The Learning Community program at Dickinson is designed to enhance the first-year student experience and set the groundwork for long-term student success. The research literature documents that critical factors in student engagement include interaction and connection between a student and a faculty member, and positive, meaningful interaction with peers.
Many types of residential-based "learning communities" exist at colleges across the country. We certainly didn't invent the concept, but here at Dickinson, the Learning Community program is built upon the solid foundation of our First-Year Seminar program. Students in two (and sometimes more) seminars, which are linked by a common theme live together in a common residence hall. In the Fall semester during the First-Year Seminar, the faculty members design a series of informal learning opportunities outside of class, such as dinner/discussions, films, trips, small group meetings with campus speakers, etc. Faculty members also have the option of planning exchange teaching in each other's seminars and assignments, which require the students to draw upon resources of the learning community.
The Learning Community faculty members are assisted by a Learning Community Coordinator (LCC), an upper-level student who lives in the residence hall. The LCC provides logistical support in program implementationand in the course of developing relationships with first-year students, acts informally as a mentor. The LCC also works with the students to transition from the Fall semester, when the Learning Community is basically faculty-led, to the student-designed activities, which may occur in the Spring semester. Associate Provost Shalom Staub coordinates the overall Learning Community program, assisting faculty in any way possible and supervising the LCCs.
From the students' experience, a Learning Community provides the opportunity for out-of-classroom interaction with two faculty members, a living environment in which the hall mates are familiar from class or Learning Community activities and with whom they can connect around activities and issues linked to intellectual inquiry. For the past four years, Dickinson has conducted research to examine the first-year student experience, in what ways students experience the Learning Community program, and if/how various engaged learning initiatives connect to student wellness (defined in the study in terms of mental health and patterns of alcohol use/abuse) and civic engagement. The results from the four-year study indicate that indeed students in learning communities experience higher levels of engaged learning and that this pattern of engaged learning persists throughout their college careers. Additionally, the socialization that occurs during the Learning Community correlates to less frequent and less alcohol consumption, a pattern that again establishes itself during the first semester and persisting across the 4 years of college. Faculty interested in more details of this research should contact Associate Provost Shalom Staub.
There is no question that participating as a faculty member of a Learning Community takes additional time. We cannot create more time for you, but participating faculty members receive an additional stipend.
As the program has evolved, we now ask the following from participating faculty members:
In the Spring of the year prior to teaching in a learning community:
- Meet with the Learning Community program administrator and the other paired faculty member to plan the overall contour of the learning community focusing on the intersection of the two First-Year Seminars.
- Participate, if desired, in the selection process of the LCC.
- Meet with the selected LCC to outline expectations and needs.
Between end of Spring semester and beginning of Fall semester:
- Exchange syllabi with fellow LC faculty member.
- Together with the other LC faculty member, plan a series of out-of-class co-curricular activities. At least one of the participating LC faculty members should be present at each of these activities. These co-curricular activities could be attendance at college-wide campus events that are relevant to the seminar or the learning community, or events planned specifically for the learning community. (Planning and scheduling support will be provided by Associate Provost Shalom Staub.)
- Provide syllabus to LCC.
During Fall semester:
- Participate in LC activities as planned.
- Meet regularly with your LCC.
- Meet at the beginning of the semester and once during the semester with other LC faculty members and Associate Provost for overall program coordination.
- Meet with fellow learning community faculty members and the Associate Provost at the end of the semester to debrief and evaluate the experience.