Malave, C.O., Rinehart, J., Morgan, J.R., Caso, R., Yao, J., 1999, “Inclusive Learning Communities at Texas A&M University-A Unique Model for Engineering,” Proceedings of the First Conference on Creating and Sustaining Learning Communities, Tampa, FL, March 10-13.
Abstract: In Gabelnicks, MacGregors, Matthews and Smiths Learning Communities: Creating Connections Among Students, Faculty and Disciplines (1990) primer on "Learning Communities" it is acknowledged that the term Learning Communities is "a generic term for a variety of curricular interventions." Gabelnick, et al. approach greater specification with their own working definition of Learning Communities as entities which engage in "purposefully restructuring the curriculum to link together courses or course work so that students find greater coherence in what they are learning as well as increased intellectual interaction with faculty and fellow students." Given that neither the nature of the curriculum restructuring, nor the combination and nature of course and coursework links have been unequivocally circumscribed by these authors or by others who have contributed to the literature, it should not surprise us that the configurations and components of Learning Communities should differ across applications, or that similarly conceived, designed and implemented models should be identified by different names (i.e., learning clusters, triads, federated learning communities, coordinated studies, and integrated studies.)
The Texas A&M University (TAMU) Dwight Look College Of Engineering (COE), has contributed to the profusion of Learning Community model variations and appellations by modifying and vastly expanding its well developed and successful National Science Foundation Coalition freshman program, into a fully institutionalized, universally implemented, freshman engineering program involving over 1100 students, and by adding the word Inclusive (e.g., Inclusive Learning Communities, ILC) to emphasize the importance of diversity, access and constituent ownership to the success of TAMU College of Engineering Learning Communities. TAMU has operationalized its working definition of Inclusive Learning Communities as follows: Fully accessible groupings of students, faculty, and employers with common interests who value diversity, and work collaboratively as partners, to improve the engineering education experience.
TAMU operationalizes Inclusiveness by working to find new and more meaningful ways to include and engage all students, faculty, and industry in the educational process at a broad institutional level. One such way has been to more comprehensively involve industrial participation at all levels. Another way has been to focus on faculty rewards and systematic gathering of faculty feedback. To significantly increase the successful involvement of under-represented groups in the educational process, the COE has adopted an institutional policy of universalizing and enhancing access to programs and interventions which might at one time have been targeted to "special" groups. This same institutionalized commitment to Inclusiveness mandates that the TAMU COE guard against the inadvertent generation of small or exclusive academic groupings in which only a select few students can participate.
This paper and presentation are offered as a framework for an evolving body of knowledge and practical experience. At this time, the framework contains information, representing snapshots of a work-in-progress: the current configuration and evolutionary status of the Inclusive Learning Communities implemented at TAMU in the College of Engineering. Mirroring the constant, reflective metamorphosing which characterizes the TAMU ILCs, the contents of this framework are also likely to have expanded and evolved by the time this presentation is delivered.