students, first year students) is another model that I’ve participated in, and that seems to me to be very effective, whether or not the students know they have been targeted. The students bond and truly wish to help each other succeed. (Of course, this model can also be disastrous for the students and the professors if there is dissension within the cohort group.)

There are other models that I haven’t yet been exposed to: the First Year Experience, where all students entering a college take a significant portion of their credits in the same classes (maybe a large lecture once a week, followed by small group discussion another day), and the classes may be linked by a specific theme.  Such a first year experience would also integrate the necessary services (financial aid advising, academic advising, study skills, etc) that often help with student success.

So, blogging world, since I am now working with a Learning Communities task force this year,  I’d love to hear more about your experiences with LC’s: best practices, warnings, etc.  Since LC’s have been around basically forever, at least in some form, I’ve been catching up on all that has been written about the subject, including  “A New Era in Learning-Community Work: Why the Pedagogy of Intentional Integration Matters” by Emily Lardner and Gillies Malnarich, but the more information I have, the easier my immersion into what may prove to be an exciting project for me, and a great opportunity for our students.

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3 responses to “Learning Communities

  1. I’ve been in 4? 5? My uni started a Teaching & Learning center, which sponsored all of these. Some were excellent. Some less so. What I’ve learned is that clarity and ambiguity work best. Group dynamics are incredibly important – all of the ones I’ve been in have voluntary, subsidized and recognized by admin and P&T groups as valid scholarship endeavors. The less than wonderful ones were because commitment to the goals faded very quickly, or members were intent on doing their own thing only. The most successful and fun ones were those in which the members had some initial hard times and then bonded – those bonds continue to be strong even years after the LC period was over.

    A strong tolerance for ambiguity and flexibility seem really important to me. That may just be me, but that group, after a nasty start which resulted in expelling one member, proved to be life-changing and career-altering for many of us. We’re still good friends and valued colleagues, even when we go months between seeing each other. Knowing what LCs can be has kept me going back and trying again and again. I’m out of one this year after a less than stellar experience last year. But next year? I’ll apply for another one.

  2. Thank you, Belle! Those are reactions I’ve been hearing from many people–when it works, it’s fabulous, when it doesn’t, it’s miserable. I’m excited by the challenge of it, though, and so many students have discovered accidental learning communities with total glee (for example, taking 2-3 courses that happened to discuss related topics, and being in those classes with a few of the same people)that I know it can be a valuable experience for students.

    “Career-altering” is exactly what I’m in the mood for, too, at mid-career!

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