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First UI Faculty Learning Community formed on campus

BY CHRISTIAN HAHN | SEPTEMBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Faculty Senate members introduced information on the University of Iowa’s first-ever Faculty Learning Community, which was developed to address the questions and challenges of teaching and learning across many disciplines, officials said.

Jean Florman, the director of the UI Center for Teaching, presented the program at the Faculty Senate meeting on Tuesday and said it will eventually involve numerous learning communities.

Currently, it only includes the “Team Teaching and Big Ideas Courses.”

“[Faculty Learning Communities] are ongoing opportunities for faculty members across disciplinary boundaries to gather to learn about and reflect on a shared intellectual interest in some aspect of teaching and learning,” Florman said.

Cornelia Lang, a UI associate professor of physics/astronomy who is in charge of the first learning community, said the program will focus on deciding if there is a place for multidisciplinary general education classes at the UI, along with providing input on how the class contributes to the study of effective teaching.

“We’re using the first [community] to brainstorm a framework to be a unified faculty voice in making changes,” Lang said. “I’m really committed to changing the fulfillment of general-education requirements.”

Lang, along with colleagues from three other departments, taught a course last year called Origins of Life in the Universe, which fulfills the natural-sciences requirement for UI students.

Lang is using her experiences in this class to help her build a plan for the Faculty Learning Community.

“[Our community] wants to put together courses that interest students, and it’s a way for faculty to learn while teaching together,” she said.

Fifteen faculty members compose the first community with members from Human Environment Interaction as well as Origins of Life in the Universe.

Florman said though this is only the first, she is hoping for at least three more communities in the future.

The Center for Teaching in the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology has committed to providing resources to each learning community.

“The center will provide support to launch several [communities] this year, as well as a small amount of funding for each community to use as the members think is appropriate,” Florman said.

“I’m aiming for four functioning [Faculty Learning Communities] by the end of the academic year.”

Florman said she has some ideas for future communities she would like to see faculty members create, including Inter-professional Education in the Health Sciences, Transformational Learning through Creativity in STEM Disciplines, and Creating an Inclusive Classroom.

In addition to funding and support, the Center for Teaching also provides a place for the communities to meet in scheduled conference rooms.

“I think [they] are critically important,” past Senate President Erika Lawrence said. “Particularly as our student bodies become more diverse, different people are learning in different ways.”

Florman said ultimately, each learning community should produce some kind of outcome, whether that is a publication, course curriculum, curricular recommendation, or a presentation.

“There’s a model out there for you to get together to focus on an element of teaching that fascinates you,” she said.


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