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The Center for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment

General Information About Faculty Learning Communities

(See the list of Miami's current Faculty Learning Communities)

Overview

The work of Alexander Meiklejohn and John Dewey in the 1920s and '30s gave rise to the concept of a learning community. Increasing specialization and fragmentation in higher education caused Meiklejohn to call for a community of study and a unity and coherence of curriculum across disciplines. Dewey advocated learning that was active, student centered, and involved shared inquiry. A combination of these approaches in the late 1970s and '80s produced a pedagogy and structure that has led, among other things, to students' increased civic contributions, retention, and intellectual development. The term learning communities traditionally has been applied to programs that involve first- and second-year undergraduates, along with faculty who design the curriculum and teach the courses.

A faculty learning community (FLC) is a cross-disciplinary faculty and staff group of 8 to 12 members engaging in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, interdisciplinarity, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and community building. In the literature about student learning communities, the word student usually can be replaced by faculty and still make the same point.

There are two categories of faculty learning communities: cohort-based and topic-based.

Cohort-based learning communities address the teaching, learning, and developmental needs of an important cohort of faculty that has been particularly affected by the isolation, fragmentation, or chilly climate in the academy. The curriculum of such a yearlong community is shaped by the participants to include a broad range of teaching and learning areas and topics of interest to them. These communities will make a positive impact on the culture of the institution over the years if given multi-year support. The examples of cohort-based communities at Miami are the Alumni Teaching Scholars Community for early-career faculty and the Senior Faculty Learning Community for Teaching Excellence for mid-career and senior faculty.

Each topic-based learning community is yearlong and has a curriculum designed to address a special campus teaching and learning issue, for example, diversity, technology, or cooperative learning. These communities offer membership to and provide opportunities for learning across all faculty ranks and cohorts, but with a focus on a particular theme. A topic-focused faculty learning community ends when the teaching opportunity or issue of concern has been satisfactorily addressed. Examples of topic-based communities at Miami are listed in the box above or on the previous page.

The long-term goals of a faculty learning communities program for the University are to

  • build University-wide community through teaching and learning: Create a learning organization
  • increase faculty interest in undergraduate teaching and learning
  • investigate and incorporate ways that difference can enhance teaching and learning
  • nourish scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and its application to student learning
  • broaden the evaluation of teaching and the assessment of learning
  • increase faculty collaboration across disciplines
  • encourage reflection about liberal education and coherence of learning across disciplines
  • increase the rewards for and prestige of excellent teaching
  • increase financial support for teaching and learning initiatives
  • create an awareness of the complexity of teaching and learning

Each faculty learning community has its own specific goals and objectives, which the facilitator and members determine.

Each year the activities for these communities vary somewhat but are likely to include the following:

  • Seminars on teaching and learning. Recent topics include assessment of student learning, enhancing the teaching/learning experience through awareness of students' intellectual development, sharing student and faculty views of teaching and learning, and topics selected from articles or books that participants of the communities select to read. Some seminars are led by guest faculty; others are conducted by the participants themselves. In the second semester, the group presents a seminar for the entire campus.
  • Retreats. An opening/closing retreat may be held in May, with the "graduating" community sharing information with the new participants on various aspects of the program, such as seminar topics, student associate selection, and teaching projects. In the early fall, another campus or national teaching conference is the setting for seminars with faculty from other universities.
  • Teaching projects. Community members pursue self-designed learning programs, including an individual teaching project, for which they receive financial support. Past projects have included developing expertise and courseware for computer-assisted instruction; redesigning an ongoing course; and investigating, learning, and trying a new teaching method. These projects are shared with the faculty at a campus-wide seminar.
  • National conferences. In November, each community is invited to participate in the annual Miami Lilly Conference on College Teaching, where nationally known teacher-scholars interact with Miami faculty and guests from other campuses.
  • Faculty partner. Each community member selects a colleague to work with during the year. In the case of junior faculty, the person is an experienced faculty member who serves as a mentor. Senior faculty community members pair up as in the New Jersey Partners in Learning model.
  • Student associates. Each participant selects one or two students who provide student perspectives on teaching, learning, projects, and topics encountered in the community.
  • Course mini-portfolio. Each participant selects a focus course in which to try innovations and prepares a course mini-portfolio that analyzes and provides evidence of student learning.

Follow-Up

Each participant agrees to prepare initial, midyear, and final reports and program assessment about achievement of objectives, outcomes of the teaching project, and interaction with faculty partner and student associate. This includes a focus course mini-portfolio and student learning as a result of participation in a community.

Examples of FLCs

 

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