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Faculty Learning Communities

Faculty Learning CommunitiesLearning communities are trans-disciplinary groups of people assembled around common goals and interests who learn, develop, and share ideas relevant to a specific topic through a process of collaborative inquiry. They typically last a semester to a year but can be done in the span of a summer. The key to success is intentionality. As McGill and Beaty famously noted in 2001: successful learning communities involve "…a continuous process of learning and reflection, supported by colleagues, with an intention of getting things done."

While learning communities typically have a concrete goal in mind, they are distinct from committees and task forces because of the value placed on community. Learning communities value the enrichment of the self and the group; they value consensus over majority rule; they operate in a climate of trust. As such, they are often more cohesive and less formal than other structures. The emphasis is less on rules and a final destination than it is on the growth of ideas and identities along the way. They "get things done", but with a higher degree of personal, professional, and institutional enrichment.

Learning communities are traditionally defined by their membership. While some are institutionally established, most evolve from the organic interests of the faculty, increasingly in collaboration with students and staff. Some are topical; others are cohort-based. Some consist exclusively of faculty, professional staff, and students; while others, by design, represent "all of the above." As the field has evolved, we have seen a greater emphasis on the word "and" over "or", which is fortuitous for University of Idaho's efforts to deliver on its "yes and" promise. Specifically, many learning communities have overlapping memberships and such hybrid groups are distinguished by and thrive as a result of their diversity.

The Center Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) has considerable experience in the learning community's field. Our director, Brian Smentkowski, has designed and delivered successful Learning Communities Institutes for individual campuses and state university systems, as well as POD Network's Institute for New Faculty Developers. He has organized, led, and consulted on the implementation of all types of learning communities. CETL welcomes ideas and suggestions for Learning Communities we can support and sponsor. And if you are interested in learning more about learning communities, please email Brian to set up an appointment; to lead a leadership, organization, and assessment session; or just to talk and gather useful materials.



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