Posted by: Gregory Linton | 01/24/2009

Characteristics and Components of Faculty Learning Communities

Now that we have established the need for faculty learning communities, let’s describe what they are. Milton Cox defines FLCs as “a cross-disciplinary faculty and staff group of six to fifteen members (eight to twelve members is the recommended size) who engage in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development, the scholarship of teaching, and community building” (Cox, 2004, p. 8). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 97 (2004, Spring) provides a lot of details about how to design and organize FLCs, but I will share here how we have adapted those ideas in our own setting.

Instead of a yearlong program, we have found it more helpful to organize FLCs by semester. Participants are expected to make only a semester-long commitment. Participation must also be voluntary. We publicize the FLCs among the faculty and allow people to express interest in participating. In the four semesters that we have done this, about a third of the faculty has chosen to participate. We have also had some administrators participate.

Each FLC meets during the lunch hour six to seven times a semester. We have found that the lunch hour is the only time that we can find common times for people to meet. Also, six to seven meetings (one about every two weeks) seems to maintain the momentum of the community without overtaxing people with the time commitment.

FLCs can be cohort-based or topic-based. An example of a cohort-based FLC would be a group that includes beginning faculty members. Such groups would explore issues of common concern to the group. Topic-based FLCs focus on a specific issue of college teaching. In our own setting, we have offered only topic-based FLCs.

FLCs focus on a topic related to the effectiveness of teaching and learning. They do not focus on discipline-related topics. The common interest among faculty in various disciplines is teaching, so sticking to this focus will allow anyone on campus to participate. The group selects a book on the topic that will provide the focus of discussion during the meetings. Possible topics are included at the end of this post.

Each FLC is led by a facilitator. Academic deans should not serve as facilitators. If a dean wants to initiate this program, he or she should recruit a respected faculty member to serve in this role. Multiple FLCs will need a coordinator to organize and oversee them. Our facilitators perform the following functions:

  • Help the group find common times to meet;
  • Reserve the private dining room for the meetings;
  • Send out email announcements about upcoming meetings;
  • Help the group select a book for study;
  • Send out suggestions for discussion questions ahead of the meetings;
  • Guide the discussion during the meetings without dominating it.

Participants in FLCs should be encouraged to engage in a teaching project related to the topic. They should identify specific ways that they will implement what they are learning. Also, the FLCs should hold a social event once a semester to celebrate and solidify the community that was established. Spouses can be included in these events. FLC members are also provided copies of the document “Ten Necessary Qualities for Building Community,” which provide guidelines for participation in the group.

In the next posting, I will provide examples of FLCS that we have offered in the last four semesters. Below are examples of topics for FLCs:

Overview of college teaching
Designing a course
Developing learning objectives
Designing effective learning activities
Cooperative learning
Team-based learning
Problem-based learning
Experiential learning
Situated learning, contextual learning
Promoting critical thinking
Promoting classroom discussion
Designing service-learning activities
Student-centered learning; learner-centered teaching
Teaching first-year students
Developing rubrics for assessment
Promoting information literacy
Student learning portfolios
Collaborative teaching
Interdisciplinary teaching
Use of technology in teaching
Testing, grading, assessment of student learning
Active learning techniques
How students develop in college
Motivating students to learn
Educating for self-authorship
Integration of faith and learning
The role of general education in the college curriculum
How to use the scholarship of teaching to improve student learning
Insights from cognitive science for learning
Designing and assessing writing assignments
The inner life of the teacher

Sources:

Cox, M. D. (2004, Spring). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 97, 5-23.

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