Learning Communities

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I've been reading rave reviews of learning communities in Honored but Invisible:  An Inside Look at Teaching in Community Colleges by W. Norton Grubb and associates.  Not online learning communities, but academic set-ups where the same group of students take two or three classes together, and the instructors work together to create assignments and activities relevant to all subjects involved.  Typically, learning communities include a "content" course like introductory biology, plus a math or reading course, often at the developmental level. 

Students in learning communities have higher grades and retention rates.  Learning communities can help to close the gap in graduation rates between black and white students, according to an article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education.   People are really interested in online learning and online communities these days, but the warmth and connection of in-person learning communities seem to make a difference with students who need extra support.  I'm wondering if a learning community might be a way to support struggling students at Seton Hill.  Or is everyone, students and faculty alike, too time-pressed to participate in such a venture? 


Jamie Steel approached me to see whether I'd be interested in working with her Connections students (the whole entering freshman class) on a project relating to Wikipedia. I might get journalism students to work with first-year freshman on the Wikipedia entry for Seton Hill. Here we go again with the online angle! But it does respond to the collaborative learning strengths of this generation of students.

I wonder if it might be possible to pilot this idea... I imagine that scheduling would probably be the biggest hurdle. If instructors work together on some activities, and do some team-teaching (so that the biology teacher comes into the composition classroom to teach a lab report, or a the composition teacher comes into the biology classroom to discuss the how politicians and scientists approach some ethical controversy), that could be very exciting.

Lee McClain said:

Wow, the whole freshman class . . . that's not a community, that's a world! Online would seem to be the way to go in that instance. Good to know people are interested in collaborating.

Karissa said:

In my SHU experience, I moved from class to class with the same group of students. Given: at SHU the English majors generally move as a pack from EL150 straight through the upper level courses. I had always wondered if other majors operated the same way because I loved the closeness we developed in our group. In my high school this sense of community was even more defined because honors students stuck together. Basically our classes didn't allow for much deviation from the set schedule we needed, but taking anatomy at the same time as AP English and calculus ended up allowing us to rely on each other and learn from each other (study techniques, note taking skills, explaining things to others and understanding better through doing the explaining, etc.).

I can only think that it would be a good idea to keep students together through coursework, whether it's in the same subject (like being English majors together) or with many subjects (like I did in high school). Having a support system built in to the classroom might make it easier for students to ask questions (and not feel like the dummy for having a question in the first place, like most college kids do).

It's funny because I just finished my first semester in the TESOL program at IUP and we've learned quite a bit about socio-cultural theory in second language acquisition. The same type of community building you're suggesting is essentially what linguists and language teachers are striving to build in order to make the classroom a more comfortable learning environment. It would be great to see something like this develop at Seton Hill--beginning where it is needed and stronger where it is already present.

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