Learning About Learning Communities
“The instructors in the learning community along with my peers have pushed me to do the best that I can as well as become stronger in my employability skills.” –NWTC First Year Student
Learning communities (LC) are a high impact practice that “generally involve a group of students taking two or more linked classes together as a cohort, ideally with the instructors of those classes coordinating course outlines and assignments as well as jointly reviewing student progress. Learning communities build a sense of academic and social community and increase engagement among students and faculty, all of which lead to a variety of positive outcomes” (Achieving the Dream, 2015).
Research, including in-depth studies from MDRC and colleges across the United States, found these positive outcomes to include everything from increased satisfaction and greater use of support services to improved retention.
In fall of 2014, NWTC piloted two different learning communities. One linked English Composition with Introduction to Diversity, and the other linked English Composition with Introduction to Psychology. The experience has been an eye opener for all of us involved, but the results have been really exciting, particularly in terms of student engagement.
Based on a week 11 survey, week 15 focus groups, and an informal in-class assessment:
- 5% of students viewed in class interaction as higher in LC classes than other courses.
- Of those with previous college experience, 61.1% viewed the quality of learning higher in LC courses than others.
- 1% viewed writing assignments as beneficial in learning the content of the Psych/Diversity course.
Likewise, all three instructors involved discovered higher attendance rates in the learning community sections compared to non-learning community sections running that same term.
Truly, it’s the engagement—both with students and among instructors—that sets learning communities apart from just team teaching and/or contextualization of a class (though a learning community does both.) Student cohorts are together for three hours of class in the morning, share a one hour lunch break that corresponds with both instructors’ office hours, and then share three hours of class together in the afternoon. They are accountable, they are involved, and they are learning the material more deeply with these connections. Likewise, the sharing of activities and assessment alone makes this a win/win for those teaching a linked course. Though it’s a lot of work to collaborate so intimately with a peer, the overall teaching experience is enhanced.
Interested in hearing more? Want to see the data in detail? Considering a learning community in your area? Invite us to come to a team meeting or contact us individually. Learning communities are a nationally recognized student success initiative, and they play a role in Dr. Rafn’s Future 2018 Strategic Directions. Most importantly, though, they are a great opportunity for NWTC student and faculty engagement.
–Desi Franks (Psychology Instructor), Paul Schnorr (Sociology Instructor), Melissa Wilke (Communication Skills Instructor)