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Bush Faculty Development Committee

Augustana College
Sioux Falls, SD


December, 2000


Augustana's Bush Grant Committee (Gary Earl; Susan Schrader, and Richard Swanson) have awarded seven grants to twenty-two faculty and two students as part of our three-year $300,000 faculty development grant from the Bush Foundation of St. Paul, MN. The awards in this round total $23,000. Each project addresses one of the following program areas: diversifying teaching methods, promoting active leaning through collaborative research, helping faculty make fuller use of educational technology, or the Open Windows project to help students make connections beyond the campus.

Fall 2000 Awards

Heather Aldridge Michelle Bartel, Richard Bowman, Geoffrey Dipple, Brian Eggleston, Tim Jones, Jeffrey Miller, Glenda Sehested, Richard Swanson, Mark Van Wienen, Anne Windholz "Texts and Textuality Across Disciplines"

Monty Barnard, Lisa Grevlos "Portable Voice Amplification System"

Denise Copelton, Geoffrey Dipple, Mary Friehe, Sharon Gray, Cheryl Leuning, Margot Nelson, Anne Oppegard "Benefit and Impacts of Web-Based Teaching"

Mark Hallenbeck, Perry Hanavan, Sara Skrdlant (student) "Web-Based Access to Research and Dialogue on Cognitive Strategy Instruction in Writing"

Mark Hallenbeck, Andrea Wiegers (student) "Print-based Access to Research on Cognitive Strategy Instruction in Writing"

Ann Pederson "Collaborative Research Projects Between Teaching Faculty/Physicians, Fourth- Year Medical School Residents, and College Students in Biomedical Ethics"

Mark Van Wienen "R&R on the High Plains: Student Research and Reporting on Reform and Radicalism, ca. 1900"

Four of the five faculty planning to attend the November 17-18 Collaboration Conference "Building the New Learning Communities" in Minneapolis were forced to cancel due to the inclement weather conditions. Glenda Sehested did attend the conference and submitted this review.

by Glenda Sehested

The theme of this Fall's Collaboration Conference was "Learning Communities." It was co-sponsored by National Learning Communities Project. This Project is a four year (2000-2003) national effort to disseminate approaches to learning community curricula through regional conferences, a national summer institute, and a series of working papers. The Project will also have a Web site www.evergreen.edu/washcenter coming on- line in 2001. One of the co-directors of the Project is Jean MacGregor and she gave a keynote address at the conference.

The concept of "learning community" was not one I was very familiar with, although I discovered that I was accurate in my expectation that it is closely connected to the concept of "collaborative learning" – a term I do understand. It was made clear at the conference that the idea of learning communities has a fairly extensive history in educational theory. One of the conference attendees noted that "it's been around a long time in educational theory and in K-12 practice, but higher education institutions are only beginning to ‘catch up' with the idea."

So what exactly is a "learning community?" Based on what I learned at the Conference, a learning community (at its most abstract level) is any collective organization of people (formal or informal) which collectively engages in learning. The concept (like that of collaborative learning) is based on the fundamental fact that learning occurs more extensively, more effectively and more efficiently when it occurs WITH others operating as co-learners. However, while this assumption is the basis for many in-class assignments (discussion groups and group projects), most of what are currently being called "learning communities" are focused on the creation of non-classroom based formal groups (though often linked to specific classes) and they intentionally include faculty and administrative staff (especially those from the student services area) as well as students. Thus the intent is to broaden the structured nature of "learning" to groups organized beyond the classroom. I think I can probably communicate this idea best with examples of learning communities that were presented at the Conference.

Augsburg College has created and is implementing a new required first-year experience, which they call the "Aug Sem." While much of the content of the Aug Sem looks similar to the content of our own NSS curriculum, its organization pattern is different. Each Aug Sem group is linked to a commonly taken first-year course. For example, one of the presenters teaches a course titled "Computer Applications in Business," a first-year course for business majors. The class has twenty members, and those 20 students also constitute the instructor's section of the Aug Sem. When they meet as the Aug Sem (once a week for 9 weeks) they are joined by a Wellness Center staff member and a student peer leader. The content of the seminar was planned with careful attention to the profile of Augsburg's incoming students (i.e. that they have a high level of stress, are likely to be employed while in school, are from suburban areas but want to live in an urban environment, have parents who want an ethical, value-based education for their children, etc.). After determining the student profile, the planning group carefully considered the college's mission and created 3 general goals and objectives for the Seminar: Transition, Integration and Reflection. The ideas of service learning and effective use of technology are evident in that each Aug Sem section performs its own community service activity and has its own ‘homepage' (they use Blackboard) for electronic submission of reflection papers, on-line discussion threads, etc.

Much of the conversation at the session dealt with the linkage between the seminar and a regular course. The presenters emphasized that they could do this because most of their first-year general education and major courses already were limited to 20 people per section. They admitted some "drawbacks" of the linkage – e.g. the specific content of different sections of the seminar will vary (sometimes considerably) from section to section. Furthermore, in those (hopefully rare) instances when a particular faculty member and student have interaction difficulties, the problem can sometimes be compounded. However, their experience is that the benefits of the linkage outweigh its drawbacks. The primary benefits are that (1) the sometimes abstract content of the seminar is given practical illustration and application by being linked to the course content and (2) students and faculty have the opportunity to establish much more in-depth relationships with each other.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting application of one interpretation of the learning community concept and that it may provide useful "food for thought" for the content and organization of our own New Student Seminar.

The second example of learning communities that I want to share with you comes from the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. They have created a number of structured learning communities and even have a Web site dedicated to these projects: www.csbsju.edu/extending/. The conference presentation focused on two of these projects: the Healthy Living Community and the Gender Learning Community. One of their handouts was such a clear and concise description of these two projects that I've asked to have it duplicated with this mailing rather than attempting to summarize it.

Mark your calendars for the February 15-16, 2001 Collaboration Conference "Engaged in Learning: Building Student Responsibility Through Active Learning"