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Impact Learning Communities

Fall 2023 Impact Learning Communities

The Office of Academic Success Initiatives and Support coordinates the Impact Learning Communities (ILC) program. Old Dominion University faculty members of all career tracks (full- and part-time) are eligible to participate.

Each faculty teaching an ILC course will receive $550 for participation. Additional funding is available for enrichment activities and one peer mentor. Administrators teaching a 0- or 1-credit course will also receive $550 for participation.

What are Impact Learning Communities?

Learning Communities are recognized by the American Association of Colleges & Universities as a High Impact Practice. AAC&U developed a series of Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) Rubrics between 2007 and 2009. At ODU, learning communities examine the Integrative Learning VALUE Rubric.

The term "Learning Communities" refers to efforts where students take linked courses across disciplinary lines as a cohort and engage in co-curricular activities arranged by the professors. The communities allow students to work and learn in smaller groups with focused attention on integrative and experience-based learning activities. These experiences include project- and problem-based learning, exposure to diverse cultures and environments, research, career exploration, content creation, civic engagement, etc. Our Impact Learning Communities include the following:

  1. a group of students enrolled in two to three linked courses,
  2. content and assignments integrated across the courses, and
  3. facilitation by faculty and peer mentors for out-of-class activities to enhance interactions between the students and faculty.

A vast majority of our students are from lower income families, with 77% eligible for financial aid such as Pell grants (39.3%). More than 40% of undergraduates self-identified in a minority group (e.g., Asian, Hispanic, African American, Native American), and many are first-generation college students. According to research, use of high impact practices in curricula has been shown to improve students' learning, particularly for disadvantaged and underserved students (Kuh, 2008). HIPs such as learning communities offer a structured, student-centered, integrative learning experience in- and outside the classroom. Data show that these students tend to have more successful outcomes with increased engagement in the classroom.

Past efforts have shown ODU learning communities improved retention and graduation rates, student grades, their sense of belonging, and student and faculty satisfaction.

Learning communities are unique, in that they can impact a larger population of students from low to high achievers. ILCs also allow faculty opportunities to investigate and deliver alternative approaches to teaching that research has shown improves student learning and engagement. In addition, ILCs are a community of practice for faculty to share best practices, challenges, and support to one another. ASIS, in collaboration with other partners, have the expertise and resources for supporting our faculty.

Funding Criteria

Prerequisites for funding:

  • Lead courses typically have enrollment caps of 25-30 students. We will accept up to 40 as a cap, if necessary
  • Department/chair approval(s) for faculty to teach all linked courses is required
  • Linked courses must adhere to degree requirements based on approved curriculum for the major(s)

Minimum requirements for funding:

  • Programs that integrate the curriculum so that course content is connected (i.e., at least one linked course assignment)
  • Programs that address ILC program outcomes (3 minimum):
    • demonstrate a deeper knowledge of potential majors or careers (career exploration)
    • connect to university and peers through in and out-of-class experiences (college involvement; sense of belonging; self-confidence)
    • experience and embrace differences and similarities among ideas, individuals, and cultures (experience and embrace diversity)
    • demonstrate collaborative problem solving (collaboration; leadership)
    • apply content knowledge across multiple settings (integrative thinking; real world problem solving)

Preferred requirements for funding:

  • ILCs for first-year and/or second-year students that facilitate their integration into the University community
  • ILCs that are interdisciplinary (linked courses from different departments/colleges)
  • Programs that link general education courses or other courses that do not require prerequisites for enrollment

Faculty Resources

The Washington Center at The Evergreen State College serves as the National Resource Center for Learning Communities. Because of this, they have many fantastic resources. The information provided below is just some of the many resources The Washington Center has available for the continual development of learning communities.

In the fall of 1987, Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson wrote about the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. They stated that good practice in undergraduate education included the following principles: encourages contact between students and faculty, develops reciprocity and cooperation among students, encourages active listening, gives prompt feedback, emphasizes time on task, communicates high expectations, and respects diverse talets and ways of learning. These principles serve as guidelines for faculty members and others to improve their teaching and the learning of their students.

