MSU Learning Communities are Spaces to Explore Ideas in Education, Teaching, and Learning

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  • "Being a part of the Learning Communities at MSU has been a wonderful experience. Within our community we have had the opportunity to share ideas, brainstorm solutions to challenges commonly faced, and expand our thinking with individuals from a wide variety of departments. I have deeply appreciated being a part of this new campus-wide community and having a space to connect with faculty and academic staff in similar positions to my own. Seeing what the other Learning Communities are doing has helped with inspiration for our own progress," said Mary-Anne Reid co-facilitator of the Sharing Process Improvement Tools in Undergraduate Internships and Experiential Education Learning Community. 

    Learning Communities are self-organized, safe, and supportive spaces for faculty and academic staff to address complicated questions of curriculum and pedagogy. Michigan State University has supported these initiatives since 2004 and continues to do so through a funding program administered by the Academic Advancement Network in collaboration with the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology.

    See what Learning Communities are available


    Different Aims, Different Practices

    Dr. Michael Lockett, the program Director, is quick to point out that the word “safe” is crucial to that statement of purpose, as it conveys the agency members and facilitators of Learning Communities enjoy. 

    “Once a community is funded, our interventions in their work only take place at the most basic administrative level,” says Lockett. “It’s a space we designed to maximize autonomy and academic freedom.”

    Learning Communities at MSU are free to propose their own topics and determine the structures that best support their interests. Accordingly, communities tend to vary greatly in their practices and topics. All communities, however, share three things in common: they meet at least eight times across the academic year, explore important educational themes, and welcome all members of MSU’s instructional staff, regardless of rank or discipline.

    “We have approximately thirty communities running. That means approximately three hundred faculty members are contributing to and benefitting from the program.  Given that scale, there’s tremendous diversity in terms of topics and methods,” says Lockett. “Broadly defined, the conversations all connect back to ideas of education, teaching, and learning, but not necessarily in a formalized curricular context. We don’t limit their purview to credit-bearing courses at MSU and some communities are invested in educational topics that transcend this campus, or this country, or even this era.”


    Dialogues Characterized by Freedom and Safety

    Although many Learning Communities do not discuss fraught topics, some do.  “Because some groups explore topics related to critical pedagogy, they may require particular community structures,” says Lockett. “Which is to say the community is not closed but carefully defined.  All communities are inclusive. But the facilitators (those members responsible for the administration and protocol within the Community) determine the structure and it’s fair for them to ask their membership to commit to certain protocols.”

    Some Communities only meet the required eight times during the academic year and encourage members to drop in or out at their discretion. Other Communities are working on highly complex questions of critical pedagogy, and require regular attendance, as the associated dialogues must be sustained and reflected upon. Ultimately, the facilitators decide the protocols for each Community. 

    The conversations held in the Learning Communities might also involve very personal pedagogical experiences; those kinds of conversations require time, trust, and a sense of open inquiry to make the dialogue supportive and generative. The AAN strives to provide that atmosphere by respecting the autonomy of the facilitators and working diligently behind the scenes to design flexible administrative structures that can support diverse methods. Lockett says, “although it’s not necessarily their primary role, Learning Communities can be therapeutic spaces. There’s an emotional dimension to teaching, particularly in high-pressure contexts. These communities can become a place where people find support, where they can share and hopefully resolve some of the challenges they’re encountering, teacher-to-teacher.”


    Why Learning Communities?

    Variations on the Learning Communities program exist on many campuses. “Questions of curriculum and pedagogy are always complicated and often best addressed face-to-face,” says Lockett. “You can do a lot of important work through dialogue.  When colleagues get together to discuss curriculum and pedagogy, their conversations become nuanced and empathetic and situated in a way they can’t through other discursive forms.  They can also be highly creative and generative places where good ideas disseminate swiftly.”


    Getting Involved

    The Learning Communities at MSU grew over 150% last year, from 12 to 30 groups. Lockett credits the passion of the facilitators and the leadership of Drs. Grabill and Austin (Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, and Interim Associate Provost for Academic Staff Development, respectively).  He also applauds the work of his predecessor, Dr. Patricia Stewart, who advocated for the program’s continued existence and provided a vision of success. “We wouldn’t be seeing this level of engagement and success without Patti’s leadership and dedication to the program,” he says.

    A full list of Learning Communities and the contact information of their facilitators is available below and on the Academic Advancement Network website, in addition to information on proposing new communities.

