UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Commitment to Learning Communities

050411Headline_LearningCommHow many of our freshmen will be in learning communities on campus, by the middle of this decade?

The target is 100 percent.

A look at the UNCG Strategic Plan 2009-14 shows this goal: “3.3: Implement first-year learning communities for all first-time UNCG undergraduate students to encourage integration of learning across courses.”

Laura Pipe, UNCG’s new director of learning communities in Undergraduate Studies, says an objective is to have at least 50 percent of the freshman population in a learning community in Fall 2012. “We will need eight or nine new ones that year” to meet the goal, Pipe says.

In learning communities, there’s a high level of contact with faculty, and the students do some activities together, which stem from the classroom and the faculty. In living-learning communities, the students also live together in a residence hall. The Residential Colleges take that a step further, with faculty involved with them even more. At one RC, Ashby, a faculty member lives in the college.

As the UNCG/Glenwood Mixed-Use Village progresses, there will be faculty apartments allowing for a faculty-in-residence program. These programs have grown popular in recent years at other universities, such as UCLA and the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to Pipe.

Provost David H. Perrin says, “I am pleased that we have increased the size and scope of learning communities, particularly living-learning communities, so dramatically in just one year. Previously, UNCG boasted three residential colleges with a joint capacity for 215 freshmen. For fall 2011, we will will add spots in learning communities for an additional 430 students, allowing UNCG to provide these opportunities to nearly a quarter of all freshmen. Importantly, we have accomplished this with a relatively modest investment of resources.”

Perrin anticipates the effect LCs will have on learning measures. “Given the high probability that learning community involvements will support the academic mission through collaborative integration of courses, along with related academic connections through the co-curriculum, I expect that retention and graduation rates will improve significantly. Now that GA [General Administration] has changed the way it funds [UNC] System campuses, focusing for the first time on student performance indicators, UNCG literally cannot afford to fail to reach retention and graduation rates set for us.”

He added, “This strategic investment is as fiscally sound as it is academically beneficial.”

Currently, UNCG has three residential colleges (RCs), which are the most intensive form of learning community:

  • Warren Ashby
  • Grogan
  • Cornelia Strong

The latter, Cornelia Strong RC, has been non-curricular, though it will have one course in the fall that is a Directed Reading course led by Anne Barton, that RC’s director. The course is based on the Great Books concept similar to the first Residential College created in the 1920s by Alexander Meiklejohn at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

This fall, UNCG will have four new learning communities. All are living-learning communities (LLCs), aside from UNCG Teach.

  • Exploratory Studies: Pre-Health (living and taking classes with others interested in health and human services, in Ragsdale Residence Hall)
  • Sustainable Entrepreneurship (living and taking classes with others interested in building entrepreneurship knowledge and skills for business success, in Jefferson Suites)
  • Summer Launch (for students wanting a little introductory support, as they move in early for a successful head start. They will live and take classes together yearlong, as they reside in Grogan Residence Hall)
  • UNCG Teach (It takes the best of UNS 101 and links it to the classes’ content. This is non-residential, with students in housing throughout campus. It is for those interested in teaching and education.)

(See short clip of Pipe’s update on these four new learning communities.)

The LCs require students to become more active participants in the learning experience with the faculty member – essentially a continuous partnership, Pipe says. The benefits? “It’s higher GPAs,” she explains. “It gives us increased learning gains.”

Pipe, who grew up in Randleman before attending the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics – her first experience with essentially a living-learning community – speaks of her relationships with faculty members in each step of her education. They inspired her, and they showed interest in her abilities and ideas. Active engagement – and stronger relationships between classmates and particular faculty members – can make for greater success.

With UNCG’s push to raise its retention rates and see enhanced student success, those are good things.

In a recent interview, Chancellor Linda P. Brady said, “I’m convinced that the work that we’re doing around learning communities will have a dramatic impact on this university as early as next year.”

Dr. Steve Roberson, dean of Undergraduate Studies, cites the high retention rates at UNCG’s three residential colleges, as he explains how LLCs create the sense of small communities in a large university. “The retention rate is clearly enhanced and improved through this residential experience,” he says.

Teaching these classes do not require much additional work from faculty, Pipe says. But it does require collaboration and communication between faculty members.

“We need as many faculty on board as possible,” she says.

A two-day workshop for faculty and staff – Undergraduate Studies Institute – on May 9-10 will allow about a dozen or more faculty members to break into small teams to create models for future learning communities. “We’ll use that modeling to start recruiting faculty members” for the specific areas, she says. The learning communities will make for a mixture of disciplines and ways of thinking.

“Any faculty members who are interested, we’ll find a place for them,” Pipe says. Whether they are interested in the ground-floor planning in this workshop, helping to instruct a class, discussing their research during an LLC course, whatever, the level of involvement they are able to give is welcomed.

The new learning communities for 2011-12 will typically have 4-8 faculty members who are very involved, she notes.

Those wanting more information on the workshop or UNCG’s learning communities may contact Pipe at 6-8599 or LMPipe@uncg.edu.

See Dean Steve Roberson’s interview on the topic of learning communities and retention rates in the current issue of UNCG Magazine.

By Mike Harris
Photograph by Mark Wagoner