Learning Circle Examples

Course Goals and Objectives

The course aims to foster a collaborative, and “global,” effort to address some elements of the environmental problems we face, especially as they pertain to student interests. Through work with other students in different parts of the world, participants have the opportunity to collect diverse information and opinions, think critically about the effects of globalization, and propose ways to address global problems. They are required to take on leadership of a section of their group’s project, contribute to all other sections, and “meet” virtually with all members of their group on a regular basis during eight weeks of the course.

Learning Circles encourage collaborative and democratic education as students work to help their classmates in the Circles to address common concerns that transcend borders. While facilitators are involved, the real learning comes from the efforts of the circle members to share information and educate each other.

The goal of each Learning Circle is to explore one principal theme related to our environment and how we live within it. Circles made up of student peers from many parts of the world will examine general theoretical, local, regional, and global manifestations of this theme, and discuss the social ramifications if it is not addressed. This will require carefully coordinated cooperative effort among the participants of each Learning Circle, as well as individual work at the local level. In addition to contributing information of a global nature, the key requirement for each individual member of a circle will be to contribute local knowledge – for example, from Hungary, Ireland, China, Mexico or the United States – to the perspective developed by the overall circle.

Sample Course Calendar:

15 January – 15 February: Submit Learning Circle Preferences

15 February: Students assigned to Learning Circles

1 March: Learning Circle Project Proposals due

15 April: Learning Circle Projects due

Basic Guidelines

1. Each student will be assigned to one Learning Circle, which will also contain students participating in the course from other sites and countries in different parts of the world. Depending upon the number of students enrolled in the course this semester, we anticipate creating circles with between 5 and 8 participants in each. The assignment to a specific Learning Circle will be made based on the individual student’s interests, as much as possible.

2. There will be one Teaching Assistant assigned to each Learning Circle, but this person may attend meetings to facilitate only, and will not participate in the final project. TAs are students who have previously taken the course, and are available to answer questions via email or Skype (by arrangement).

3. Learning Circle Themes – The environment and human societies interact in a variety of ways that are having significant consequences for the future of human and other forms of life on the planet. The broad thematic areas for study by the Learning Circles are as follows:

1. Consumerism and Globalization

2. Oil, Coal and Old Energy: Challenges and Solutions

3. Alternative Energy: Challenges and Solutions

4. Global Climate Change

5. Human Population

6. International Food Production

7. Conservation of Earth’s Natural Resources and Biodiversity

8. Water as a Finite Resource

4. Each Learning Circle will divide its topic into manageable sections, and each student in the Circle will be a leader of one section of the final project. He or she will need to communicate with other members of the Learning Circle to receive their input and perspectives for his/her section.

Example sections of the project could include:

a. the character of the situation today in all group members’ countries of residence and/or countries of origin, as it applies to daily life;

b. the character of the situation today in all group members’ countries of residence and/or countries of origin, in terms of politics and laws;

c. the likely extent of relevant crises by the year 2040, and how these crises will affect different countries and socioeconomic groups;

d. broad policy initiatives that governments and corporations could undertake to mitigate problems in different countries;

e. actions that individuals and groups can undertake politically and personally to counter specific crises in specific countries or geographic areas.

Points a-e (above) are only examples, and students are encouraged to be creative!

-Some Circles may also choose to “collect data” from their group members to include as a section. For example, the Energy Challenges and Alternatives group may include the price of petrol (or “gasoline,” as it is called in some countries) in all members’ countries and its effect on daily life.

- Another option for a section might be to elaborate on a topic addressed in the course material. For example, the National Carbon Calculator and Carbon Footprint activities address many ways that resources are being allocated inefficiently. Which nations have enacted technical policies to change this? How might others do the same?

5. Rather than being in charge of a section, one Circle member will take on the responsibility of compiling the entire project into a final presentation. This may be in the form of a website or wiki, a book, a powerpoint presentation, a photo essay, online video or other media, as long as it can be shared electronically with the entire class and finished by the deadline. The person who takes this role must have reliable Internet access.

The Circle member who compiles the project will not be required to complete another section of the project, but will be in charge of an introduction, conclusion, or any other compilation duties (table of contents, posting on google sites (wiki) or YouTube, choosing a Powerpoint background, etc.).

6. Project Proposal - Once the group has met (via skype, chat, email, or other means), decided how the project will be presented, and decided who will be in charge of each section, the Circle should submit their proposal to the Professor and Assistant Course Coordinator by the deadline. GoogleDocs may be used for the proposal so that all group members can add their own piece to a collective document after duties have been agreed upon.

The proposal should include:

a. names of all group members and their section titles/topics or responsibilities (for member who will compile the project)

b. a description of the way that the final project will be presented (this could be in the form of a website or wiki, a book, a powerpoint presentation, a photo essay, online video, or other media)

7. Final Project Presentation

The final projects should be submitted by the deadline and will be shared electronically with the rest of the class. In some cases, they may also be selected for publication elsewhere.

Beginning the Process

During the first week of class, students submit the following to the Professor

1. Learning Circle Preferences - Please indicate in rank order three circles that interest you and rate your intensity of feeling about participating in that circle. For example, if you were very interested in global climate change, but might also be interested in participating in a Circle on consumerism and globalization, or energy challenges and alternatives, your choice might look like this:

Topic Strength of Feeling (scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the strongest)

1. Global Climate Change 1

2. Consumerism & Globalization 4

3. Human Population 5

2. Introduction to their Learning Circle - Since you will be working with 5-8 students and one Teaching Assistant very closely during the semester, you should write a paragraph introduction about where you are from, where you are currently (City, Country, and University), and what brought you to this class. Feel free to include anything else about your interests as well. When Learning Circles are assigned on February 15, you will receive the paragraphs about all members of your Learning Circle, and should begin communicating with them.


In order to accommodate all students in many different geographic locations, Learning Circle activities take place during only 8 weeks, although semesters at some institutions are much longer. These 8 weeks are part of all participating students' semester or quarter term, so that all have equal chance to participate. For example, in the sample schedule above, Learning Circles are assigned on February 15, which is at the beginning of the term for some, and up to a month into the term for others.

Students who are unable to submit their Learning Circle preferences before February 15 will be assigned to a group by the instructor.

Meeting and Working in Learning Circles

a. A special forum will be created for each of the Learning Circles on the course website, where group discussion can take place.

b. Skype and other voice-over-internet technologies make it possible to have a group phone call with your Learning Circle. Students should plan on having a Skype or chat meeting with all group members at least 4 times (preferably every other week) during the 8 weeks of Learning Circle activity. Members of the Circle should take turns facilitating and leading the meeting. The Teaching Assistant in the group will also be able to help and provide general advice.

c. Google also has document sharing and other tools that allow students to work on the same documents as a group.