    "As a co-facilitator of the ANS TLC the past few years, I have been impressed with our cohort’s desire to continue to become better educators. Our learning community focuses on presenting and supplying tools to our members that address their reported concerns of education, including but limited to instruction, assessment, and student engagement. Since the pandemic has rendered our instruction to be “survival mode”, the ANS TLC has reached out to provide tips and tricks to its members for better classroom experiences, in whatever platform is being used. We look forward to hosting monthly “Chitter-chatter What’s the Matter” discussions alongside our continual scaffolding of the ANS curriculum for the Fall 2020 semester." said Tasia Taxis, co-facilitator of the Department of Animal Science Teaching and Learning Community (ANS TLC) Learning Community.


    Check out a Learning Community!


    For more information, and to participate in one of the following learning communities, please contact its facilitators.

    Accessible Course Design: Instruction for All through Universal Design for Learning


    The Accessible Course Design Learning Community takes a practice-based approach to exploring accessibility and Universal Design for Learning in face to face and online settings. Our goal is to develop our own accessible teaching practices, while creating and promoting accessibility to the campus community.


    Adams Academy 2.0 Learning Community


    As a group of former Adams Academy Fellows, our learning community extends the work of the Adams Academy by focusing on what Huber and Hutchins call “going public” with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. With that said, we aim to “build an audience” for SoTL at MSU by focusing on three questions:

    1. Who would benefit most from an increased understanding of SoTL?
    2. What would be the best ways to communicate knowledge of SoTL to those individuals/groups?
    3. What content/ideas would be most beneficial to their practice?


    Advancing Online Graduate Programs

    (formerly called Charting the Future of Online Graduate Education at Michigan State University)


    Program coordinators and directors of online graduate programs across the university face a unique set of challenges in meeting their educational missions. This group provides a forum to discuss common challenges and a means to leverage collective resources to implement strategies. It gives members a place to find both instrumental support and a sense of community.


    Alternative Modes for Early Literacy and Language Instruction


    The disruption caused by Covid-19 has significantly affected early literacy instruction throughout the country, in particular students from low-income, urban, and rural communities. The lack of access to technological tools like high-speed internet and electronic devices has greatly disadvantaged students of this population. The goal of this learning community is to support efforts ongoing to bridge the digital divide focusing on early literacy instruction and exploring alternative modes of delivery that are sustainable.


    Anti-Racist Strategies for Teaching, Learning and Faculty Development Efforts


    It is so strange that white academics and staff routinely conduct research in our own areas of expertise, yet as soon as issues of racism come to the fore, we ask our colleagues of color to teach us. Are anti-racist topics not worthy of the white academic’s own self-directed time and efforts? This community will be dedicated to advancing the understanding of how white faculty and staff at MSU can engage in anti-racist practices. We invite learners of all races and ethnicities who are committed to read, view, and listen to the research, creative scholarship, and voices of what our MSU campus colleagues and others have published on whiteness, social justice and anti-racist issues.


    Department of Animal Science Teaching and Learning Community (ANS TLC)


    • Tasia Taxis, Animal Science,
    • Jacquelyn Jacobs, Animal Science,

    The Department of Animal Science Teaching and Learning Community (ANS TLC) will address educational topics that are proposed by members of the Department of Animal Science (ANS) and additional ANS TLC members. For 2021, workshops will focus on discussions among ANS faculty/staff and ANS TLC members in order to align departmental SLOs across courses. The goal of ANS TLC is to provide tools for its members and SLO alignment across courses to create an impactful and cohesive educational experience for undergraduate students.


    Digital Humanities Pedagogy Learning Community


    The DH Pedagogy LC brings together educators from across campus who are new to digital humanities methods and theories and interested in integrating these approaches into their undergraduate courses. Digital humanities methods – such as annotation, digital curation, mapping, text analysis, visualization, and social media analysis – allow students to explore topics of the humanities through multiple hands-on ways of knowing and integrate active learning approaches alongside critical approaches to engaging with technology. Over the course of the year, LC members will transform the syllabus of a course they teach to integrate a digital project (or several) into the class.


    GTA Virtual Lunch & Learn Best Practices TLC (Teaching Learning Community)


    The GTA TLC meets twice a month to present and discuss best practices in teaching and learning, new and emerging pedagogy and new research in teaching. Anyone interested in learning about best practices in teaching from GTAs in various instructional settings is welcome to join and contribute their knowledge and practices in the teaching space.


    HOBI@CANR  = Hybrid, Online and Blended Instruction at CANR


    • David Howe, CANR Ofc of Academic & Student Affairs,
    • Janice Siegford, Animal Science Department Anr

    Instructors at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are invited to our community to search for solutions to issues they may be having related to online instruction, to learn from colleagues, and to share techniques that might be useful for others.  Our focus is on both individual courses and the broader view of online learning at the college and the university.


