Written by Stephanie Whalen, Chair, Academy for Teaching Excellence & Associate Professor, English and Interdisciplinary Studies
There are many things that people can accomplish together that they cannot accomplish alone. As a leader in the faculty learning communities movement since 1979 at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Milt Cox has a wealth of insights to offer about the worth and value of what we call Communities of Practice at Harper College. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cox recently and he shared a story about climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge that illustrates this concept that we can do more collaboratively than operating individually. Although he normally would not be interested in attempting to climb the 440 feet bridge arching over the harbor to the top, he became comfortable enough to take it on because of the trust he had for his climbing guide and the others in the group that were there for a common purpose. The bridge itself is a daunting spectacle, and the jumpsuits and safety equipment may have only made him warier of the dangers of climbing so high. After being greeted by the guide with enthusiasm and practicing some of the climbing techniques on the bridge’s infrastructure with the other climbers, he started to feel like he could and wanted to climb the bridge. As part of a group with the support of his guide, he undertook and successfully completed something that he would have never attempted solo. “I did it because of the community,” he beamed.
“Our lives are made more productive by social ties,” Dr. Cox explained and then joked that eating a pie together is an important part of the faculty learning community experience, but also emphasized that spending time sharing some refreshments and socializing are key elements of successful faculty learning groups. His experiences tell him that members must get to know one another to build a sense of commitment and trust. Dr. Cox and his colleagues have assessed impact of coming together in faculty learning communities, and he summarized the many results: participants in these groups develop a broader perspective of teaching and learning beyond their own courses, their interest in teaching pedagogies increases, they tend to start to evaluate their instructional practices through the scholarship of teaching and learning, and they view teaching as an intellectual pursuit beyond their discipline, leading to an overall increase in effectiveness (Beach & Cox, 2009). The results also show an increase in active learning strategies and student-centered learning as well as improved discussions and engagement in the classroom.
If you are interested in learning more about Communities of Practice or wish to explore other ways to foster community through professional development opportunities, please contact Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Cox’s recommended reading:
- Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community by Robert Putnam
- Creating Campus Community: In Search of William Boyer’s Legacy by William M. McDonald
- The Learning Paradigm College by John Tagg & Peter Ewell
- Developing Faculty Learning Communities at Two-Year Colleges by Susan Sipple & Robin Lightner
- The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge
Beach, A. L., & Cox, M. D. (2009). The impact of faculty learning communities on teaching and learning. Learning Communities Journal, 1(1), 7-27.