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Learning Communities: Working and Learning Together in Linked Courses Across Disciplines

By Jenn Grimm

Learning communities are recognized by the American Association of Colleges & Universities as a high impact practice. 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 faculty and staff. The communities allow students to work and learn in smaller groups with focused attention on integrative and experience-based learning activities around a common major, career field, special interest, and/or common identity among the students. These experiences include project- and problem-based learning; exposure to diverse cultures and environments; research; career exploration; content creation; or civic engagement, or some combination of the above.

At ODU, students and faculty engage in two types of learning communities: impact learning communities (ILCs), coordinated by the Office of Academic Success Initiatives and Support (ASIS), and living-learning communities (LLCs), coordinated by the Office of Leadership and Learning with support from Housing and Residence Life. ILCs are open to undergraduate students living on or off campus and incorporate at least two credit-bearing courses. LLCs are open to on-campus students living on the same residence hall floor and incorporate one or more credit-bearing courses. ILCs and LLCs may be open to first-year students or upper-class students, though most communities are geared toward new incoming students and offer primarily general education courses.

Faculty members who teach an ILC or LLC course receive $550 for participation, and additional funding is available for enrichment activities and one peer mentor. Learning-communities faculty have increased opportunities to connect with students through enrichment activities and by linking course content to students' interests. Teaching in a learning community also provides faculty the opportunity to deliver research-based integrative approaches to teaching to increase student learning and engagement. Faculty teams collaborate to plan, develop and implement ideas for their communities. Professional development opportunities are also offered to encourage faculty to network and share best practices.

Want to learn more? Contact LaShay McQueen, academic enrichment coordinator for ASIS, or Sage Ober, assistant director for living-learning communities in the Office of Leadership and Learning.