Learning Communities: Connecting or clashing perspectives?

Jason Goltz, an adjunct professor in Westminster’s philosophy department, teaches his students about moral theories and the construction and analysis of effective moral arguments in his introduction to ethics class. “[Learning communities] are a great way for students to network with each other and share their diverse or similar perspectives while also learning from each other and working together towards success,” Goltz said. Photo by Michelle Pham.

Jason Goltz, an adjunct professor in Westminster’s philosophy department, teaches his students about moral theories and the construction and analysis of effective moral arguments in his introduction to ethics class. “[Learning communities] are a great way for students to network with each other and share their diverse or similar perspectives while also learning from each other and working together towards success,” Goltz said. Photo by Michelle Pham.

Westminster College officially implemented its WCore curriculum—which replaced the liberal education requirements—with this year’s first-year class.

There have been both negative and positive comments about the implementation of learning communities and how they have complemented students in their college careers so far. I think learning communities are an effective way to assist first-year students in their journeys toward exploring their intellectual, personal and academic interests.

For example, in my sociology and ethics learning community, I feel well-assured that I understand the material, since the two classes are closely related to each other. This can be very effective—especially knowing you have the same classmates with you—and allows for better interrelationships.

However, some students don’t understand why they are required to take a learning community only for the first semester of their first year, considering there are students who are still undeclared majors and would like more time to explore other fields of study throughout their college experience.

“LCs should be made available to all students here on campus and not just freshman students because LCs give an opportunity for those to expand their network with students from different majors, as well as those who are undecided majors,” said Paul Nasca, a first-year student in the sociology/ethics learning community.

Learning communities seem like the best bet in terms of reinforcing and ensuring students’ interest in the classroom material, since they are made to be interactive. By intertwining two topics—sometimes from different fields of study—students can see the connection between classes and gain a better sense of understanding and motivation.

According to research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, students enjoy classes more when they can clearly see a connection to their personal lives and other classes because they feel more involved and delved into the material.

“Learning communities are extremely effective since we have the opportunity to work with the same students and actually get to bond with each other and know each other on a personal and not just on a professional level,” said Sara Mollner, a first-year student in the sociology/ethics learning community.

Nasca said his learning community allows him to feel less pressured in the classroom with big exams or quizzes and absorb the knowledge and material presented in the classroom.

Learning communities help not only students who haven’t settled on a major explore their academic interests but also those who want to search for connection to their own lives and major.

Learning communities also assist students on a personal level by helping them become more comfortable with their classmates, due to constant interactions in common classes, and seal the deal from a person’s considered major to a fully declared major.

Mark Rubinfeld, a professor in the sociology department, teaches a learning community and said the program helps first-year students adjust to Westminster life.

“LCs are an effective way for students to create a community with other students and for effective transition from high school life and norms to that of college,” Rubinfeld said.

Learning communities also help students build connections, according to Jason Goltz, an adjunct professor in the philosophy department who teaches alongside Rubinfeld in the sociology and ethics first-year learning community.

“LCs are a great way for students to network with each other and share their diverse or similar perspectives while also learning from each other and working together towards success,” Goltz said.

Rubinfeld said the academic environment and skills learning communities provide will also benefit students beyond the classroom.

“Teamwork is highly valued in the workplace,” he said. “With LCs providing a support system early in the college career—as well as its shares of inter-disciplinary and diverse dispersal of worldly perspectives—[it] will be extremely beneficial for students later in life.”