From commons to community – the bigger picture

Most universities boast mission statements and strategic themes that place student learning as a priority. The challenge for university administrators is to bring lofty statements like this one to life.

In the early 1990s, Alexander Astin published What Matters in College: Four Critical Years Revisited, where he outlined a variety of factors that have a significant impact on student learning in post-secondary education. These included: student-to-student interaction, student-to-faculty interaction, student-oriented faculty, hours spent studying, tutoring among students, and socializing with diverse students.

Astin’s research, and similar reports at the time, revived interest among many North American faculty and administrators in implementing structures, programs, and pedagogies that would allow for more of these sorts of interactions through initiatives such as cross-disciplinary course work, to seminars, and learning communities, to name a few. The good news is results have indicated that these initiatives are indeed having a powerful and positive impact on student learning.

One style of active learning that is becoming increasingly popular is the learning community model. A learning community can be any one of a variety of curricular structures that encourages collaboration among learners who share a common purpose. Learning communities push students to work together, draw on individual strengths, and respect a variety of perspectives.

While planning for the Learning Commons at Carleton University has just begun, this project represents a significant step toward supporting student learning on campus. The kinds of interaction Astin reported as being key to student learning need to be supported by space and resources. With this in place, students will have more opportunity to interact with each other in a learning environment, trained staff will have more opportunity to assist students with their learning needs, and faculty will have more opportunity to engage students in active learning models.

More on learning communities:

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