[Itech] Fwd: Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter: 1354. Principles for Design of Powerful Learning Communities (LCs)
franklit at ohio.edu
Tue Sep 30 13:37:08 EDT 2014
For some of you that are working on dissertations on community in online
programs, this may be of interest.
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From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Date: Mon, Sep 29, 2014 at 8:33 PM
Subject: Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter: 1354. Principles for Design of
Powerful Learning Communities (LCs)
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*Bielaczyc and Collins (1999) propose 14 principles for LC (Learning
Community) design, as presented in Table 2.2. They are not introduced in a
specific order but combined to help emphasize intent and identify purposes
that aid the LC process as based on prior attempts to create and maintain
successful LCs. The development of effective LCs often requires a paradigm
shift for most individuals who work in institutionalized forms of
1354. Principles for Design of Powerful Learning Communities (LCs)
[image: Rick Reis]
The posting below looks at principles for the design of learning
communities (LCs). It is from Chapter 2 - Preparing for Powerful Learning
Communities, in the book, Powerful Learning Communities: A Guide to
Developing Student, Faculty, and Professional Learning Communities to
Improve Student Success and Organizational Effectiveness, by Oscar T.
Lenning, Denise M. Hill, Kevin P. Saunders, Alisha Solan, and Andria
Stokes. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC. 22883 Quicksilver Drive
Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102.
Copyright @ 2013 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. [
https://styluspub.presswarehouse.com/Books/Features.aspx] All rights
reserved. Reprinted with permission.
reis at stanford.edu
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Principles for Design of Powerful Learning Communities (LCs)
When considering the idea of principles, most agree that these are the
stated beliefs that one holds about a particular topic, such as life,
profession, or conduct. The use of principles within LCs relates to those
beliefs that will guide the creation and sustenance of the community. When
we discuss principles pertaining to a powerful LC we are taking into
account actions and beliefs that will become the architecture that guides
the operation/functions of the individuals in the LC.
Bielaczyc and Collins (1999) identified four characteristics that should be
evident within the culture of the organization: (a) a population of members
who are diverse in knowledge and skills, (b) a desire to create and build a
collective knowledge, (c) a shared belief that the process of learning is
the key component to academic success, and (d) the creation of a device to
share what is learned. Before implementing a plan, faculty and staff
should reach a consensus that these four characteristics exist.
Bielaczyc and Collins (1999) propose 14 principles for LC design, as
presented in Table 2.2. They are not introduced in a specific order but
combined to help emphasize intent and identify purposes that aid the LC
process as based on prior attempts to create and maintain successful LCs.
The development of effective LCs often requires a paradigm shift for most
individuals who work in institutionalized forms of education. These
principles are shared with the intent of helping individuals move beyond
such prior perspectives when beginning or refining LCs.
First and foremost, the guiding principle for any type of LC should be
community growth: the power of many versus the power of one. Intentional
growth occurs through assembling professionals with differing strengths and
knowledge bases. Combining individual knowledge leads to expansion of
skills, general knowledge, and growth in perspective. The intent of this
principle is to create a cycle that expands the LC's knowledge
exponentially through collaboration and communication. Without a desire to
expand the LC's knowledge and skills, the LC will quickly lose sight of
purpose and be open to a variety of pitfalls.
At this stage, institutions may start to ask the following: Do we need to
consider new ways of doing things? What processes and procedures hinder
collaboration? How can we jump-start an initiative, or what are ideas for
beginning? Iowa State University started a path of collaboration as
various planners from multiple parts of the institution brought various
goals: improving undergraduate education, increasing retention, focusing on
student learning, and building connections across department and college
silos (Brooke & Gruenewald, 2003). The principle of growth invites the
community to develop a common purpose and to explore future possibilities.
The next several principles work in concert to begin forming the framework
needed to support the LC. These principles are emergent growth,
articulation of goals, structural dependence, respect for others, and
sharing. They focus on co-construction of goals to increase collective
buy-in while identifying participant strengths and weaknesses. Whether
working with students, colleagues, the outlying community, or all three,
each participant must be able to participate fully. Simply constructing
goals does not guarantee that perceptions will be equal.
