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Wofford College Selected for Learning Communities Project

Friday, May 30, 2003

SPARTANBURG, SC – Wofford College is among 19 colleges and universities selected to participate in a National Learning Communities Project (NLCP) aimed at strengthening innovative approaches to college teaching and learning.

A six-person interdisciplinary team from Wofford has been selected to participate in a five-day residential institute June 24-29 at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., in June, where they will share highlights of Wofford’s learning communities initiative and learn from others about ways to further strengthen Wofford’s program. The team includes faculty members from the departments of biology (Ellen Goldey, G.R. Davis and George Shiflet), psychology (David Pittman), English (John Lane) and history (Clayton Whistnant).

Leading the NLCP is the Washington Center for Undergraduate Education, based at Evergreen State College, an international leader in developing innovative interdisciplinary programs. A clearinghouse for learning community approaches, the Washington Center is directing the project under the auspices of a $1.17 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The NCLP also has invited Wofford to host a Learning Communities Open House, a daylong event to be held on Wofford’s campus on Friday, Nov. 21. The event is aimed at bringing together faculty from throughout the region who are interested in learning communities as a pedagogy to help students build intellectual connections between subjects and build social connections with each other at the same time. Learning communities have proven to be powerful in fostering deeper student engagement in academic work and increasing student success in college. The event will be promoted nationally and regionally.

Wofford launched a number of new courses and programs in the Fall 2002 semester, and learning communities have been a key part in these curriculum innovations. The new learning communities were fashioned after a "brilliantly successful prototype" first offered in the Fall 2001 semester by Goldey and Lane. "Learning communities leverage the impact of any one course by offering it in tandem with another," President Benjamin Dunlap says. "For example, a Spanish language course is to be taught in conjunction with a history course on Spanish America and a sociology course featuring fieldwork in the local Hispanic community."

Wofford received a National Science Foundation grant to develop more learning communities, based on the model set by the Goldey/Lane course. The communities are developed by a team of two faculty members and two undergraduate preceptors. These models incorporate education outreach to the Spartanburg community, enhanced use of information technology, and a belief that deeper learning, increased faculty and student satisfaction, and a stronger sense of community can be achieved if “fun” plays a role in the learning community experience. One student says, “I feel this learning community has been wonderful at creating new ways of viewing things. This is truly what college should be about. This learning community has given us knowledge of new topics and subjects while preparing us to be successful in the real world.”

Other linked and innovative courses offered last fall included a two-course cluster linking human physiology with statistics, where data collected in laboratory sessions were analyzed; a three-course cluster where students were co-enrolled in courses in genetics, chemistry and philosophy; and a collaborative learning approach among the English and foreign languages departments where students read and translated plays in the foreign language they were studying and then came together in the English class to discuss those same plays in greater depth.

As a follow up to Wofford’s participation in the Learning Communities Institute, consultants from the NLCP will visit the Wofford College campus this fall to provide advice on learning community development, assessment and administrative matters. Other elements of The Pew Trusts-funded NLCP are a Web site of resources on learning communities (http://learningcommons.evergreen.edu), and a published monograph series on learning community theory and practice to be distributed collaboratively with the American Association for Higher Education.

For information on Wofford College’s NSF-funding learning communities, go to http://webs.wofford.edu/goldeyes/sciencehumanities/learningcommunities.html.