A core mission of CIT’ s Teaching and Learning Unit is to promote excellence in Teaching and Learning at CIT by offering relevant, accessible and useful teaching and learning development and support to staff who are directly engaged in teaching and learning activities in CIT.
A key activity, in pursuit of this mission, is the development and support of learning communities.
What is a learning community?
A learning community is a group of people who share common academic goals and attitudes, who meet semi-regularly for shared learning, discovery, and the generation of knowledge. Such communities have become the template for a cohort-based, interdisciplinary approach to higher education.
Learning communities are the process by which individuals come together to achieve learning goals. These learning goals can be specific to individual courses and activities or can be those that guide an entire teaching and learning enterprise. Learning communities are also about connections and interactions between learners which are meaningful and are more successful when they are inclusive and reflective of diversity (Wenger, 1998)
Why establish learning communities?
Learning communities are being established in CIT as a strategy for sharing knowledge and cultivating best practice in learning and teaching. These learning communities may focus on one or more of the following priorities:
- Problem solving
Some learning communities have an element of problem solving within their sphere of practice. A community brings together expertise from a variety of sources to focus on solving a common problem, thus providing benefits to members and their elements.
- Knowledge creation and sharing
One of the main outcomes of learning communities is the development of new knowledge that will improve the quality of learning and teaching at CIT. A knowledge development community may decide to focus on finding, collating, organising and distributing the knowledge that their members use every day. This involves the community in organising shared information processes and focusing on filling knowledge gaps.
- Best Practice
A learning community that focuses on identifying/developing and disseminating best practice and may have as one of its projects the documentation and dissemination of such practice.
Learning communities may be based around issues of common interest to professional peer groups, with a focus on new and emerging areas of knowledge where there may be the opportunity to innovate. These groups can provide the basis for rapid dissemination of new ideas and resources.
Who can join a learning community?
Basically, any CIT staff member - membership may be drawn from across the Institute!
The scope and purpose of a learning community should be explained prior to inviting members to join so prospective members can self-select based on its relevance to them.
What are the goals of a learning community?
In addition to the overarching goal of meeting CIT’s strategic priority of cultivating excellence in Teaching and Learning, each learning community is encouraged to determine its own specific goals which can be accomplished by surveying potential members' goals and expectations, and sharing the results with members for discussion and agreement. Once agreed, goals and terms of reference can be published and periodically reviewed in consultation with members.
How should a learning community operate?
The following operating principles provide some guidance for learning communities at CIT and are intended to assist members to clarify their expectations of each other and the community:
- Meeting dates should be publicised at least one month in advance
- Members should expect to encounter new learning from each meeting;
- Members should contribute regularly to the community
- Meetings may not have a formal agenda, but items for sharing and discussion should be forwarded to the Chair and coordinator for circulation before the meeting
- Privacy and confidentiality should be respected within the community;
- Views expressed are those of individual practitioner members
- A summary of the discussion should be circulated to members after each meeting
- The position of Chair should rotate with a new chair being nominated each academic Year/ semester
What type of support does the TLU offer a learning community?
Each new learning community may require initial support and facilitation from CIT’S TLU but ideally, the learning communities should be largely self-supporting as this is an indicator of their value to members.
During the establishment phase of a learning community the TLU can provide online operational support through the following activities:
- Establishment of an email discussion group for the learning community to encourage member's engagement and sharing of expertise and information.
- Creation of a specific web page for the learning community to encourage information and expertise sharing.
- Provide links to learning community web page from within the TLU website.
When a learning community has matured it ideally becomes largely self-supporting and the coordination/support role diminishes.
The TLU will undertake the following activities to help ensure that the learning community is continuing to function well and work towards its goals.
- Updating of the web page and email discussion list.
- Assistance with organising of venues and catering.
- Stimulating meeting attendance and email discussion.
- Monitoring of participation.
- Attendance at meetings.
- Sign-posting the learning community to useful reference material and information.
- Sharing information on visiting experts and other relevant events.
I’d like to establish a learning community – what should I do?
If you are interested in establishing a learning community, then please feel free to contact the TLU.
We can help you by ensuring that a similar learning community doesn’t already exist in the institute. If it does then we’ll direct you to the existing learning community otherwise, we’ll assist you to establish your learning community by:
- Sign-posting you to useful reference material and information
- Encouraging staff members to join the learning community
- Establishing a web-page and email discussion group for the learning community
- Promoting learning community events
- Organising venues/catering
- Publicising learning community initiatives