*Table 2.2 *
*Fourteen principles for design of powerful LCs *
1. Community growth
Confirm that the ongoing intent is to enrich and grow the entire LC.
New diverse and talented students join the program, department, and/or
institution as a result of the LC.
2. Emergent growth
Construct LC goals through conversations with its members.
Faculty and students hold brainstorming sessions on LC growth and
3. Articulation of goals
Be sure goals, objectives, and measures are clearly identified, effectively
communicated, and understood and agreed upon by all LC members.
Faculty committees draft and approve a goal to increase the number of
campus students actively involved in powerful face-to-face SLCs by 10%
during the academic year of 2012-13.
Ensure that there is continual monitoring of thought, identification of
strengths and weaknesses, and reflection on prior actions within the LC.
Staff agree to record attempts to attract new students and to realize it is
important to involve students in recruitment because they may have more
access to prospective students even though they may not know the details of
the program. They have never tried using students to help recruit but
decide to try it out.
5. Beyond the bounds
Try new things that seem to be "out of the box."
The department chair decides to try having students from the department SLC
create a video about the department and post it on social media.
6. Respect for others
Encourage and allow all voices in the LC to be heard and respected.
The administration invites feedback by providing diverse options: publicly
in groups, and privately in e-mails or on note cards.
Take risks with ideas.
Supervisors remind staff that they accept and appreciate that learning
comes from failure.
8. Structural dependence
Focus on collaboration that is created with purpose in mind.
One department invites another to assist in completing a task.
9. Depth over breadth
Give time for group investigation into the purpose of and connection
between matters under consideration, allowing participants to realize who
has expertise in the area.
Each recruit completes a personality test that identifies likes and
strengths. Pairs or groups are then matched to build in-depth connections.
10. Diverse expertise
Utilize individual strengths by connecting abilities to tasks.
Those who are excellent writers create the script for recruiters; those who
speak well go out to schools to gather data; and those who are strong
statisticians track data.
11. Multiple ways to participate
Ensure that the community is designed with a variety of ways to participate
and be heard.
Administrators invite all LC members to be cheerleaders, collaborators,
facilitators, initiators, questioners, responders, summarizers, and other
Encourage knowledge sharing as essential throughout the LC.
LC coordinators encourage LC members to engage in both face-to-face and
online discussion, including the use of tweeting, blogging, and other
social applications of the latest technology.
Encourage energetic questioning and exchanges of ideas, and provide
practice in honing effective negotiating skills.
LC coordinators make use of the Socratic Seminar to hone the individual's
and the group's negotiating skills.
14. Quality of products
Establish standards of practice that support the inside and outside
community and stick with them.
Students are not badgered to participate or give information:
well-thought-out, creative, pertinent, stimulating, and workable ideas and
*Note*. For more information see Bielaczyc and Collins (1999).
As institutions consider these principles, individuals will often begin to
consider a series of questions that move beyond the initial visioning steps
and turn attention to the purpose, structure, function, and ethos of the
program. Questions at this stage might include: Who owns the program? What
organizational structures support partnerships and collaboration? What
ongoing structures and practices will support ongoing partnerships? An
important consideration in this phase is how the structure of the program
supports the established goals. For instance, several institutions
developed intentional partnerships between student affairs and academic
affairs in the development of SLCs (see B.L. Smith & Williams, 2007).
It is important to remember that the intent of LCs is to help expand the
community's knowledge and effectiveness; all members need to be in
agreement regarding goals and their achievements. Without careful
articulation and agreed-upon assessment, goals could be interpreted as
being met by some members whereas others might disagree. Use of identified
activities that require dependence within and among groups can help to
unify the work at hand.
Use of the correct grouping will provide growth of expertise as well as
identify new information. Homogeneous grouping will help strengthen like
knowledge bases and heterogeneous grouping will provide different
perspectives. Without interdependency, rogue groups or individuals could
derail the LC's work.
