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.

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Published By Brett Christie, PhD
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In an earlier webinar, O’Donnell Learn CEO, Carrie O’Donnell and I shared practical ideas and examples for building learning communities among faculty. These communities provide a rich opportunity for faculty to gather around a common goal, learning together and from each other while accomplishing a desired outcome.   Faculty learning communities can provide the time, space and resources for mission-critical efforts related to teaching and learning. Teaching expertise is most often not part of the faculty background, nor is instructional design a common skill. Plus, faculty often develop courses in isolation. In contrast, gathering faculty around learning design can create vibrant exchanges of what’s working, what’s not, and problem-solving around how to make improvements.