WSU Learning Communities
On any given new student orientation day, you will find current students, faculty, staff and advisors bustling around campus assisting new students (and families) through the transition to Wayne State. And above the bustling crowd, you will hear an exuberant “Woo-hoo!” from WSU’s learning community coordinator, Amy Cooper.
A learning community (LC) is a group of students, faculty and peer mentors who learn together, leading to discovery of themselves as learners as well as of the world around them. Learning communities can be organized around a course, a program, or theme. Peer mentors are key to the success of learning communities — they help create environments where students and peer mentors can work together to ask questions, solve problems and learn from each other, as well as to get to know each other and have fun.
“When talking to faculty interested in creating a learning community, the first thing I tell them is that no two LCs look alike”, says Amy. “We all have a common end in mind – to enhance student learning and increase our retention rate and student success among all students. But how we get there varies by course, teaching style and learning style.”
Nationally, learning communities are known to be a particularly effective high-impact practice (Kuh, 2008) at colleges and universities. High-impact practices — due to the levels of engagement and learning that they promote — support student learning, student success, and retention that lasts long after the end of the duration of the high-impact experience. The success of a learning community is multifaceted and depends on factors such as engagement, teaching pedagogy, learning styles, learning outcomes/goals and support. But the foundation for the success is in the quality of the relationships they support — relationships among students, between students and peer mentors and between students and faculty.
When learning and community “come together in effective ways, they represent the most effective pedagogical concept that have been developed in the last twenty years. Further, they (LCs) create a framework where faculty, staff and students can learn together, which is known to be the most powerful concept in education” (Shapiro, 1999).
Based on national best practices, Wayne State learning communities have the following student learning objectives across various programs:
- Develop critical thinking skills
- Improve ability to apply knowledge and solve problems
- Make appropriate use of student services
- Develop ability to collaborate with others
- Experience a successful transition to the university and successfully identify and pursue their goals
Wayne State has continued to invest in this collaborative program over the past seven years because learning communities have proven to increase our student retention rate. Since 2006, students in our learning communities have been retained from their first to second year at a rate that averages 8.5% higher than students who have not joined learning communities during their first year.
We know that learning communities are a best-practice when it comes to student success. And we know that students are looking for supportive ways to engage at a large, research university so they have a successful experience.
Scaling the learning communities program is an objective outlined in the 2011-approved Retention Report, as well as noted in the current WSU Strategic Plan, and we are interested in continuing this success. We have a great framework from which to start, with more than 40 learning communities this coming academic year; and we can do much more to diversify our program offerings to meet the needs of all WSU students. For those interested in creating a learning community or working with students in a learning community, contact Amy Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-577-2254. A call for 2015-16 Learning Community proposals will be out later this fall. You can always visit the learning communities website to review proposal documents, assessment requirements and a list of all current communities.
If you’re interested in learning more about learning communities, I recommend two great books: Creating Learning Communities: A Practical Guide to Winning Support, Organizing for Change, and Implementing Programs, by Shapiro and Levine and Sustaining Learning Communities by Laufgraben and Shapiro. I have two copies of each book to give away, so if you want one let me know in the comments below. Just tell us a few sentences about your goals, thoughts, questions or challenges with respect to learning communities. I’ll randomly select two recipients for each book from the comments that are posted by the end of Monday, August 25.
Kuh, George D., High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter, Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2008.
Laufgraben, Jodi Levine, and Nancy S. Shapiro. Sustaining and improving learning communities. John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
Shapiro, Nancy S., and Jodi H. Levine. Creating Learning Communities: A Practical Guide to Winning Support, Organizing for Change, and Implementing Programs. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94104, 1999.
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