To clarify the definition of Learning Communities (or LCs) for College of DuPage, we have adopted the relevant aspects of the provisional definition crafted by the Learning Communities Association, a newly-formed national organization for promoting scholarship and practice in LCs:
Learning communities represent an educational approach that involves the integration of engaged curricular and co-curricular learning and emphasizes relationship and community building among faculty or staff and a cohort of students in a rich learning environment. This educational approach may come in different forms, but [at COD, it] typically involves/incorporates/includes…[a] curricular structure characterized by a cohort of students participating in an intentionally designed integrative study of an issue or theme through connected courses, experiences, and resources. 1
In particular, an LC is dependent upon "intentional integration" of course content and assignments determined by the teaching faculty from each course. At COD, most LCs are comprised of two courses from different disciplines that focus on a common theme and have a common cohort of students. A full list of examples is included in the back of this guidebook, but a few examples include:
1. “About Us”. Learning Communities Association. 2018. http://www.lcassociation.org/about-us.html.
LCs permit a wide range of teaching approaches:
A learning community works best when it includes:
Learning Communities (or LCs) have demonstrated significant benefits for students, faculty, and the institution at large, both nationally and at COD. Further, as McGregor, et. al., note, LCs address the needs for
All successful and effective (and fun!) learning communities need to start with a few key questions:
In truth, just about any two courses can be paired into an LC; however, based on the experience of the LC Committee, we’ve found that the most successful LCs include
Keep in mind, the more courses you try to integrate together, the more complex the task will become. If you’re new to LCs, we advise that you start out with only two courses.
This may be the most crucial question to address, as it speaks to the intentionality of the LC. Both faculty should agree on a specific focus for the pairing; this focus should be such that it promotes integration on some level of the content of both courses. In other words, each faculty member needs to think about how he/she might address/incorporate some of the content or skills addressed in his/her partner’s course into his/her own course.
For instance, ENGLI 1101 or 1102 and SPEECH 1100 are courses that easily pair with other disciplines. However, the LC won’t be truly integrated if the purpose of the pairing is merely that the English or Speech faculty member will evaluate the papers or speeches assigned in the other course. That other faculty member will need to consider how written/oral communication (or rhetoric) plays an important role in the subject matter of his/her course.
In addition, the faculty partners need to consider the attractiveness of their theme to their ultimate audience: students. Why would they enroll in this LC, rather than take both courses separately? This question leads us to our next topic…
The exact nature of the design of your LC is up to you and your partner. At minimum, you should include at least one assignment or activity that connects the course content of both classes in some meaningful way to capture/reflect the theme of the LC. One of the greatest tensions in creating an LC is between the desire to integrate and innovate versus the need to fulfill course objectives and/or cover course content. Many an LC has struggled or even failed to launch because one or both members were unable to be flexible enough in their approaches to their courses. The process of integration requires imagination, flexibility, prioritization, and compromise. It may mean that you change the order of what you teach when to have your content synch up more effectively with your partner. It may mean changing your teaching style somewhat, especially if you opt to team-teach. It may mean restructuring (or even shelving) a particular assignment or activity you normally do in that class for one that integrates material from both courses. It may even mean not covering certain material in order to focus in greater depth on concepts that connect to the theme. All of this can be challenging, but none of it is impossible, especially if you and your partner approach the effort together with candor, creativity, and confidence.
Choosing a fellow faculty member to partner with in an LC is in some ways like choosing someone to date, or even marry. If you have an idea for an LC but no one in mind to partner with, the LC Committee can play “matchmaker” to help you find an interested collaborator. We’ve found, however, that many good LC partnerships start from good faculty friendships. Still, just because you may be friends with a colleague doesn't always mean you’ll be a good “match”. Thus, you and your partner need to have strong lines of communication about your expectations, hesitations, and limitations before embarking on this partnership. Consider these…
Tips for a Successful LC “Marriage”
Some Suggested “Pre-Nuptial” Activities:
REMEMBER: A successful LC depends on a successful partnership; if there’s conflict between the faculty, students will notice (and often try to exploit it).
The best-designed LC will never be successful if few or no students enroll in it. While the LC Committee does its best to help market LCs across the campus, faculty need to consider who their target audience may be for their particular offering. Are you looking to attract incoming freshmen? If so, they’re most likely interested in all gen ed courses or LCs that may combine a gen ed with a course in their intended major. Some students are particularly interested in the environment, politics, self-exploration, or other “sexy” topics. By looking at the list of previous LCs at the end of this Guidebook, you can see some of the themes that have attracted students; this is, by no means, an exhaustive list.
