Chapter 4. Community: The Hidden Context for Learning | EDUCAUSE

These were some highlights I made from this Educause chapter on Community as it relates to teaching and learning:

  • “Why we conduct education as we do is a puzzling question. How to do it better is a big challenge. For us, the idea that learning should be the primary purpose of education has been a beacon—we might all agree that learning is a purpose of education—but is it the primary purpose?
  • A community is a group of people with a common purpose, shared values, and agreement on goals. It has powerful qualities that shape learning. A community has the power to motivate its members to exceptional performance. M. Scott Peck5 defined community as “a group whose members have made a commitment to communicating with one another on an ever more deep and authentic level.”
  • social cognitive learning theory argues for a rich environment in which students and faculty share meaningful experiences that go beyond the one-way information flow characteristic of typical lectures in traditional classrooms.
  • knowledge may be seen as vested in a distributed network across communities of practice, not in individuals.13 In other words, community-centered education will help prepare graduates to live and work in a world that requires greater collaboration.
  • Universities’ fixed costs from the high proportion of labor result in the cost of attending college rising faster than inflation. This creates pressures for cost-cutting, for example, by increasing class sizes.
  • Some commentators have observed an unspoken pact—faculty don’t expect much of students so that they can concentrate on the growing demands of research, and students don’t demand rigorous instruction so that they can concentrate on their social lives.
  • During the mid-20th century, as classrooms became larger, the level of social interaction diminished within the classroom, with the student role becoming increasingly one of a scribe. The sense of community within higher education has become increasingly obscured, with negative consequences for both faculty and students.
    • Suggestions
      • Invite stakeholders to participate.
      • Select and empower a talented leader.
      • Understand and appreciate differences in perspective.
      • Eliminate roadblocks to community learning.
      • Balance patience and performance.
  • Inviting people with different perspectives to contribute to collective decision making can be time-consuming in the development phase but ultimately is less time-consuming than leaving them out.
  • As Margaret J. Wheatley26 pointed out, “It doesn’t work to just ask people to sign on when they haven’t been involved in the design process, when they haven’t experienced the plan as a living, breathing thing.” Involvement, and rewarding involvement (especially cross-unit collaboration), are essential to having people bring their full selves to the task of making change.
  • Creativity cannot be scheduled or commanded. Often, patience is needed to allow new ideas to flourish. On the other hand, extensive discussion and debate in the name of patience, while edifying, can be time-consuming and costly, eroding construction budgets.
  • Replicating what has been done in the past is not the most effective approach when charting a new paradigm; it can lead to designing spaces for yesterday’s needs—ultimately, a very costly mistake. The community needs to find the delicate balance between patience and performance.
  • Faculty frequently struggle over wanting to spend time with active learning methods while covering a prescribed list of topics in the allotted time.
  • Communication tools such as enterprise-level e-mail and calendaring as well as learning management systems are important tools, but there is a surprising lag in the widespread development and adoption of applications that allow the spontaneous and ad hoc teaming that characterize an active community. The potential of peer-to-peer tools such as Virtual Office from Groove Networks show promise for teaming, as does powerful, inexpensive, mobile computing hardware that is always connected to the Internet.
  • A community-centered mission speaks to the importance of working through conflict rather than avoiding it.
  • As we become purposeful and conscious of what makes spaces more supportive of learning, we need to analyze new and existing spaces and ask how community contributes to the learning that occurs.”

Oblinger, D. (2006). Learning spaces (pp. 4.1-4.22). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.

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