Holyoke Community College: A Leader in Learning Communities

Member Spotlight

Embedded within the mission of community colleges is the commitment to quality teaching in support of true access, equity, and excellence in learning. At Holyoke Community College, learning communities have played a critical role in supporting the college mission along with leading the campus in innovation, collaboration, and inclusion.

There continues to be strong quantitative and qualitative evidence that learning communities (LCs) at Holyoke Community College (HCC) help underprepared students prepare, prepared students to advance, and advanced students to excel, while providing a transformational professional development opportunity for LC faculty. The LC program also functions as a platform for innovation regarding new interdisciplinary curriculum, e.g., Sustainability Studies and Women's Studies Programs, and new pedagogies such as transdisciplinary and documentation practices.

Holyoke Community College Learning Community Student Learning Outcomes

  • LC students will develop academic skills that will enhance core competencies, including critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, effective communication, and knowledge of diversity.
  • LC students will integrate their learning—across courses and disciplines, over time, and/or between the classroom, campus, and community.
  • LC students will construct knowledge using the knowledge, methods, tools, and conventions from two or more disciplines, perspectives, information sources, media, and technologies.
  • LC students will understand and appreciate human diversity, with a focus on the analysis of issues including but not limited to race, gender constructions, ethnicity, sexual orientations, age, social class, disabilities, and religious sectarianism.
  • LC students will learn actively and collaboratively in and out of class.

Learning Community Course Sampler

Cheat, Lie and Steal...Ethical Dilemmas in Business

"Developmental Reading" and "Developmental Writing"
Sometimes "What is right and what is wrong?" does not have simple a answer. Often, we grapple with making an ethical decision. Many times, business professionals are faced with ethical dilemmas. A variety of business ethics topics will be presented to give students the opportunity to discuss the application of ethical theories in business situations. The course will integrate reading comprehension skills and writing strategies; we will research and review ethical case studies.

Counting Crime

"Basic Mathematics" and "Introduction to Criminal Justice"
We will examine the history, current problems, and intersection of race, crime, and justice, as well as focus on understanding and interpreting the numbers behind the research. How do we measure crime? Can we quantify justice? What can we do to bring about a law-abiding and just community, city, nation?

How to Eat Fried Worms

"Language and Literature" and "Introduction to Sociology"
Culture influences everything we do. It dictates what we should eat (fried worms? bacon cheeseburgers? warm camel blood?), how we should love (married at 13? married to a blood relative? married to someone of the same sex?), and how we should look (designer clothes? tattoos? a burqa?). Using expository writing, the research process, and computer skills, you will not only discover the best fried worm recipes, but also how to feel authority over your own work.

Globalization From Below: It's the Public Stupid

"Topics in Philosophy" and "Introductory Topics in Political Science"
Globalization gets mixed reviews. As celebrated by economists, commentators, corporate leaders, and the politicians of the global north, globalization promises a global village in which global cooperation replaces the antagonisms of the past. Criticized by political activists in the global justice movement as well as other social movements, however, the experience of the immense majority of the world's population has not matched the utopian promises of global elites. This LC will explore the dissonance between these views and ask whether people at the global grassroots can connect their struggles and turn the processes of globalization to fulfill their own needs and interests.

The Student Experience

Recently, LC professors Jim Dutcher and Ileana Vasu received an email from Jesse Vengrove, a student who had participated in the spring 2007 LC, The Persistence of Reality. Jesse had this to say:

Your class was really a turning point in my life. I think about the class on a regular basis and still have yet to be so challenged and stimulated, both academically and intellectually, in any classroom setting (or most other places for that matter). I await the day when I have a class that is comparable to yours (although I don't know if that's possible). I hope you are both doing well, and I hope you continue to be extraordinary educators. I really feel that without your class I would not be in the place I am today. Thank you.

Jesse is currently a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

HCC student Christina Cayford participated in several LCs, including School Stories: Telling Tales out of School, From Text to Reality, and Queer in America. Her final project, Swept Away by Inclusion, examined the inclusion of students on the autism spectrum in mainstream classrooms. Cayford, a 2009 class valedictorian, was the Triple Crown winner of the women's transfer sweepstakes, accepted by Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley Colleges. She is currently attending Smith College, where she is majoring in neuroscience.

Faculty Development

Multiplicities is the one word most representative of the totality of learning community faculty development at Holyoke Community College. From the styles, forms, mechanisms, and pathways to the affiliations and even the locations of LC faculty development, there is no prescription or one way to develop LC faculty. The Holyoke Community College LC faculty are currently engaged in a study titled Finding Their Way Together: The Evolution of LC Team-Teaching Styles. The study seeks to document and enhance the growth potential for faculty participating in learning communities.

Although Holyoke Community College has a long history of providing learning community courses, the college continues to expand and experiment with this model of quality teaching and learning.