Frequently Asked Questions

1.  What are learning communities?

2.  What does Learning in Communities propose?

3. When did the learning Communities program begin?

4. What are the goals of the Learning in Communities program?

5.  How did the Learning in Communities plan emerge?

6.  Is there any reason to think Learning in Communities are effective?

7. What are some examples of Learning in Communities pairings?

8. When is the next Learning in Communities event?

9.  How can I find more information?

10.  How will students be chosen to participate?

11. How will students be chosen to participate?

12. Isn't this a major revision of general education?


1.  What are learning communities?

“Learning communities are a variety of curricular approaches that intentionally link or cluster two or more courses, often around an interdisciplinary theme or problem, and enroll a common cohort of students.  This represents an intentional restructuring of students’ time, credit, and learning experiences to build community, enhance learning, and foster connections among students, faculty, and disciplines.”  (Smith, B.L, MacGregor, J., Matthews, R.S., and Gabelnick, F.  2004.  Learning Communities: Reforming Undergraduate Education.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, Chap. 3.)

For a more detailed answer, see the Evergreen State College Learning Commons FAQ on Learning Communities.

2.  What does Learning in Communities propose?

The Learning in Communities program will create “clusters” of linked courses that share some common ground, whether it be a text, theme, assignment (s), or anything else.  One of the classes will always have an FYE component.  For example, two sections of English 110 might be linked with a section of Psychology 112. The amount of linkage between the two classes is at the professors’ discretion

3.  When did the Learning in Communities program begin?

We piloted the Learning in Communities program in fall 2006, with approximately ten clusters. 
The pilot program continued in fall 2007 and fall 2008 with volunteer faculty.  Full-scale implementation (not currently planned for) of the Learning in Communities plan would require around 60 learning communities. 

4.  What are the goals of the Learning in Communities program?

 Key goals of the Learning in Communities program include:


5.  How did the Learning in Communities plan emerge?

Broadly speaking, the idea for learning communities arose from three sources: the University Mission statement, the strategic plan spearheaded by the University Planning and Budget Committee of the Faculty Senate, especially Goal 1,and a key recommendation from the UPBC’s the Central College Subcommittee. As we explain below, the Learning in Communities plan developed as an attempt to recapture the values and academic ideals of those earlier documents.

Learning Communities are not new to CCSU. The Honors Program is a good example of a successful learning community.  The Educational Opportunity Program has a learning community component. The current plan to pilot learning communities for our incoming first year students in the fall of 2006 emerged from strategic planning spearheaded by the University Planning and Budget Committee of the Faculty Senate. For the whole report, click here and especially note Goal 1.

Based upon the strategic planning work of the UPBC during the academic year 2003-2004, and the feedback from CCSU faculty, the UPBC asked the Faculty Senate to endorse the establishment of a subcommittee to seek information about current successful models of first-year experiences at comparable universities and report back to the UPBC with appropriate information and recommendations.

To that end, the UPBC established the Central College Subcommittee in the spring of 2004, which began to research effective arrangements that have demonstrated success at other institutions. Among its many recommendations was the establishment of learning communities, as they were found to have a strong track record of improving student success and student engagement.  The report recommends that CCSU

“Create an environment that fosters innovative practices for teaching and learning.

Foster the development of innovative practices, such as the development of learning communities, the establishment of a common reading experience for incoming students, the creation of a peer mentoring program, the implementation of writing across the curriculum, and additional linkages between students’ academic programs and co-curricular activities.  A promising model links commuter students with residential students in the same learning community.  The evidence of the success of learning communities in increasing retention and graduation rates is overwhelmingly positive.  Some comparison schools include Ball State University, Portland State University, Bowling Green University, and California State University at Long Beach.  Portland State University, in particular, has created learning communities while building linkages between introductory and more advanced courses within General Education.” <>

The Learning Communities initiative was supported by the Faculty Senate’s acceptance of the UPBC Central College Subcommittee Report.  An application, based largely upon the findings of the Central College Subcommittee and the University mission statement, was submitted to participate in the Seventh National Summer Institute on Learning Communities at The Evergreen State College.