    Interdisciplinary Design Collaborative (a learning community)


    With MSU at the center of the state’s intellectual economy and with so many faculty and students that engage Design from disparate areas of campus, creating an interdisciplinary group could lead to a more unified campus network of makers and thinkers. This learning community could facilitate alternative educational models, inform collaborative research practices, and further extend networks beyond MSU.


    Military-Affiliated Students Learning Community


    Did you know that 4% of students at MSU are military-affiliated? Come explore how we can best support these students in our community to achieve success in the classroom and beyond.


    Mindful Teaching and Learning in Higher Education


    In this Learning Community, we will define what mindfulness means in the context of teaching in a higher education setting.  While mindfulness practices are often associated with stress-reduction, we will explore how such practices also enable the development of empathy, emotional resilience, and ethical awareness. This LC will continue the work begun during the 2019-2020 Academic year, while focusing specifically on how mindful practices can be applied both to DEI goals and to the challenges of dealing with current covid-19 social restrictions.


    MSU Trauma Services and Training Network (TSTN)


    The mission of the MSU Trauma Services and Training Network (MSU TSTN) is to better understand, communicate, and address the impact of trauma at MSU and in the broader mid-Michigan community.  We strive to collaborate across disciplines to care for trauma survivors through the development of trauma-informed, evidence-based education, training, and service.


    Open Pedagogy and Open Educational Practices Learning Community


    In this learning community, participants will explore how open pedagogy and open educational practices are enabled through the use of open educational resources (OER).  Participants will read works and share practices that promote open pedagogy and discuss specific approaches for improving teaching, learning, and student engagement both in-person and online environments.


    Restorative Justice


    We seek to create a community of scholarship and practice centering on restorative justice, and to identify ways to use RJ to build community within our campus. We will work to define restorative justice, explore ways in which it can be utilized on our campus, and to produce resources for other MSU community members interested in implementing restorative practices on campus.


    Sharing Process Improvement Tools in Undergraduate Internships and Experiential Education


    The Sharing Process Improvement Tools in Undergraduate Internships and Experiential Education community is designed to provide internship coordinators an opportunity to work through challenges commonly faced within the MSU environment when implementing internship experiences. The intended outcome of this group is to design resources for internship coordinators. All internship coordinators and experiential education specialists are welcome; we are looking to create a shared community of practice and network of support.


    Team-Based Teaching and Learning Network (TBTLN)


    • Eddie Boucher, Center for Integrative Studies in Social Science,
    • Tom DeWitt, Marketing Department, Eli Broad College of Business,

    MSU‚Äôs Team-Based Teaching and Learning Network (TBTLN) focuses on flipped classroom strategies and teaching methods across disciplines, course levels, and course formats. Our mission as a learning community is twofold:  (a) to explore and discuss the benefits and challenges of engaged student learning through team-based pedagogy and (b) to implement and assess engaged team-based practices in our classes for the direct benefit of our MSU students.


    Tier II Writing Faculty Learning Community


    The Tier II Writing Faculty Learning Community seeks to bring faculty together to explore strategies to develop student writing skills that are effective for students and practical for faculty.  Participants will gain insight into student writing needs; learn new writing-related learning activities and assessment strategies from the literature, experts on campus, and from each other; and be positioned to serve as college leaders for other Tier II writing instructors.


    Veterinary – Medical School Collaborative Community


    • Aimee Colbath, Large Animal Clinical Sciences/Veterinary Medical Center,
    • Srinand Sreevatsan, Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation,

    The MSU Veterinary School and MSU Medical School share many common interests including (but not limited to): orthopedic interventions, regenerative medicine therapies, oncology, neurology, virology, and infectious disease treatments. The Veterinary – Medical School Collaborative Community is focused on building lasting, impactful, collaborative relationships. The Community will meet eight times per year for topic-based presentations and discussions on clinical and didactic teaching tactics, graduate and professional student training, and shared medical interests in order to build and strengthen collaborations between the Veterinary and Medical School Learning Communities.


    Water Infrastructure: The Interface of Natural and Built Environments in Urban, Suburban, and Rural Communities


    • Steven Safferman, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering,

    Water infrastructure at the urban, suburban, and rural interface offers challenges and opportunities to protect human health and the environment and to provide sustainable resources.  This Learning Community brings together MSU faculty, extension educators/specialists, institutes/centers, facility professionals, and community members to enhance educational programs and research at this intersection.  The Learning Community also advocates the use of MSU’s campus as a living, learning laboratory.

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