Building Learning Communities in the Classroom and with Faculty

Published by Brett Christie, PhD
on Feb 09, 2021

In our latest webinar, “Building Learning Communities in the Classroom and with Faculty”, O’Donnell Learn Founder and CEO, Carrie O’Donnell, and I offer practical ideas and examples for helping students take their learning to the next level through connection and community. We’re also passionate about cultivating professional learning communities among faculty and offer ways to develop this critical support to overall faculty satisfaction.

Fostering Community in the Classroom

Benefits of fostering student community” word cloud created by webinar participants using the free online tool, AnswerGarden.

While the benefits are numerous, at the heart of fostering community is realizing the full potential of learning and positively impacting student success and retention. 

However, fostering community among students requires faculty to tap into their academic and emotional sides. Community is grounded connection and shared experiences. Examining learning from all three learning domains (cognitive, affective, psychomotor) sets the baseline for building community in the classroom. 

This means there is an intentionality to building community. From the first day, it’s important to

  • Model vulnerability and openness with students by creating a welcoming environment
  • Give students permission to not be perfect
  • And provide multiple means of expression so each student can find their best individual fit
  • At the same time, set norms and practices to help create structure for the class.

What does building community look like in action? In the video clip below, Carries shares specific tactics for cultivating community as part of the learning experience. [11:27-13:40]

Building community outside the classroom is also as critical to student success. High Impact Practices (HIPs) are excellent for creating community across campus, and have been shown to improve the quality of a student’s experience, learning retention and success, particularly for underserved student populations. 

Developing Professional Learning Communities

Professional Learning Communities can take many forms around a variety of topics or cohorts. 

Professional learning communities (PLCs) empower faculty to engage collaboratively around professional development. PLCs are focused on enhancing or innovating learning. They are most effective when peer-led, organized around a clear sense of purpose and autonomy, with 8-12 multi-disciplinary faculty participating.. The environment is safe, open and conducive for sharing expertise, experience, challenges and successes – without an administrative presence.

PLCs offer faculty unique benefits they might not have elsewhere on or off campus:

  • Provide the time, space, support and recognition to learn and grow
  • Create camaraderie and room to commiserate (sharing struggles vs. venting)
  • Organize around intra- or interdisciplinary outcomes
  • Advance individual or collective efforts
  • Prop up Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)
  • Offer recognition from campus or accrediting body.

The community aspect of sharing experiences and collectively working toward common goals expands and deepens professional development that could not otherwise happen alone.

What does it take to build a professional learning community? I share some specific considerations in the video clip below. [32:47-38:33]

You can watch the webinar in full here.  [Runtime: 50:20 mins.]

O’Donnell Learn Webinar: Building Learning Communities in the Classroom and with Faculty from O’Donnell Learn on Vimeo.

Our next Webinar, “4 Ways to Use Peer Learning to Increase Learner Engagement“, is Wednesday, 2/17/21 at 12 pm EST. We hope to see you there! Register easily here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Learn While Doing: Course Innovations in Real Time

Published By Brett Christie, PhD
on Mar 30, 2021

We recently learned there are approximately 20,000 learning designers in the US compared to over 1,500,000 faculty creating online courses. Additionally, a study we conducted last summer with 475 higher ed faculty revealed: Nearly half were simply mirroring their face-to-face instruction, Only 22% were designing their courses differently for online, More than 40% had never taught online or had only taught online for one to two terms. But here’s an even more startling fact: faculty were spending nearly 49 hours prepping an online course for the first time. Converting an existing course for online? Twenty-three hours.

Right Now, External Partners Might Be Higher Ed’s Greatest Ally

Published By Joana Jebsen
on Mar 09, 2021

A recent Hechinger report raised the alarm on the increasing amount of OPM contracts secured in 2020. While there seems to be great concern over the cost and number of these contracts, there also seems to be a lack of correlation between this increase and the pandemic. Have we all forgotten the sudden shift to online learning every university across the nation had to make? Whatever online learning institutions had in place at the time, if any, had to be scaled on a massive level.

Propel: Driving Learner Success Through Purposeful Instructor Support

Published By Carrie O'Donnell
on Mar 05, 2021

In a study we conducted last summer with nearly 500 higher education faculty, we learned most were spending 49 hours prepping new online courses prior to the start of the semester. For existing courses, 23 hours per course. And fine tuning content throughout the term? Eight hours per week. This is in addition to teaching, not to mention other duties like research and service. However, we also learned that while most were confident in their ability to teach online, 42% have little experience and nearly half were attempting to mirror their face-to-face teaching in the online environment. Both of these factors are strong indicators of not understanding the intentionality involved in developing and delivering effective online courses. As we move beyond emergency remote instruction towards improving the online learning experience, how do we ask faculty to do even more preparation? The reality is, we shouldn’t. Instead we should purposefully support instructors to help them more effectively and efficiently develop their online courses.