- On the first day of class, explain why the university values learning communities and what educational goals they serve.
Even with good advising and prior experience, students may not understand the concept and requirements of their learning community, and their resentment can sabotage their own and others' experiences in the course. Students trust the approach and value the integration more when they understand that both/all faculty are committed to a powerful integrated learning experience.
- Explain learning community theory in class and in the syllabus.
Students appreciate learning about interdisciplinary, collaborative study goals. Even students who have enrolled in learning communities may not understand that they are defined by integrated and active learning and are based on student-to-student, teacher-to-teacher, and student-to-teacher interactions. The emphasis on co-creation of knowledge, active learning, and a search for interdisciplinary links will be challenging for students whose prior experience only includes lecture. Explaining this early in the term helps student learning and attitudes. Sharing this duty between instructors reinforces the integrative nature of learning communities.
- Explain - in class and in the syllabus - how your particular learning community will operate.
You need to tell your students - both in speech and in writing - what they want to know: whether time is needed to cover basics of the disciplines before interdisciplinary connections are explored; whether you and other members of the instructor team combined grades or shared assignments and why; how assignments connect to course and learning community objectives; how you coordinate roles and responsibilities. If you use a specific approach - e.g., guided design or problem-centered learning - students appreciate an introduction to what that approach is and what it means for their confusion and resentment. Because each instructor team determines what works best for them, it is critical to communicate to students why and how your learning community is structured.
- Review learning community goals.
By mid-semester, students have forgotten day one. Their work and test load might be far less or better spaced than for separate courses, but they often perceive their learning community as a single class, with massive requirements. Therefore, you might find it helpful at mid-semester to discuss the following with your students: course goals, the rhythms of learning communities, ambiguity about concepts, the perceived "chaos" of active learning or collaborative projects, etc.
- Explain connections between courses.
If course assignments do not connect, students will know that their learning community is "bogus." Ensure that course work directly relates to the objectives of both courses. Students may need help in understanding some connections. Periodic checks - classroom research or discussions - or collaboration on projects, writing, seminars, and presentations helps students feel that the faculty in both disciplines value the link between their disciplines and the students' learning of this link.
- Demonstrate deep respect for your fellow instructors, and for their fields and expertise.
Feeling respected is a crucial part of faculty satisfaction. Seeing respect demonstrated between instructors is important for students as well.
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.
Students appreciate the chance to hear diverse viewpoints explained and explored, and to see their instructors model flexibility, close collaboration, communication, and academic inquiry. On the flip side, students resent the absence or perceived absence of communication between instructors, as well as any sense that collaboration is haphazard (i.e., too late or at the expense or valued classroom time). Collaborate early and often with your fellow instructors. If you confer with each other in class, communicate to your students how this strategy affects their learning.