Building Sustainable Learning Communities

By Reyna Gobel

Educators discover the best, most effective teaching resources are a product of campuswide collaboration.

While many students enjoy summers off, the majority of educators spend their vacations preparing for the coming school year, some by attending classes and professional development workshops.

That was the case in Washington state this summer, where representatives from 12 community colleges and 13 colleges and universities gathered at Evergreen State College for the 2014 National Summer Institute on Learning Communities.

Educators and administrators from both sectors of higher education were encouraged to share promising practices and develop strategies for creating innovative curricula on their campuses. Program participants say a successful learning community works by breaking down institutional silos and encouraging educators from every department — from the front office to the classroom — to work as one.

As part of the program, participants were encouraged to co-draft learning modules and shared curriculum that could be taught across multiple disciplines. From the student perspective, these community-developed programs leverage the insights of faculty members from every corner of the college to foster a wholly integrated learning experience.

Virginia Moore Tomlinson, vice president for Instruction at Columbia Basin College, said the experience completely changed her view of course development.

All of our classes can benefit from the research and knowledge of faculty members across a variety of disciplines.

Her team, which included members of the college advising and teaching faculty, has since convened a workgroup to study how learning communities might improve the quality of teaching and learning on campus.

“All of our classes can benefit from the research and knowledge of faculty members across a variety of disciplines,” Tomlinson says.

Want to increase community building and collaboration across your campus? Tomlinson offers the following five tips for administrators looking to establish more effective learning communities.

  1. Include a variety of faculty in your learning community workgroups, both in terms of experience level and disciplines.
  2. Decide what the term “learning community” means on your campus. Some classes may be fully integrated while some may just share reading material, for instance.
  3. Be realistic and work within the rules of your institution. For instance, you’ll want to consider if you give dual credit for a course and if students have space for electives.
  4. Take advantage of research and literature from past programs. Find the research online at Washington Center.
  5. Think creatively about what your student population needs and identify the strengths of your institution. Trust and include your college community to structure a learning community that will help your students succeed.

For more about learning communities, including recent research into their impact on student success, don’t miss this article in AACC’s Community College Daily

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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