Friday, November 20, 2015

Innovative learning communities endeavor supports student engagement; is tailored to commuter campus

In an innovative initiative that is designed to further strengthen campus engagement and enrich students’ educational experiences, learning communities have been being introduced on campus this fall. This concept is most often associated with residential campuses and usually involves students with shared interests and/or academic pursuits being housed together.

To tailor this initiative to a commuter campus such as OU-C, students take classes of different academic disciplines, which are focused on a central theme, back-to-back. This interdisciplinary approach allows students to approach a topic from different perspectives. It also encourages more collaboration among both the students and faculty members.

English faculty member Tony Vinci and art faculty member Darren Baker have launched one such endeavor, with Baker teaching “Introduction to Digital Photography” from 9:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. and Vinci teaching “Writing and Rhetoric” from 12:30 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Meanwhile, fellow English faculty member Deb Nickles and sociology faculty member Marguerite Hernandez have introduced another pair of classes in this model during fall term. Hernandez is teaching “Introduction to Sociology” from 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. and Nickles is teaching “Writing and Rhetoric” from 12:30 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. the same days.

The interaction between students is also intended to deepen their connections to campus, which should support retention efforts.

Research shows there are several advantages to this type of learning environment, many of which are aligned with the Chillicothe Campus’ strategic emphasis on increasing student satisfaction, retention and success, in terms of course and academic degree completion.

“Students in learning communities tend to feel more connected to the campus and to their classmates. They also usually feel closer to faculty members and more comfortable in the college environment, which leads to a higher degree of satisfaction with their courses,” Vinci said. “Consequently, they have an overall higher GPA than their peers as well as a lower dropout rate.”

This type of approach also encourages collaboration and teamwork, skills that are beneficial to students throughout their academic and professional pursuits.

Beyond practical outcomes, there are intangible benefits for the students.

“A learning community represents a way to work beyond the traditional academic frame work and develop a more personal understanding of yourself and the world,” Vinci explained.

Participating faculty members have experienced the benefits of collaborative approach of the learning communities.

“For my class, I have designed assignments about sociological topics to help students retain what they are learning in ‘Writing and Rhetoric,’ and I know Deb has designed assignments to help students retain what they are learning in ‘Introduction to Sociology,’ so students are getting similar information from two different sources. We think that is beneficial in helping the students retain material,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, I am helping them improve their writing skills, which will assist their success in English, and Deb is helping them improve their sociological imaginations, which will help them in my class.”

The Learning Community concept is an approach that extends beyond time in class.

“The students in the classes are acting like a community,” Hernandez said. “I see them studying together and spending time together on campus. A goal is that this community extends beyond class and the students build friendships from this experience. Also, I enjoy working with other faculty members and the teamwork that is encouraged by this initiative. I hope I have the opportunity to teach additional learning community classes in the future.”

A video about the learning communities that was produced by student videographer Madison Corbin is available here.

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