6. Students’ Experiences in Learning Communities within Teacher Education (4/6) – Best Practices for Education Professionals

82 Best Practices for Education Professionals
Tests of between-subjects effects for undergraduate student cumulative GPA scores
for item eight are reported in summary (see Table 6.5). Tests were computed using α = .05.
The mean difference in GPA scores for undergraduate students on item eight was not
statistically signicant, F (6, 22) = 1.153, p = .366.
Table 6.5. Tests of Between-Subjects Effects for Undergraduate Students Cumulative GPA for
Question 8.
Source df SS MS F p
Question 8 6 .543 .091 1.153 .366
Error 22 1.728 .079
Total 29 343.165
GPA Scores Survey Question 9
Question 9 asks: In what ways do you consider the members of your learning com-
munities a social/emotional support system? Cumulative graduate student GPA means
and standard deviations for the responses to item nine are shown in Table 6.6. Par-
ticipants who responded that learning communities helped individuals become friends
had the highest mean GPA at 3.9233, closely followed by participants who gave no
response to this item, with a mean GPA of 3.9105. Participants who said that the learn-
ing communities were an overall support had the lowest mean GPA of 3.7900.
Table 6.6. Mean Overall Cumulative Graduate GPA Scores by Response Category for Survey
Question 9.
Response Category Cum GPA Standard Deviation N
No Response 3.9105 .10067 4
Know others/Guidance 3.8477 .11453 3
Becoming Friends 3.9233 .08021 3
Overall Support 3.7900 .21161 10
Total 3.8428 .16831 20
Tests of between-subjects effects for graduate student cumulative GPA scores for
item nine are reported in summary (see Table 6.7). Tests were computed using α = .05.
The mean difference in GPA scores for graduate students on question nine was not
statistically signicant, F (3, 16) = .742, p = .542.
Table 6.7. Tests of Between-Subjects Effects for Graduate Students Cumulative GPA for Question 9
Source df SS MS F p
Question 9 3 .066 .022 .742 .542
Error 16 .472 .030
Total 20 295.873
Students’ Experiences in Learning Communities within Teacher Education 83
Cumulative undergraduate student GPA means and standard deviations for the re-
sponses to question nine are shown in Table 6.8. Undergraduate participants who re-
sponded that learning communities helped individuals become friends had the highest
mean GPA at 3.5440. Participants who said that learning communities were a social/
emotional support by allowing individuals to know each other and provide guidance
had the lowest mean GPA of 3.2510.
Table 6.8. Mean Overall Cumulative Undergraduate GPA Scores by Response Category for Survey
Question 9.
Response Category Cum GPA Standard Deviation N
No Response 3.4040 .21311 9
Know others/Guidance 3.2510 .14060 6
Becoming Friends 3.5440 .29053 5
Overall Support 3.4990 .34574 7
Neutral/Negative Response 3.5365 .11243 2
Total 3.4286 .28479 29
Tests of between-subjects effects for undergraduate student cumulative GPA scores
for item nine are reported in summary (see Table 6.9). Tests were computed using α = .05.
The mean difference in GPA scores for undergraduate students on item nine was not
statistically signicant, F (4, 24) = .982, p = .436.
Table 6.9. Tests of Between-Subjects Effects for Undergraduate Students Cumulative GPA for
Question 9.
Source df SS MS F p
Question 9 4 .319 .080 .982 .436
Error 24 1.952 .081
Total 29 343.165
DISCUSSION
One of the main purposes of research, quantitative and qualitative alike is to shed light
on various aspects of the human condition and human behaviors. When thoughtfully
designed and prudently conducted, research can and does add to our collective knowl-
edge about human nature, behavior, and interactions. This research was conducted
to contribute to the portrait of and add to the collective knowledge about pre-service
teachers’ understanding about learning communities, participation in learning com-
munities, and possible relationship between this participation and the student’s per-
formance, as reflected in GPA. The researchers took a combination approach to the
research study; that is, both quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches
were selected in order to provide a balanced perspective. The descriptive aspects of
the survey (quantitative), combined with the in-depth information derived from the fo-
cus group and interviews (qualitative) provide a depth of consistency, truth value,
84 Best Practices for Education Professionals
applicability, and neutrality to the analysis and results of the data. The implications
of these methods and the resulting data from the primary investigation are discussed
below.
Implications of the Primary Investigation
When given the definitions of learning communities, participants were better able to
respond to survey items in an informed manner. One implication for teacher educators
is that, when using learning communities in a university classroom, identify them as
such, rather than using terms such as “cooperative group,” “work group,” or “project
group.” Students can then attribute social and academic supports accurately to the
learning community or to some other factor present in the course content or instruc-
tional approach. This result seems to imply that student success in teacher preparation
programs is enhanced by teacher educators more intentionally creating and identifying
structures, such as learning communities, that support students’ professional growth.
Learning communities are created using formal structures such as classes linked
thematically or by content, integrative seminars, and informal group projects. In the
present study, survey, and focus group/interview data indicated that virtually all par-
ticipants considered themselves to have been in or currently in a learning community.
