|June 10, 2003
Gavilan College is among 19 colleges and universities across the nation recently selected to participate in a National Learning Communities Project aimed at strengthening innovative approaches to college teaching and learning. These colleges have been experimenting with "Learning Communities", programs that enroll groups of students in pairs or clusters of classes, often organized around interdisciplinary themes. Learning Communities help students build intellectual connections between subjects they are studying and build social connections with each other at the same time. They have proven to be powerful in fostering deeper student engagement in academic work and increasing student success in college.
Over the past few years, Gavilan College has offered interdisciplinary Learning Community programs linking math and English, child development and English, communications and political science, and more.
According to English instructor, Kimberly Smith, "Students who enroll in the math/English learning community are more aware of the uses and value of each subject area because the link allows time to discuss and explore them. Through readings assigned and discussed in the English section, these students gain an appreciation of the history and importance of mathematical and scientific discovery."
Students say they enjoy and are stimulated by the interaction of faculty passionate about two such different subject areas. Gavilan College student Rosa Felix described her Learning Community experience as "more comfortable than a regular class because you and your classmates grow together. The class becomes somewhat like a family environment, where you're not afraid to ask questions and people listen to you because they care. I would say if you really want 100 percent support from your teachers as well as friends, well, then this is the place you want to be."
Felix felt that participation in a Learning Community helped her to succeed. "I feel more comfortable writing and more secure about myself. In math, I have accomplished getting 100 percent. When I first enrolled into school, I said to myself, as long as I pass with Cs in math and English, I'll be happy. Now I'm getting grades I never thought I could get."
Four Learning Communities will be offered at Gavilan College for Fall Semester, 2003: "Train Your Brain!", pairing math and English; "Drawing from the Well", pairing reading skills with basic writing; "Let Your Voice Be Heard in America", which combines public speaking and United States institutions; and "The California Dream", which matches practical writing skills with college reading. In some cases, students will be able to save money by using the same textbooks for both classes.
A small but growing number of innovative community colleges, baccalaureate colleges and larger universities across the United States have established similar Learning Community programs. While each Learning Community initiative has grown out of local campus needs and interests and may vary in terms of its content and curricular design, all are winning recognition as path-breaking and effective new strategies for strengthening student learning.
Leading the National Learning Communities Project is The Washington Center for Undergraduate Education based at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. A clearinghouse for learning community approaches, the Washington Center is directing the project under the auspices of a $1.17 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Gavilan Community College is one of 19 campuses selected to participate in the residential Learning Communities Institute at The Evergreen State College this summer. The other selected campuses include public universities: Eastern New Mexico University, Missouri Western State College, The State University of New York at Cortland, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and The University of Texas at El Paso; community colleges: College of San Mateo (CA), Kingsborough Community College (NY), Metropolitan Community College (NE), Normandale Community College (MN), Paradise Valley Community College (AZ), Prairie State College (IL), Spokane Falls Community College (WA), and Yakima Valley Community College (WA); and private colleges and universities: Cottey College (MO), Daemen College (NY), North Central College (IL), University of the Pacific (CA), and Wofford College (SC).
Each participating campus will send a team to The Evergreen State College for a five-day residential institute, who will then begin the process of building or strengthening the Learning Community initiative on their campus. In addition, each campus will receive consulting help on Learning Community development, assessment and administrative matters. Other elements of The Pew Trusts-funded National Learning Communities project are a Web site of resources on Learning Communities (http://learningcommons.evergreen.edu), and a published monograph series on Learning Community theory and practice which will be distributed collaboratively with The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE).
For more information about Gavilan College Learning Communities, please consult the Gavilan College Schedule of Classes (http://www.gavilan.edu) or contact Karen Warren at (408) 848-4850.