In the coming week, The Evergreen State College will host a group of 200 university faculty, staff and administrators from 22 colleges nationwide for the 17th National Summer Institute on Learning Communities.
A function of the Washington Center, a public service center at Evergreen and the national resource center for learning communities, the Summer Institute offers comprehensive training for community colleges, colleges and universities looking to start learning communities or enhance existing learning community programs.
Similar to and inspired by the interdisciplinary teaching model established at Evergreen, learning communities often link two seemingly disparate courses to create relevance, timeliness and systems thinking.
A variation, living learning communities, connect a course and a residence hall, allowing students in a particular course to live, study and socialize together.
Both types of learning communities have significant benefits, according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities, which lists learning communities as having a “high impact” benefit to college students from many backgrounds and can increase retention and completion rates.
Teams from the 22 two and four-year campuses will arrive July 13 and depart July 17. During the four days of the conference, they will take part in workshops and panel discussions, and will have time in their teams to prepare the action plan that will start or enhance their learning communities.
According to Emily Lardner, Ph.D., director of the Washington Center, “on some campuses, learning communities are mostly about academics. Others pay more attention to social or cultural elements.”
One example of a more social learning community is that of Seattle University, which set up a program called “Being Local.” Aimed at their first and second-year commuter students, this learning community is tied into an all-campus lecture series and involves creating a physical space on campus where commuters can gather. Said Lardner, “Retention rates can go up if the learning community is done well.
Research shows that learning communities lead to increased formal and informal time with faculty and fellow students and a strong connection with Student Affairs and Residence Life. It is a kind of “one-stop shopping,” in Lardner’s view, which helps students who are struggling, in particular.
The 22 schools are Blinn College; Briar Cliff University; California State University Channel Islands; Casper College; Cornell College; Eastfield College; Florida Atlantic University; Ivy Tech Community College; Long Island University, Post Campus; MiraCosta College; Mt. San Jacinto College; New Mexico Highlands University; Phoenix College; Prairie View A & M; Saint Paul College; Santa Rosa Junior College; Seattle University; University of Mississippi; University of Puerto Rico – Arecibo Campus; University of South Florida Saint Petersburg and Western Carolina University.
The Washington Center at Evergreen is 30 years old this year and has hosted 17 Summer Institutes for those colleges and universities eager to start or improve learning communities. Lardner estimates that over 300 colleges have participated since the program’s inception. Institute attendees will stay in the Evergreen dorms; they will have time to explore Olympia’s many restaurants and shops as well.