How can faculty present important content to be learned in ways that improve student learning?

Page 5: Community-Centered Learning Environments

Community: Involves fostering norms where learning of the highest order is encouraged. people are respected and connected to a variety of resources.The foundation of a community-centered learning environment is the fostering of explicit values or norms that promote lifelong learning. An example would be students feeling confident to ask questions and not being afraid to say, “I don’t know.” This is in contrast to a course in which the norm is “Don’t get caught not knowing something” (National Research Council, 2000, p. 25).

Community-centered learning environments also contribute to the aligning of students’ and instructors’ course expectations. On the first day of a course, it is likely that there are as many sets of expectations and assumptions about the course as there are people in the classroom. When instructors take the time to make course goals and expectations explicit, they are taking the first step in gaining their students’ cooperation. When instructors also take the time to elicit their students’ expectations and assumptions, they are starting down the road to a truly collaborative learning environment.

When students understand that their instructor is paying attention to their needs, both individual and collective, they are much more likely to become active participants in the construction of a classroom community that helps all of its members to achieve their learning goals. 


Listen to the audio clip below to further your understanding of community-centered learning environments (time: 1:14).

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It is important to understand that this audio clip does not argue against high standards as defined in the assessment-centered section. On the contrary, a classroom community in which students and their instructor support all class members’ learning highlights a major goal of community-centered learning environments: to help every student to “develop competence and confidence” (Bransford, Bropy, & Williams, 2000).

Bransford, Vye, and Bateman (2002) note several likely positive outcomes for students in classrooms with strong communities. These students:

  • Are willing to allow theirs peers to see that they do not know everything
  • Improve their abilities to solve complex problems
  • Focus their learning goals on mastering the content rather than on learning the material for the sake of a good grade

The authors summarize by stating that, “Classroom communities that provide stimulating, supportive, and safe environments in which students are not dissuaded from challenging themselves due to fear of failure and ridicule are the classrooms in which students become lifelong learners” (Bransford, Vye, & Bateman, 2002).

One way the IRIS Center has attempted to embrace the idea of community-centered learning environments is by creating a community of practice. We have provided our research and implementation sites with conceptual tools, in the form of online Modules and materials, and ongoing support in the hope of facilitating a community of practice among faculty and students. It is our hope that the sharing of experiences about their applications will nurture an ever-expanding community of practice and that it will have a positive effect on student learning outcomes.

Now that you’ve viewed a brief summary of a community-centered learning environment, you might like to take a few minutes to interact with the Challenge scenarios below.

What an Answer

The following movie and audio by John Bransford illustrate how using classroom norms can help to develop problem-solving skills and adaptive expertise.

(time: 0:53)

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John Bransford, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Washington, Seattle

(time: 1:12)

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Peter Vaill, PhD
Antioch University
Professor of Management

Listen to an audio perspective from Peter Vaill about new paradigms for teaching and learning at the college level (time: 0:39).

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Community-Centered Example

Community, Learner Centered, Knowledge Centered, Assessment Centered.View a community-centered activity about individual perceptions and beliefs about mathematics in the IRIS Module High-Quality Mathematics Instruction: What Teachers Should Know. After they’ve learned something about individual perceptions and beliefs about mathematics, this community-centered activity will allow students to share something about their own beliefs and how those might influence their teaching practices. Community-centered activities also help students to identify views of their own that might be different from those of their peers, and to decide whether those differences are acceptable. These types of activities are an occasion for students to begin to understand how ideas and misperceptions are socially constructed. By sharing meaningful interactions with one another, they can practice acceptance, tolerance, collaboration, and a shared respect for others.

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