Being a college professor can sometimes be isolating. With our heavy teaching loads, we often don’t interact with colleagues for weeks on end. We usually undertake our research and writing alone, and are typically siloed into disciplines and departments. If faculty experience this much isolation, imagine the isolation our students experience at a huge commuter school like BMCC! It’s difficult enough to navigate the bureaucracy of college, but the social and academic aspects of college life can be even more challenging. One promising solution for students and faculty alike is participating in a learning community.
What is a learning community? At its simplest, it’s a group of students taking classes together (sometimes even living together). At BMCC, the BMCC Learning Academy (BLA) invites a cohort of students to take two academic courses together with a first-year success seminar that helps students adapt to college life. The “glue” comes in a shared focus on a common theme that not only creates a social community, but also helps students integrate their academic experience and make connections across classes and disciplines.
I’m very happy this semester to be teaching in a learning community which pairs my Introduction to Sociology course with Dr. Masha Komolova’s Introduction to Psychology and a success seminar led by BLA Advisor Mark Podlas. Our learning community theme is “Inside Out: Identity, Self and Society.” The combination feels natural because there is so much overlap between psychology and sociology. Masha and I have developed shared assignments, including class debates on gender and culture and prison and behavior, as well as an exploration of individual and collective memory through a field trip and reflection paper on the 9/11 Museum. It’s energizing and inspiring to collaborate with a colleague—together we come up with new ideas and assignments that probably neither of us would come up with on our own—and it’s exciting to see the students making connections between the two classes.
It also means that there are three of us, Masha, Mark and me, to keep track of students, support them, and intervene when necessary. We’re careful to not seem like we’re ganging up on them, but we also want them to know that we’re in constant communication with each other so we know what’s going on in all three classes!
This kind of support system and academic integration offers an exciting way to create community, improve student success, and help prepare students for college life. Learning communities also enable faculty to collaborate with each other and feel a little less isolated in our teaching routines. Because the learning community concept has been shown to improve student engagement, retention and success, the BMCC Learning Academy (BLA) is currently working to develop this opportunity for first semester students and intends to expand the program to second year students in 2019-2020.
In Spring 2019, I’ll be facilitating a semester-long seminar for faculty who are designing new BLA learning communities. We’re currently seeking faculty who will be teaching one of the following courses in Fall 2019: PSY 100, PSY 240, POL 100, MAT 150, BUS 110, and ECO 201. If teaching in a learning community sounds interesting to you, please contact BLA Director Sara Crosby.