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The goal of the learning communities project is to improve student learning in the areas of problem solving, critical thinking, and writing through staff and faculty engagement in improvement of their own instruction/work with students in one or more of these areas

Members of learning community groups provide critical feedback to each other around specific issues and problems related to student learning in the areas mentioned above. Individuals identify a problem or an issue in their teaching. They present the problem to the group. Group members discuss the problem and offer ideas, using a discussion protocol.

We set up learning communities at the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. Look for our twice yearly email to the entire campus (August and January) if you’d like to join. The email will either be from Linda Markowitz ( or Laurie Puchner (


  • Groups of 3-5 members.
  • Meetings once a month, for about 1 hour
  • Each meeting focuses on a different group member
  • When it’s your turn, you bring a specific instructional or student interaction problem/question/issue to the group, along with accompanying materials. (See below for sample problems/questions/issues and sample accompanying materials)
  • You will also select a protocol for the group to use in responding to your question.
  • The group leader will facilitate use of the protocol as the group spends about an hour discussing the problem.
  • In one semester, everyone gets a turn presenting a problem or issue. Some individuals might get more than one turn.
  • Group leader organizes scheduling of the meetings, shows others how the group should work, makes sure a protocol is selected and followed each time


  • All group members should attend all meetings without fail. No other meetings take precedent.
  • Trust and confidentiality are really important. Individuals are revealing details of their instruction and instructional decisions, including problems, questions, etc. For the group to work, they must trust that what they say in meetings will not be shared outside of meetings without permission.
  • Individuals bringing problems need to accept and listen to constructive critique. They don’t need to agree with others’ ideas, but they must tolerate them and understand that listening to others’ critiques is how the process works.
  • Group members need to constructively and thoughtfully critique the presenter in a friendly and nonconfrontational manner.
  • Even if you are skeptical about the usefulness of the protocols, give them a try

Sample Learning Community Questions

Example 1:

Question: How can I improve student writing on the two papers I assign in XYZ 408?

Materials: Assignment descriptions, student writing samples

Protocol: Tuning

Example 2:

Question: How can I improve the quality of the feedback that I provide to students on their Final Research Paper in XYZ 350.

Materials: 3 student papers with my feedback on them (student names removed as always)

Protocol: Consultancy

Example 3:

Question: What method would be most effective and feasible for encouraging/facilitating/motivation my XYZ 201 students to carefully do the course reading?

Materials: Syllabus; Proposed ideas for facilitating careful course reading

Protocol: Charrette

Example 4:

Question: How can I overcome teacher fatigue and improve my teaching?

Materials: none

Protocol: Issaquah

Example 5:

Question: In my Journal Article Reflection Assignment, how can I get students to engage in a deep, critical, reflection, of scholarly material? Is the super structured design of the assignment limiting students’ deep reflection because they are too focused on the superficial structure?

Materials:  Assignment description, sample student journal reflections

Protocol: Tuning

NOTE: All of this information is based on the Critical Friends Approach advocated by the National School Reform Faculty. More information on this approach and all of the Protocols can be found at

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