Upon acceptance for participation in the Institute, a team of teaching faculty and administrative faculty from Academic Affairs and Student Affairs was assembled to attend the Summer Institute on Learning Communities at The Evergreen State College. The team, which attended the Institute in June 2005, consisted of Tim Craine (Mathematical Sciences), Rick Roth (Arts and Sciences), Jason Jones (English), Kris Larsen (Physics and Earth Science, Honors program),  Duane Orloske (Student Affairs), Meg Leake (The Learning Center), Jean Alicandro (Student Activities and Leadership Development), and Tarome Alford (Residence Life). The team developed a proposal to pilot learning communities for first year students that was endorsed by Provost Whitford and Vice-President Toston (Student Affairs) in November 2005.


6.  Is there any reason to think learning communities are effective?

There is considerable research that suggests that learning communities increase retention, graduation rates, and student satisfaction. 

The best overview of this research is Kathe Taylor, William Moore, Jean MacGregor, and Jerri Lindblad, Learning Community Research and Assessment: What We Know Now (Olympia, WA: Evergreen National Learning Communities Project Monograph Series, 2005). The Click here for the Executive Summary (PDF). 

According the Executive Summary, “a preponderance of studies indicate[s] that learning communities strengthen student retention and academic achievement.” 

In this research, Taylor has noted that it can be difficult to extrapolate from learning communities research, because the term encompasses such a wide variety of programs.

Another overview of this research is available here: Heller, R.  “Learning Communities: What Does the Research Show?” AAC&U Peer Review 1.1 (Fall 1998): 11.


7.  What might Learning in Communities look like in practice?

Title Description Courses Faculty
Slackers, Deviants, and Other Intellectuals Do video games make you smarter? Does TV rot your brain? Are artists obsessed with sex? Does the media ever report science accurately? Explore these and other questions about the “life of the mind.” ENG 110; PSY 112; ID 102 Joanne DiPlacido; Jason B. Jones; Beth Spears
The History and Literature of Art: Perspective, Poems, and Paintings Learn the history of art alongside poetic responses to a variety of artistic masterpieces. This learning community will include a general survey of the visual arts in Western architecture, painting, and sculpture, as well as the skills necessary for writing about art and literature. ENG 110; Art 110; ID 102 Elizabeth Langhorne; Aimee Pozorski; Kimberly Radtke
Hot Topics in Science and Ethics Explore current issues from a scientific and ethical viewpoint including: cloning, genetic engineering, definition of life, and more. BMS 100, PHIL 144 Joseph McKeon; James Mulrooney
The Harmony of the Spheres Explore the historical connections between music and astronomy, and the possibility of using music to converse with life “elsewhere.” Earth Sci 100, Music 112 Kristine Larsen; Charles Menoche
Fat and Thin: American Bodies Past and Present How has our definition of a healthy body changed over the past century? Better scientific understanding of nutrition and fitness, lifestyle changes, and public policies all combine to shape our attitudes and choices and will be explored in this learning community. CHM 112, HIS 262, ID 102 Carol Jones; Heather Prescott

8.  When is the next Learning in Communities event?                                                                                                              

There are currently no meetings scheduled in the Fall 2008 semester.

9.  How can I find out more information?

Contact Chris Pudlinski, Faculty Director, First Year Experience (


10.  How will students be chosen to participate in the Learning in Communities pilot?

Incoming first-year students will be notified by mail about the program during the spring and summer preceding their arrival.  They will then have the opportunity to register for learning communities on a first-come, first-served basis.

11.  How will faculty be chosen to participate in learning communities?

Contact Chris Pudlinski, Faculty Director, First Year Experience, immediately with your interest.


12.  Isn’t this a major revision of general education?

Yes and no.  No, in that first-year students are already frequently block scheduled, either intentionally (Honors, School of Business, School of Technology) or somewhat more by chance.  What the Learning in Communities proposal aspires to do is make this more systematic and reflective.  It does, however, represent an attempt to make general education more meaningful to CCSU students, and is significant in that sense.

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Last Update: Monday January 09, 2006