Learning communities foster engagement

Adrienne Burch

Students across The University of Alabama campus are given the opportunity to grow and learn outside of the classroom through living-learning communities.

“Through living-learning communities, students get a chance to work with other students in their major or interest area in a cohort model,” Christopher Holland, director of residential communities, said.

Living-learning communities give students the opportunity to not only take classes together, but to also have programming centered on their studies and interests while living within close proximity of each other, Holland said.

Holland cited a recent study done on learning communities by Gary R. Pike and the Association for the Study of Higher Education Annual Meeting Paper.

“Learning communities tended to have direct positive effects on day-to-day behavioral aspects of students’ college experiences and indirect effects on the integration of information and student learning,” Pike said.

Pike found in the study that the higher the levels of integration with course information and students in residential learning communities, the more these students were involved in clubs and organizations, and the more they interacted with faculty and peers the more intellectual content was involved in their daily interactions.

Alicia Browne, director of housing administration, said in her experience she finds students tend to find their niche on campus more quickly when involved in a living-learning community, especially those who come from out-of-state.

One of the original living-learning communities at the Capstone is the Mallet Assembly, which currently houses 71 students.

Mallet was founded in the 1960s to assist with integration and makes steps toward civil justice on UA’s campus. Mallet is different from other communities because it is governed by its residents.

“Residents have complete authority over their manner of government and activities,” Daniel Lutz, the professor-in-residence at Mallet, said. “It’s a democracy.”

Ethan Graham, a junior majoring in English, said he moved into Mallet because of the way it is run and the bond he is able to build with the other students who live there.

“We all know each other’s names, interests and majors,” Graham said. “It feels more like a family than any of the regular dorms do.”

Several of UA’s living-learning communities include an academic component which involves required classes combined with the living environment.

One of these academic based communities is the Blount Undergraduate Initiative, a four-year program where freshmen live in the Blount Living-Learning Center and take required Blount classes.

Kimberly Peden, a senior majoring in biology, said living in the Blount learning community was a great experience because it gave her a community to belong to as a freshman.

“Many of the people I became friends with in the Blount learning community, I am still close to today,” Peden said.

Peden chose to be in Blount because as a biology major, she was interested in the opportunity to explore new ideas and works that she may not have come in contact with otherwise.

There are also themed living-learning communities such as the Business Community in Friedman Hall and the Engineering Community in Bryant. Students may live in these communities if they are part of the respective college.

There are over 13 living-learning communities at the University.

Holland said if students across the University feel that their interests are currently not being met by the existing living-learning communities, they should contact their academic departments or talk directly to the HRC about idea generation.