Learning communities provide benefits for students, panel says

Liz Buckley

Learning communities for both students and faculty were a main topic of discussion by the budget panel yesterday on the last day of the provost’s academic priorities presentations.

Mary Lou Holly, director of Faculty Professional Development Center, said one of the center’s accomplishments has been its learning communities.

Learning communities are groups from different departments and campuses drawn together around a topic or a cohort, she said. They are designed to highlight or focus on areas of priority at the university, such as students’ first-year experiences and teaching scholars for early career faculty.

Holly said learning communities create a space where the university can cultivate learning at all levels, beginning with the faculty. They also help faculty members accommodate students.

Gary Padak, dean of Undergraduate Studies, stressed the importance of student learning communities and used the Honors College as an illustration of success. The college, for example, travels to Memphis, Tenn., for a cemetery restoration project.

Student retention is a direct reflection of the quantity and a quality of relationships with other students and faculty members, Padak said.

The Honors College is facing a decrease in student enrollment. Dean Larry Andrews said he hoped to revitalize the learning community by prioritizing the development of staff and student leaders for the transition to a new Honors Center.

The panel included representatives from the Honors College, International Affairs, the Faculty Professional Development Center, Office of Diversity and Academic Initiatives and Undergraduate Studies.

— Liz Buckley