Current Issue

February 2015, Vol. 3, No. 09
Theme: Learning Communities


February Upcoming Events

  • Blackboard Skills - Sat. Feb 14 1:30-4:30. 
  • New Faculty Orientation - Sat. Feb. 14 8:00-1:00pm.
  • Technology Tools for Providing Student Feedback - Wed. Feb. 18 6:00-9:00pm 
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Teaching Tip - Introducing your Future Learning Community
By Jane Littlefield

Initiating the transition of a group of strangers into a learning community can be tough, F2F or online. Making that transition feel authentic (and not a chore or obligation) is even more challenging. Below you’ll find several sources of icebreakers and introductory activities. Find the right one or two to use when you begin the process of creating your classroom learning community. - Building a Learning Community in Your Classroom

Brightspace - Icebreaker: Cartoon Me

Society for the Teaching of Psychology - Building Community in the Classroom

Teaching and Learning Innovations - Week 1 Tips for Building Community

Conversation Welcome, Encouraged, and Archived!

The CELT Faculty Development Newsletter has a new feature - a dedicated discussion space! Each month in our primary newsletter article, you'll notice a link that takes you to a blog where you can start or continue a conversation inspired by the newsletter. The latest issue of the CELT Faculty Development Newsletter will link to a new conversation space. Feel free to comment and converse publicly, anonymously, or with whatever online persona you wish!*

This is one more way for you to participate in our CELT Learning Community!

*You do not need to be logged into your SMUMN Google account in order to comment. (That was the hang-up we discovered with the comment option originally embedded in the newsletter - it prevented commenting unless you were signed in with a SMUMN email address.)

Learning from my Classroom Learning Community?
By Alex Urquhart

Have you ever noticed each new class is different in terms of learning style and personality? Of course every student is unique—they are individuals after all—but as a group I notice these individual characteristics blend and coalesce into a group identity.  Like having a child, the class starts unknown to me but as it ages a unique personality emerges. I have had classrooms that act as self-raised flowers: ones that learn with minimal intervention. I have had the Lisa Simpson-classroom where the students seem insatiable for new knowledge and the extrinsic proof that they have acquired it. I have had the quiet, smart kid: a class that asks minimal questions but produces incredible results.

Sometimes I find these "personalities" rewarding and they assist the learning process. Other times they are the problem child I want to grow up and move out. What continually astounds me is that these different “class identities” emerge despite the fact that I am generally doing the same thing.

The explanation of this phenomenon that I found most elucidating is that of community. Groups of students, like any group of people forced to coexist in time and space (even virtual space), form communities. Communities set norms, work together or against each other in specific ways, and even develop ways of knowing and understanding.

Kay, Summers, and Svinicki (2011), in their literature review and conceptual analysis, researched this phenomenon as the classroom community. A concept they claimed comes from the meeting of psychology and education and can actually be measured using the Integrated Sense of Community Scale (ISCS). How well a classroom embodies the ISCS determines how effective they will be as a whole when working together as a learning community. Although there are a number of items in the diagnostic, there are four major categories that determine an effective classroom community: 1) students and instructor have shared goals and responsibility; 2) engagement is shared between students; 3) the students have a positive relationship with the instructor; and 4) there are opportunities for peer learning where students learn from one another.

Kay et al. (2011) argued that the role of the instructor is to provide opportunities for an effective community to emerge while providing content. This means connecting your objectives with those of the students, doing things that let students know they can depend on you and they can depend on each other, engaging student comments and ideas, ensuring students treat each other with respect….

As I read through the ISCS questioner of what to look for, it was a litany of the things Dr. Hines and CELT speakers have been telling me for years. I believe, at least to a certain extent, I have integrated these techniques into my course design, but understanding a classroom community reminds me that when desirable community traits emerge I do not need to do as much to foster those traits. When the undesirable ones show their ugly head, it is my job to foster those elements of community that are missing.       

With my self-raised flower and my quiet, smart kid I now realize I needed to foster a better relationship between the students and me. My self-raised flower classroom thought it did not need me and my quiet smart kid found me unapproachable. I know this because I went back and saw this in my evaluations. In my Lisa Simpson-classroom the students were competing for extrinsic rewards and did not have a sense of shared engagement or peer-learning. Again, I saw this in my evaluations. My students in that class wrote disparaging comments about other students and told me how well they did.

My students were telling me what they needed in terms of classroom community. My classrooms may have different personalities, but I need listen to what each of those personalities need. I need to not sit back and comment on them; I need to work to actively form them.  

You may wonder if this concept of classroom community applies to online classrooms. I know I did. In fact, Cho, Hathcoat, Bridges, Mathew, and Beng (2014) found that the ISCS is an equally important and effective way to measure classroom community in an online-classroom. However, they also noted that students generally reported a lower sense of community in online classrooms. Perhaps it is even more important.

Now I need your help. Most of the research on classroom community is K-12. Its importance is well established there. However, there is debate about whether a classroom community is actually applicable when students are not together 7 hours a day 5 days a week. So what do you think? Click here to share a story or give your opinion.

Cho, Y., Hathcoat, J. D., Bridges, S. L., Mathew, S., & Bang, H. (2014). Factorial invariance of an integrated measure of classroom sense of community in face-to-face and online courses. Journal Of Psychoeducational Assessment32(8), 725-736. doi:10.1177/0734282914543170

Kay, D., Summers, J. J., & Svinicki, M. D. (2011). Conceptualizations of classroom community in higher education: Insights from award winning professors. Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research5(4), 230-245.

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