Interestingly, participants considered collections of common classes, or academic core
courses that are not necessarily thematically linked, to frame or structure their learning
communities. It is intriguing that participants felt that they were in learning communi-
ties when they were simply taking the same classes together.
Thirty-two respondents said that education faculty “are members” of the learn-
ing community and 33 would “like to have” education faculty as members of their
learning communities. Thus, by their inclusion in students’ learning communities, it
appears that education faculty may be attending to students’ desired construction of
these communities. The participants reported that education degree program course-
work provided a framework in which they could gather to form a learning community.
Participants reported that learning communities could meet in a variety of places,
however, it appeared that the groups in this study met mostly in academic settings.
Socialization as an inextricable part of effective learning communities is a concept
supported by the literature and conrmed by analysis of participants’ responses. In ad-
dition, the participants felt that learning communities that were “all business” would
not enhance the educational experience as much as communities that function both as
a social and academic support. Of particular note is that there was a general acceptance
of the different levels of the quality of work accomplished by group members and
evaluated by faculty.
Participants felt they learned about academics (theory and content), their peers,
and themselves by engaging in learning communities. It is, therefore, surprising that
participants felt that online classes do not foster learning communities. Individuals
who often function online engage in sites such as FaceBook™, MySpace™, Twitter™,
and Second Life™ for virtual social experiences. Online courses for these same people
are electronic spaces solely reserved for academic activity. This nding does not ne-
gate the many positive aspects of online courses; it does support the perception that
Students’ Experiences in Learning Communities within Teacher Education 85
face-to-face coursework lends itself better to implementation of learning community
structures.
Finally, there was no evidence that student knowledge of or participation in ei-
ther formal or informal learning communities enhanced their academic performance
or success in college. The analysis of GPA data in relation to targeted survey ques-
tions about learning communities and academics revealed no signicant results. This
nding could have occurred because, although most students in the study considered
themselves to be in a learning community, they actually were not. The students simply
interacted and studied together frequently because they were all taking the same se-
quence of courses together. They were not a purposely structured collective supported
by strategies used to create learning communities. If the students had been in formally
constructed learning communities, their academic achievement may well have been
enhanced and learning gains may have existed. More research to study this possibility
is warranted.
FUTURE RESEARCH
Primarily the participants in this study perceived their learning communities as being
formally constructed. However, this was generally not the case. The next step in this
line of research is to investigate college students’ perceptions of and participation in
formally, purposefully constructed learning communities within teacher education. In
addition to investigating their perceptions of the definition(s) and types of communi-
ties and community experiences, performance with respect to GPA will again be inves-
tigated. This data will then be compared to the performance scores of participants in
the current study. It will be interesting to discover if there are any differences between
groups mostly in the informal learning communities (as in the current study) and those
in formally constructed situations within the classroom setting.
Another continuation of this research would be to investigate faculty perceptions
of participation in learning communities. For example, to what extent might faculty
members perceive committee work and academic departments as learning communi-
ties? Finally, an investigation of the effectiveness of faculty “cohorts” used in teaching
student cohorts or learning communities would be intriguing and groundbreaking.
KEYWORDS
Community of learners
Course clusters
Integrative seminar
Learning communities
Pilot study
Primary investigation
86 Best Practices for Education Professionals
APPENDIX A
Teacher Education Learning Communities Survey
A. Please complete the demographic information below. PLEASE PRINT
CLEARLY.
Gender: Age:
Ethnicities:
First Generation College Student:
Yes No
Live off campus:
Yes No
If yes, what town/city:
Academic Content Area/Concentration (math, Spanish,
earth science, etc.):
Education Program (childhood, adolescence,
special education):
What level education program are you in?
Undergraduate_____
Graduate_____
The following are descriptions of some of the more formal varieties of learning
communities (www.evergreeen.edu/washcenter/lcfaq.htm):
Student cohorts/integrative seminar: a program in which a small cohort of students
enrolls in larger classes that faculty do not coordinate; intellectual connections and
community-building often take place in an additional integrative seminar;
Linked courses/course clusters: involves two or more classes linked thematically
or by content which a cohort of students takes together; the faculty do not plan the
program collaboratively;
Coordinated study: involves coursework that faculty members team teach; course
work is embedded in an integrated program of study;
More informally, a learning community can be:
An informal group of individuals, who learn, grow, share together in a less struc-
tured format and settings.
B. Please respond to the following questions about your experiences within learn-
ing communities to the best of your ability. PLEASE PRINT CLEARLY.
1. Based on your understanding of learning communities, do you feel you are or
have been part of one or more learning communities? Why or why not?
If you have never participated in a learning community, please stop here and go
to part C and continue.
2.
How were your learning communities formed? Constructed by an instructor,
administrator etc. or constructed by a peer, or both?
3.
Are your learning communities formal or informal? Please describe.
4.
Who are members of your learning communities?
5.
Do you consider any of the following to be members of your learning com-
munities (please check all that apply):
___other students
___ education faculty
___ content/concentration area faculty