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Measuring Success In Learning Communities

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Documenting Success

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.928.1 - 10.928.15



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Paper Authors

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Steven Mickelson

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2508

Measuring the Success of Learning Communities Dr. Steven K. Mickelson and Dr. Thomas J. Brumm and Iowa State University


In 1998, our department turned to the pedagogical innovation termed “learning communities” in an effort to enhance student retention and to bring coherence and meaning to our first-year student curriculum. We have found that our learning community has provided an opportunity for agricultural engineering students to become involved in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE) department from the moment they arrive on campus. Not only has the learning community helped us to increase our first-year, first time student retention in the major of Agricultural Engineering (AE) from 63.6% in 1997 to 79.0% in 2003 in the department (ABE) from 78.8% in 1997 to 89.5% in 2003, it has helped us to address many of our program objectives including students’ abilities to function on multi-disciplinary teams, communicate effectively, and have knowledge of important contemporary issues. Results of our assessment efforts, which encompass both quantitative and qualitative strategies, suggest that students are overwhelmingly satisfied with the program, are involved in our department, and are successful in their academic progress toward their engineering or technology degree.

A brief look at the literature

With a history that can be traced to an experimental educational program in the 1920s (the Meiklejohn Experimental College at the University of Washington), learning communities can now be found at four to five hundred colleges and universities across the nation.1 According to Smith, “Learning communities are a broad structural innovation that can address a variety of issues from student retention to curriculum coherence, from faculty vitality to building a greater sense of community within our colleges.” Learning communities usually involve purposive groupings of students and coordinated scheduling. In addition, they may involve coordinated approaches to learning and an emphasis on connecting material across disciplinary boundaries.2

As Tinto3 points out, the learning community courses for which students co-register are not random; rather, “they are typically connected by an organizing theme, which gives meaning to their linkage. The point of the theme is to engender coherent interdisciplinary…learning that is not easily attainable through enrollment in unrelated, stand-alone courses” (p. 2). Despite the age of many learning community programs, Tinto reports that current perceptions of learning communities have been based largely on anecdotal evidence and institutional reports or assessments described at conferences or national meetings. Recently, however, a study was conducted for the National Center of

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Mickelson, S. (2005, June), Measuring Success In Learning Communities Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15280

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