Internet learning communities

I have been looking at studies and reports related to community colleges and have been really surprised by some of the information that I have found.

For example, in Building a Culture of Evidence for Community College Success: Early Progress in the Achieving the Dream Initiative [pdfBy: Thomas Brock, Davis Jenkins, Todd Ellwein, Jennifer Miller, Susan Gooden, Kasey Martin, Casey MacGregor & Michael Pih — May 2007. New York: MDRC and the Community College Research Center, in the community colleges that were studied, it is reported (at 18, pdf at 44) that:

On average, slightly more than one in ten students at these colleges earned a certificate or an associate’s degree after three years.

In Using Longitudinal Data to Increase Community College Student Success: A Guide to Measuring Milestone and Momentum Point Attainment By: D. Timothy Leinbach & Davis Jenkins — January 2008. CCRC Research Tools No. 2. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, a study for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) found (pdf at 8):

… for students who enrolled exclusively in college-level classes. … Slightly more than one-fourth (10,423 of 41,339) of all college-level students achieved any milestone within five years.

But wait, there’s hope:

From Building a Culture of Evidence for Community College Success: Early Progress in the Achieving the Dream Initiative [pdf] (at ES-11/ pdf at 23):

“Across the 27 colleges, five prominent strategies selected to increase student success were (1) strengthening academic advising services; (2) creating or revamping orientation and “college success” programs or courses for incoming students; (3) supplemental instruction and tutoring; (4) learning communities, in which small groups of students take two or more linked courses together; and (5) professional development, including training in cultural competence and racial dynamics for faculty and staff.”

References to things like “learning communities” makes me think about how web technology and the Internet can be used to build communities and promote learning experiences.  For the purposes of the study noted above (at 85-86, pdf at 111-112), a “learning community” means:

In its most basic form, a learning community involves the block scheduling of students taking two or more courses together.12

More advanced models share several additional characteristics: Faculty integrate curricula across courses; learning is “active,” with a focus on student participation and learning outcomes; and academic and social interactions among students are encouraged.

Learning communities are often organized during a student’s first year, when the need for creating social attachments is considered greatest.13

It sounds like a great fit for web technology: the integration of curricula, “active” learning that has a focus on student involvement and learning outcomes, as well as a recognition that socialization is a part of the adult learning experience.  Online education is not a consolation prize for students facing barriers to an education – it is an important feature in the future development of all education.

update: From the Associated Press, via MSNBC on November 19, 2008:

Long the neglected stepchildren of American higher education, community colleges have come front-and-center in the eyes of students, policymakers and philanthropists.

For students, that’s because of the economy, which is boosting interest in two-year schools as a cheaper starting point for a bachelor’s degree. They’re also the place for job retraining, with unemployment at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent. A community colleges group estimates enrollment is up about 8 percent this fall.

… The new philanthropic attention was underscored last week when the giant Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would spend up to half a billion dollars over the next four years on a college completion initiative.

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