One “selling point” for most LCs is the integrative design of the LC—students are quite often attracted to the idea that they can “reduce their workload”, since many of the readings and assignments for each class overlap. Being able to communicate such integration to students can be a helpful marketing strategy. As you develop your plan, keep in mind the question posed above: Why would they enroll in your LC, rather than take both courses separately?
There are a variety of models that can be used to structure learning communities; three common approaches are as follows:
|Version One: First Year Seminar Mode|
Programs in which a small cohort of students enrolls in a larger classes that faculty DO NOT coordinate. Intellectual connections and community-building often take place in an additional integrative seminar.
|Version Two: Standard Linked Model|
Programs of two or more classes linked thematically or by content, which a cohort of students takes together. The faculty DO plan the program collaboratively.
|Version Three: Standard Integrated Model|
Programs of coursework that faculty members team-teach. The course work is embedded in integrated program of study.
Other options, of course, may be possible. At College of DuPage, we’ve relied mainly on the linked and integrated models, mostly using pairs of courses. Some LCs at COD have connected as many as five or more courses, such as previous versions of the Adult Fast Track and Integrated Engineering Technology programs or the more recent Enhanced LCs offered in Fall 2016. Additional examples are listed in the Teaching in Learning Community guidebook.
If you’re new to teaching a learning community, you may want to start off integrating only part of your course material with your partner—say, a common project or other assignment that counts for perhaps 20% or so of each student’s final grade in each course. In future iterations of the LC, as you and your partner gain experience with your LC (and teaching in such a format), you may decide to integrate the courses further. There’s really no strict standard here, other than each LC should have a minimum of one integrative assignment; what that is and how much it counts in your grade book is up to you and your partner. Even some of our longest-running LCs, like Seed, Soil, and the Soul or Decision 2016, are not fully integrated; Decision, for example, only has 60% of the activities/assignments count for each of the three courses involved—the other 40% is determined by each professor, according to the particular needs of his/her course.
Nearly all LCs at COD are scheduled such that the courses meet back-to-back on the same days, providing the faculty involved the opportunity to use the combined time creatively. While the LC Committee recommends you consider team teaching, many times this isn’t possible, due to each faculty member’s schedule. There are particular benefits to team teaching, though:
If for whatever reason you’re not able to teach together, remember that you both still need to find time outside of your classes to meet (we advise doing it weekly) and discuss the progress of the LC so each of you is aware of what’s happening in the other’s class. Such meetings help reinforce the integration of the LC.
COD Learning Communities
Visit the COD Learning Communities page for resources and all the forms and information you need to teach an LC. Questions? Contact James Allen, Faculty Chair of Learning Communities.
Washington Center at the Evergreen State College - https://wacenter.evergreen.edu/learning-communities
Washington Center led the national project for Assessing Learning in Learning Communities, and has developed widely-used tools for learning community practice including a heuristic for designing integrative assignments (PDF) and the Online Survey of Students’ Experiences of Learning in Learning Communities. Their comprehensive guide to Learning Communities includes:
Consortium for Illinois Learning Communities - http://www.consortillc.org
The Consortium for Illinois Learning Communities (CILC) was founded in 2002 to support regional academic institutions that are offering interdisciplinary learning communities, related learner-centered pedagogies, and the faculty development that supports them. This organization also sponsors a yearly Best Practices Symposium hosted at a member institution.
Coteaching: A Formula for Learning from and with Colleagues - Faculty Focus, Aug. 2022
"Murphy and Martin (2015) define coteaching as “two or more teachers teaching together, sharing responsibility for meeting the learning needs of students, and, at the same time, learning from each other,” which best aligns with our scenario. A few illustrations of coteaching in higher education settings include coteaching as a mentoring experience (Cordie, 2020), a collaboration between disciplines (Rooks et al., 2022), and a rationale to better meet students’ learning needs (Salifu, 2020). Coteaching in a teacher preparation course has seen benefits (Steele, 2021; Drescher, 2017; Ricci & Fingon, 2018), which is a reason for us to explore the opportunity within our teacher education department.
The information in this guide is adapted from Teaching in Learning Communities: Guidelines for Success. Download the guide for a complete introduction to Learning Communities at College of DuPage.