Students pursue interests through learning communities

The opportunity to engage with their peers and at the same time support the priorities of their university is proving to be very popular with U of S undergraduate students. 

By Colleen MacPherson

Building on the success of the course-based learning community model introduced in 2007, undergraduates are using interest-based learning communities to pursue a particular passion, and they have come up with some interesting initiatives as a result. According to Erin DeLathouwer, the extra-curricular interest-based communities are a powerful draw "for students passionate about creating something, and leaving something behind."

DeLathouwer, learning community co-ordinator in the University Learning Centre, said the idea behind interest-based groups was to augment the course-based communities that serve as a transition program for first-year students in term one of the academic year. "We wanted to highlight different priorities of the university that would be of personal interest to all students, not just first years," she explained.

Some 10-20 students signed up for each group this year, she said, and with peer mentors, each has become a "community of inquiry. It's been our most successful year yet, and I say that based on outcomes."

For the sustainability learning community, that outcome is a display of thousands of paper coffee cups collected, washed and assembled in the form of a tree at the entrance to the Library to illustrate the need to consider the environment.

A more long-term project was taken on by members of the research learning community. They have put together a proposal for an undergraduate research journal. DeLathouwer said the students, from various fields of study, are intent on cultivating a culture of undergraduate research and providing a medium for peer review and publication of student research.

Students in the global experience learning community share an interest in "building awareness of study abroad opportunities," explained DeLathouwer, while those in the Road Trip Nation community focus on career and work experience, "asking the kinds of questions you want to think about leading up to graduation." An interesting twist to the global experience group is that it has drawn students who are studying abroad right here at the U of S, she said, adding a distinct international flavour.

Broad guidelines are provided to each interest-based community, "but we've seen them evolve depending on the students' interests. That's what binds them together. And they've formed very deep friendships, much deeper than I ever remember from university."

Although the communities wrap up at the end of the term, DeLathouwer said many students are interested in carrying on next year, particularly those involved in the research journal proposal. "They're keen to stay connected and see this through.

"The incentive for all the communities is learning about learning and leadership, but it also has a lot to do with connecting with other students from across campus, and having the opportunity to engage in an educationally enriching experience."