Senge (1990) describes a learning organization as one that connects its members closely to the mission, goals, and challenges of the organization. These close connections are necessary for the organization to meet the demands of rapid change. While faculty often have such connections within their departments and disciplinary organizations, faculty usually do not have the broad interests of their institutions at heart. There are few rewards for doing so—most are department- and discipline-based. Rarely has a turf battle in a university senate meeting (when a quorum could be mustered) been resolved by the opponents offering to consult and consider the university's and students' best interests. As a result, faculty remain isolated from colleagues in other disciplines, and the curriculum remains fragmented. Thus, both faculty and students miss out on connections across disciplines. Campus-wide action on issues (except, perhaps, parking and salaries) flounders from lack of interest, involvement, and support.
Senge (1990) describes the five components of a learning organization, components that foster close connections among the people within an institution. Patrick and Fletcher (1998) translate these components into behavior for the academy. This table on the next page describes both perspectives and shows how faculty learning communities foster the reflection, learning, and action needed to establish these components in our colleges and universities.
Although effective faculty learning communities alone will not transform an institution into a learning organization, over time they can produce a critical mass of key individuals and leaders plus the network necessary to connect campus units. Gabelnick et al. (1990) implore, "We need to create programs that bring us together structurally in some cases, intellectually and emotionally in others. . . . Learning communities are one way that we may build the commonalties and connections so essential to our education and our society" (p. 92). Harper (1996) contends that "Creating such opportunities for conversation and community among faculty is imperative, not only to the personal and professional growth and reflection of individual faculty, but also for the growth of the higher education community at large" (p. 265).
Learning communities, both faculty and student, can provide individuals, colleges, and universities with a means for achieving success in a rapidly changing world.
|Transforming Colleges and Universities Into Learning
Patrick & Fletcher (1998)
|Ways That Faculty Learning Communities Enable Senge's Five Components of a Learning Organization|
|Systems Thinking||View of the system as a whole, a conceptual framework providing connections between units and members; the shared process of reflection, reevaluation, action, and reward||Creation and recovery of a common language and processes across departments and divisions; setting and honoring institutional missions, goals, actions, and rewards||Time, funding, safety, teams, and rewards to enable multidisciplinary participants to discover, reflect on, and assess pedagogical and institutional systems; members' discovery and appreciation of the synergy of connected campus units|
|Personal Mastery||Support for individuals to achieve their maximum potential as experts in their fields and to address opportunities and problems in new and creative ways||Support for faculty to continue as experts in their disciplines, yet broaden their scholarship beyond discovery to include integration, application, and teaching, particularly multidisciplinary perspectives||Development of individual teaching projects to address opportunities or shortcomings in one's teaching and learning; a developmental introduction to and practice of the scholarship of teaching with multidisciplinary perspectives; becoming an expert teacher inside and outside one's discipline|
|Mental Models||Culture and assumptions that shape how an organization's members approach their work and its relationship to society; relationship of employees to the organization, peers, and clients||Change from a culture of autonomy and rewards for individual work to one of community building; rewards for faculty contributions to institutional goals and solutions of problems||Members' opposition to the isolation and fragmentation of the academy; high value of colleagueship across disciplines; participation an honor with financial rewards; discovery and appreciation of differences among students and their development; value of students as associates and sojourners|
|Building a Shared Vision||Collaborative creation of organizational goals, identity, visions, and actions shared by members; outcomes a result of teamwork, with each individual's contribution an integral part||Sharing of departmental and disciplinary visions across disciplines; identifying joint approaches to issues such as implementing student learning communities, improving student learning, integration of technology, creation of an intellectual community||Development of pedagogial goals and joint approaches in each community and sharing these with the campus, e.g., using technology in teaching, inclusiveness of classroom and curriculum, active learning, assessment of learning; discussion of campus-wide issues; taking positions and action|
|Team Learning||Creation of opportunities for individuals to work and learn together in a community where it is safe to innovate, learn, and try anew||Colleges and universities with learning communities for teaching and research with colleagues and students (p. 162)||Team learningthe heart and purpose of a faculty learning community|
This project has been supported in part by grants from the US Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) and the Ohio Board of Regents.