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Spring 2014 (June 16, 2014)

The Learning Community

June 13, 2014
By Fred Hagstrom

As a part of our cooperation grant with Saint Olaf, staff in the library and IT have undertaken to run informational sessions they call learning communities. These have run throughout this academic year. So far, they have been running independently at each school, but the expectation is that this will be a place for greater collaboration between the two schools. I have attended a number of the sessions this year, and I found them to be helpful and informative. Despite our busy schedules, I hope that we can put these sessions more in the spotlight in the coming year. I have been at sessions where I thought that colleagues would probably also benefit from the information that was shared. I understand how easy it is to miss out on things that could be helpful due to time constraints. But I thought that if this newsletter included information on what this group has been doing, it could help to increase interest in the coming year.

I will offer a few examples. One session was on digital scholarship, specifically the issues faced in creating work that will be posted online. Shana Sippy showed examples of an online project that had impressive contributions from her students. It was clear that the course had made significant use of a particular form of writing and research that was appropriate for a more public venue. The work was rigorous and carefully done, but it was also a bit different in tone from traditional papers. There was certainly no drop in quality, and it might be argued that the demands of putting work into a more public realm than a traditional assigned paper brought out a degree of care and attention to detail in the work the students did. In addition to it being a good experience for the students, it provided something that would be of use to the broader community. Similarly, Tun Myint showed examples of a project where he had students write postings for Wikipedia pages. There was a high standard of research, citation, and quality. Again, the expectations are a bit different than for a typical paper, but it was clear that standards were high and that it was a valuable and different experience for the students.

These are examples of what is being called the “porous classroom,” where work done by students is visible to a larger audience, and the students rise to the occasion. Expanding these types of assignments is one of the things we could be working toward with the formation of our consortium formed with similar liberal arts colleges to explore the advantages of online learning.

I am sure that other colleagues are experimenting with similar approaches. But I only learned of this by attending the learning community sessions. It was an example of what we hope for on our campus—sharing new ideas about teaching and talking over the challenges and rewards of these new methods. Kristin Partlo has been a primary contact person for these learning community sessions. I was reminded again of how important a role staff in the library and in IT can play in our classes. The professors that presented all agreed that they have received great support in working out these new methods. Some of the sessions were on specific technological tools that we could use in teaching, while others were more based on learning goals and methods. At each session the presenters were well organized and full of information. I encourage anyone to keep an eye out for the learning community sessions next year.