"We may be in a common sea in higher education, but in truth, we are rarely in the same boat. Typically, we sail around solo ... In the bigger boats of teaching communities, we have the potential to take our students, our institutions, and ourselves into deeper water and stronger currents."

Quote taken from Teaching Communities within Learning Communities, By Jean MacGregor Director, National Learning Communities Project Washington Center News, 2000.

The Challenges of Collaborative Teaching

Learning Communities are designed benefit the students involved and also the instructors. Learning Communities do this through the ability to collaborate with other faculty within their college but also across the campus. While collaboration may sound easy, collaborative teaching can be challenging.

Indeed, one of the greatest challenges in LC development is simply the pairing of instructors. While the ODU learning communities engage outstanding faculty on the campus, the pairings within the learning community are done outside of the faculty. Because of this, questions do arise. Which faculty member serves as the lead course? Who will serve as the point of contact for the out-of-class activities?

The Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education has a casebook that compiles case studies and other resources for faculty who are teaching collaboratively. Two of the case studies may be extremely helpful regarding potential problems: Sarah's Choice and Sam's Problem (the "field notes" for these case studies can be found here).

Chapter Four of Sustaining and Improving Learning Communities by Jody Levine Laufgraben and Daniel Tompkins explores The Challenges of Teaching with Others.

As the Washington Center at The Evergreen State College states "learning communities have helped foster both integrative and interdisciplinary learning and thinking." Integrative learning is at the heart of learning communities. In AAC&U's Statement on Integrative Learning, they stated that "fostering students' abilities to integrate learning - across courses, over time, and between campus and community life - is one of the most important goals and challenges of higher education."

Below are some resources that discuss integrative learning that can aid faculty and staff who are involved with learning communities.

Peer Learning has also been found to aid in the educational development of students. Maryellen Weimer, PhD, published an article entitled "The Benefits of Peer Learning," which was published on the Faculty Focus website from the Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications.

Other publications that examine the link between student learning and peer instruction include:

In May of 2016, the Office of Academic Success Initiatives and Support hosted the second Learning Communities Institute. Our two facilitators were Dr. Jennifer Kidd (Senior Lecturer in Teaching & Learning at ODU) and Dr. J. Worth Pickering (Consultant). The two day institute brought select faculty who were scheduled to teach in the ODU Learning Communities for the fall of 2016 together. The information provided below reflects some of the presentations that were done for the faculty.

History of the Learning Communities by Dr. J. Worth Pickering

Integrative Learning by Dr. Jennifer Kidd

Interdisciplinary Writing by Remica Bingham-Risher

Showcasing your Digital Identity: ePortfolios by Megan Mize

The Office of Academic Success Initiatives and Support also supports ePortfolios so that students can more easily connect learning from both inside and outside of the class and to demonstrate the experiences they are doing to teachers and future employers. As the ODU ePortfolio website states:

ePortfolios provide:

  • A place to collect and save coursework as a record of your skills, achievements and learning;
  • A chance to showcase accomplishment and schools work to family and friends;
  • A tool for creating digital resumes to send to employers;
  • A web portal for accessing your work, track your academic growth and plan your career;
  • A portal that helps connect educational goals with personal experience;
  • An electronic resource you can use to apply for transfer and financial aid at a four year school.

Every year, ASIS runs the eP3: Praxis, Process, & Production workshop. Faculty members must apply for and be accepted into the workshop to participate. Over the course of three days, participants explore the pedagogy behind ePortfolios, activities to understand the importance of archiving, and how to merge ePortfolios within their courses.

The ePortfolio website has tutorials for faculty and students that aid users in understanding how to use Google Drive, Wix, and Wordpress for their ePortfolios. The website also has webpages for faculty resources, student resources, information on the Copyright and Fair Use Policy, and an ePortfolio Gallery.

Individuals (Faculty and Students) may also schedule an appointment with an ePortfolio Assistant to help explain and aid in the creation of ePorfolios. To schedule an appointment, please click on the schedule link, log into Leo, and schedule an appointment there.

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