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Learning Communities Create Student Scholars

Posted: August 18, 2011
Most first-time college students don’t think of themselves as scholars. However, those who are enrolled in one of Buffalo State’s eight learning communities will quickly learn that they are just that.

Each learning community consists of a relatively small group of students—no more than 40—who take the same classes, which are focused around a central theme. For example, students who enroll in the learning community “Going Global” will study the phenomenon of globalization by choosing a country to study in depth. Each student will use the Internet to work with students at a university overseas to address a real global problem. All the learning communities include an “integrated hour” course.

“The integrated hour is team-taught by all the learning community instructors,” said Lisa R. Hunter, the assistant dean of Intellectual Foundations and First-Year Programs, who oversees Buffalo State’s learning communities. “Every week, students get together with all their professors to discuss a topic or concept related to their coursework. One of the advantages of the integrated hour is that students hear multiple perspectives and participate in the intellectual conversation. Learning communities help students create a strong academic foundation during their first semester with support from faculty, staff, and librarians who are committed to first-year student success.”

Going Global,” open to all first-time students, is one of three learning communities that will be offered for the first time in fall 2011. The other two are “Explore Your World, Know Thyself,” also open to all first-time students, and “Ways of Seeing, Ways of Acting,” open only to art education majors.

The other five learning communities include “CSI: Community of Student Investigators;” “Leading to a Better World;" and “Naked America,” which are open to students of any major as well as to undeclared students. “Da Capo” is open to music majors; “The Anne Frank Project” is open to theater majors.

“Students have been very enthusiastic about learning communities,” Hunter said, “and the faculty, librarians, and student development staff who take part are really dedicated to helping freshmen launch a successful college career.”

Research into the outcomes of learning communities has found that they have a high educational impact that correlates positively to students’ learning and success in college. These findings are part of the reason that this is the 10th year that Buffalo State is offering learning communities. “We have great new faculty and staff members joining us this year,” said Hunter.

Hunter believes that Buffalo State’s learning communities are unique in that they are driven by the academic component with support from Student Affairs and the library. In each learning community, faculty and staff provide students with the opportunity to discover how a particular course is related to the theme and how every course is connected.

For example, “CSI: Community of Student Investigators” will integrate sociology, mathematics, and communication. Each learning community also includes a college writing course and a course called Foundations of Inquiry (BSC 101), which introduces Buffalo State’s liberal arts curriculum and lays a foundation of critical thinking and basic research skills.

“These programs are designed for students who want to make the most of their college experience,” said Hunter. “Many students report that participation in a learning community was one of the most beneficial and memorable experiences of their college career.”
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