Learning Communities Pilot
In addition to changes in the requirements for general education at WOU, the General Education Task Force also recommends the development of a learning communities program that would provide an optional pathway towards fulfillment of at least some of the newly defined requirements.
This page has more information about the General Education Task Force recommendations for piloting Learning Communities at WOU. For more information, contact us at email@example.com.
What is a learning community?
In most basic terms, a learning community is a set or cluster of courses that are:
- Offered in the same term.
- Linked thematically or topically.
- And that share a cohort of students.
What, specifically, is being recommended for WOU?
A learning communities program that would offer students an optional pathway towards fulfillment of general education requirements.
We envision learning communities as being composed of pairs of courses:
- Offered through different departments.
- Where both courses would fulfill a general education requirement, such as the proposed Foundational Skills, Exploring Knowledge, and the Integrative Learning categories.
- And with enrollment typically capped at 25.
- Learning community courses should be linked through a common theme or topic, articulated by the participating faculty.
- Participating faculty should be encouraged to further integrate their courses through shared readings and other materials, shared assignments, and/or shared activities.
- When proposing a learning community, faculty should also have the option of including a 1-2 credit seminar, lab, or studio that would facilitate direct co-teaching and integrative learning. These additional credits would count as elective credits in a student’s degree plan.
In addition, faculty should be encouraged to design and propose learning communities that could serve a variety of student and program needs, including communities:
- That could be recommended to students interested in particular majors, minors, and certificates.
- Meant to emphasize breadth and interdisciplinarity.
- That entail integration between skills instruction and content areas.
Why is the Task Force making this recommendation?
A learning communities option would provide an additional opportunity for faculty and students to, “Integrate knowledge, perspectives, and strategies across disciplines to answer questions and solve problems,” which is one of the newly adopted General Education Learning Outcomes (GELOs).
As noted above, learning communities also provide an opportunity to integrate Foundational Skills instruction with specific content learning. This opportunity would allow faculty to address another newly adopted GELO, that students should: “Put into practice different and varied forms of knowledge, inquiry, and expression that frame academic and applied learning.”
A learning communities program is consistent with the university’s Strategic Plan for Academic Initiatives, and would specifically address the call to, “Promote interdisciplinary courses and degree programs that support collaborative and multidimensional educational experiences and pathways.”
Sounds great, why not make learning communities a requirement?
The Task Force had two main reservations about making learning communities a required part of the general education program.
- The needs of part-time students.
- The degree of logistical uncertainty.
Requiring participation in a learning community, or, learning communities, could force some part-time students to enroll in more credits than they wish or are able to afford or manage. For others, fulfilling a learning communities requirement could significantly constrain their choice of credits in a given year or term, which could pose difficulties for timely fulfillment of other parts of their degree plan, an outcome that would run counter to the university’s strategic planning for Academic Program Initiatives in general education (see section 4.5 of the Strategic Plan).
While any change in the curriculum and degree requirements comes with some level of uncertainty for faculty, staff, and administration, learning communities pose a number of unknowns regarding, for example, management of faculty workloads and achieving and maintaining a sufficient number of communities to serve all students.
As can be seen in the examples from other institutions provided below, learning communities are frequently employed as an optional or alternative, rather than a required, means of fulfilling general education and degree requirements.
The expectation of the Task Force is that review and assessment of the general education program would include consideration of how learning communities can be a more effective tool for facilitating student learning and completion of requirements.
Why might a student choose to participate in a learning community?
Learning communities make it possible for students to:
- Combine areas of interest.
- Think creatively (a Foundational Skill).
- Enhance their learning by sharing the experience with a cohort of their peers and participating faculty.
- Simplify their selection of courses for fulfillment of general education requirements.
Why should faculty participate?
For faculty, participating in a learning community is an opportunity to:
- Practice interdisciplinarity by connecting with a colleague from another department.
- Think creatively about their field and areas of interest.
- Interact with students in an unique context for teaching and learning.
- Highlight their courses.
Where can I find out more about learning communities in higher education?
General background and reference:
- In the following article at the AAC&U, Barbara Leigh Smith (Evergreen State College) reviews the history of learning communities at U.S. colleges and universities and includes reflection on challenges to be considered when planning and implementing a learning communities program: https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/challenge-learning-communities-growing-national-movement
- The following page at the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University reviews the literature on the effectiveness of learning communities: http://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/doing-engaged-learning/learning-communities/
- U.S. News and World Report has a list of U.S. colleges and universities that emphasize the use of learning communities in their curricula: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/learning-community-programs
Specific examples referenced during the Task Force discussion of this option:
- Wagner College (2,200) has a general education program that relies on learning communities. You can see a variety of specific communities from the linked page: http://wagner.edu/academics/undergraduate/general-education/
- CSU-East Bay (13,340) also has a well-developed program, but primarily at the lower division. CSU-East Bay offers learning communities recommended for specific majors and ones that are “for everyone”: http://www.csueastbay.edu/ge/index.html
- The First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) at UO (20,067) are an optional learning communities program. The FIGs include an integrative course component: https://fyp.uoregon.edu/fig-what