Learning Communities — Classes offer different perspectives

Courses such as ENGL 101 or MATH 121 are always on the academic catalog, but learning community classes aren’t as familiar. While learning communities have been offered at Albion for at least 10 years, many students have never heard of them.

The most basic definition of a learning community is two classes that have a common theme and share a certain number of students with the interlinking of two classes, said Jess Roberts, assistant professor of English. Learning communities sparked interest among faculty as a result of the strategic planning process and an informational lecture which faculty attended in July 2009.  Since fall 2009, one learning community has been offered each semester.

“Learning communities help students make broader, deeper connections between subject material,” said Drew Dunham, associate dean for academic affairs and registrar. “Students explore not only ideas from one perspective, but they explore the same ideas in a history course that they can then connect to an English course and vice versa.  The learning can be a lot deeper.”

For the spring 2011 semester, a Greek and Roman Literature course, taught by Ian MacInnes, English department chair, is offered as a learning community in conjunction with an Ancient Greece class taught by Chris Hagerman, associate professor of history. Students may choose to take only the history or literature course and therefore opt themselves out of the learning community.

“The idea is that the two discussions will inform one another and improve the quality of discussion in both classes—and by extension the quality of student learning,” Hagerman said.

According to the registrar, 29 students pre-registered for the Ancient Greece course and 26 students pre-registered for the literature course. However, only three students had pre-registered for the both classes within learning community. Dunham said that the there has been low enrollment in learning community courses because the college has not done a lot to promote them yet.

“I don’t think it’s a (lack of) interest as much as knowledge about what learning communities are,” Dunham said. “We’re piloting them to find out how to make them work at Albion and how we want to structure them.”

Mallory Godin, Fenton sophomore, was a student in an American Citizenship Theory learning community.  Godin said that while she liked the concept of the learning community class and thought it was interesting to make connections from the different perspectives, she would not take this style of class again.

“Even though I thought it had good intentions, I don’t think it is that vital to have courses that are set up to correlate with one another.  It is just as easy for students to make connections with other classes without having to have them combined into a community,” Godin said.

There is no absolute definition of a learning community at Albion or for higher education. Hagerman said, for this reason, students do not know what a learning community is.

“I assume that if the college begins, through experience and experimentation, to develop a clearer picture of what learning community means in the context of Albion, then students will start to have a clearer understanding of the pros and cons of such classes from their perspective and will make their choices accordingly,” Hagerman said.

The spring 2010 learning community travelled to Rome as an optional trip. This upcoming spring, the class has the option to visit Athens for the learning community offered.

Photo courtesy of Hollis Andrews, Grosse Pointe senior.

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