May 19th, 2009

Faculty Learning Communities: Benefiting from Collective Wisdom


An article in the January-February issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching reports on the experiences of a group of life sciences faculty who participated in a faculty learning community. “We wanted to bring together life sciences faculty members who would discuss and support each others’ teaching and learning goals, breaking down the communication barrier that characterizes most teaching activities in the sciences.” (p. 39)

The authors (who facilitated the learning community) believe that research practices should be applied to the development of teaching skills. “As research scientists, we work within a network of collaborators who contribute to and value our work.” (p. 39) But teachers tend to work in isolation. “In isolation neither the research nor the teacher seems to have much of a chance for sustained discovery, growth, and positive change.” (p. 39)

This well-referenced and detailed article explains how the group functioned across a one-year period—how often they met, what they did during those sessions, and how they become involved with other’s teaching. It’s a great model, low cost, efficient, and, best of all, very helpful to the faculty involved.

“Faculty members are changing how they teach and making informed choices when it comes to teaching strategies. They feel empowered and are encouraged to take risks, are fostering collaborations in their teaching and are talking about teaching. For some, the change in how they teach has been radical. For others, the change has been small but still noticeable.” (p. 42)

And to what do the conveners attribute this success? “We saw that we are learners together in this learning community and we are our own best resource: Our collective knowledge is an invaluable asset.” (p. 43)

If you aspire to explore instructional issues with colleagues, this article shows you how and why in a very compelling way.

Reference: Sirum, K. L., Madigan, D., and Klionsky, D. J. (2009). Enabling a culture of change: A life science faculty learning community promotes scientific teaching. Journal of College Science Teaching, 38 (3), 38-44.