Finally, consideration of and respect for individual personalities,
backgrounds, and experiences plays a large role in achieving LC goals.
Specific rules for respect should be created by the group so that all
members feel empowered and heard as the LC moves forward toward completion
of goals. Establishment of sharing mechanisms is essential, including the
use of collaborative, real-time devices such as Google Docs or asynchronous
methods such as e-mail to ensure that each voice in the community is heard,
respected, considered, and challenged.
The next group of interconnected principles consists of depth over breadth,
use of diverse expertise, and metacognition. Research conducted by A. L.
Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, and Campione (1983) supports these principles.
When considering operation of the LC, individuals and groups need
sufficient time to investigate deeply and foster a sense of expertise to
support the meaning derived through collaboration. As interests expand,
there may be a need to departmentalize and create small groups within a
larger one that presents a passion and drive that brings new expertise to
Planning for meaningful discourse, exchanging ideas, and wrestling with the
presentation of new topics or ideas can help create deep learning and
understanding of content. Reflection, intentional use of personal
monitoring, and awareness of collective knowledge provide the tools needed
to guide and refine the LC's work. As all individuals work in unison, new
or modified versions of goals may come to light. With the metacognitive
principle in place, all members are reminded to ask themselves what is
needed to continue moving toward the goals.
Finally, the creation of quality ideas and learning requires the fail-safe
and out-of-bounds principles, provision of multiple ways to participate,
and skills in making one's case and challenging the ideas of others
(effective negotiation) so that the best ideas survive and result in
exceptional quality for the groups' results, outcomes, and products. The
fail-safe principle is the ideal way to create and maintain risk taking
that includes trying "out-of-bounds" ideas. If members of an LC know that
they can fail and that the group will collectively learn from that failure,
individuals and interest groups will attempt to move beyond ideas
considered within the status quo and find new, exciting ways to extend
learning. One way to support this principle is to establish numerous ways
for individuals within the LC to participate.
For instance, there are many aspects to running a successful community and
not all have to do with writing, public speaking, or researching.
Sometimes, individuals will need to participate by watching and listening
instead of doing. Bielaczyc and Collins (1999) noted that learning by
doing may mean learning by watching someone else do it first. Observations
can be just as powerful as experiences. This principle encourages
co-collaborators to create a community that respects all roles and
participation levels and understands that learning is a process and takes
The last principle, quality of products, must be valued by the community
and those outside the community. When creating products, the LC should
take stock of the audience, the level of background knowledge, and the
expectations for standards of completion. Although the LC, as a whole, may
agree on one set of standards, consideration of the outside community will
determine the worth of the community's collective output. Each LC should
keep in mind who its audience is and what standards of performance are
The Powerful LC Planning Form presented in Appendix C includes items
pertaining to the principles, such as for structural dependence, respect
for others, diverse expertise, and knowledge sharing. Identification as a
group or an organizer of how the structure of the community will have
inter- and intradependence, respect for all members, intentional grouping
or member selection to maintain diverse expertise, and identification of
specific values for knowledge sharing help make an LC strong and
effective. These elements are often discussed at the creation stage, but
they sometimes get lost along the way. The use of these components can take
an existing or fledgling community and guide it toward one of power.
Bielaczyc, K., & Collins, A. (1999). Learning communities in classrooms: A
reconceptualization of educational practice. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.),
Instructional-design theories and models (pp. 269-292). Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum. Retrieved from
Brooke, C., & Gruenewald, D. (2003, June). Building bridges between
academic affairs and student affairs: Learning communities at Iowa State
University. Paper presented at the North Central Teaching Symposium,
Brown, A. L., Bransford, J. D., Ferrara, R. A., & Campione, J. C. (1983).
Learning, remembering, and understanding. In J.H. Flavell & E. M. Markham
(Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Cognitive development (4th
ed., pp. 77-166). New York, NY: John Wiley.
Smith, B. L., & Williams, L. B. (Eds.). (2007). Learning communities and
student affairs: Partnering for powerful learning. Olympia, WA: National
Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the Washington Center
for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education.
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