Student ‘communities’ progress together at TNCC


Published: October 9, 2009

The Daily Press

Tabatha Hankerson isn’t sure she would have stayed at Thomas Nelson Community College if its Communities of Learning program wasn’t recommended.

Hankerson spent last spring as part of one of the communities, which are groups of students who attend classes together. Students are also set up with faculty and staff in common for support and extra help staying in school.

“When I started here before, I didn’t know anybody; we weren’t taught to exchange phone numbers and get to know one another,” Hankerson said.

“I felt like getting into groups helped a lot, helped us stay on top of each other and make sure we’re doing our work. We’d have group discussions in the classroom, talk about different things and then do group work.

“It worked for me because there was a point in time when I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”

TNCC started Communities of Learning in the spring of 2006, to keep new students in school and help those in developmental classes to pass them.

Developmental courses are non-credit classes for those who don’t test into entry-level college courses, and they must be passed before students can take courses for credit. A stumbling block for many coming out of high school, developmental classes are sometimes taken over and over again or students simply stop trying and drop out.

“These students are transitioning into college,” said Mary Dubbe, a TNCC assistant professor of reading and co-director of Communities of Learning. “Instead of being isolated, we’re trying to make sure they make connections with each other and us to get the support they need.”

The program is one semester long and has been expanded from developmental classes to credit ones as well. Many more groups and classes are involved now, Dubbe said.

Getting to know instructors, and having support staff from all over the college come into the classroom and be introduced, is all part of it. Students have the same instructor for multiple classes and are encouraged to ask for extra help.

Dawn Hayden, TNCC assistant professor for communications and humanities and COL co-director, said instilling confidence is the goal. Many students graduate high school thinking they’re ready for college-level work, and when they end up in developmental classes, they are disappointed and their self-esteem takes a hit.

“They come with the attitude of they can’t, and when they figure out they can, it’s a complete change,” she said. “It’s like the light bulb goes on.”

Hankerson is one example. After recently changing her major to business marketing, she needs one more year of classes to earn her associate degree. Though formally grouped for only one semester, students from the communities tend to form little study groups and continue to take classes together, which is what faculty hope they will do, Dubbe said.

“We hope they persist and we’re finding out that they do,” Dubbe said. “A study last year showed that our students are persisting at a higher rate than normal students. Those are ones in developmental courses and we compared them to all the students in the college. So it’s working.”

What is communities of learning?

Communities of Learning consist of “two or more classes linked together that create a common cohort or ‘community’ of students, instructors, counselors and support staff. This experienced team works together overlapping assignments or themes to create an active, engaging and enjoyable learning environment for everyone.”



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