Learning Communities

Learning Communities (LCs) are team-taught, interdisciplinary courses that take a common theme and view it through the lens of multiple disciplines. For example, the LC, "Exploring Inequality: The Causes and Consequences of Hunger and Homelessness," was co-taught by instructors from the English and economics departments, providing students with the opportunity to consider the problem through at least two different perspectives. Students collaborate on research and group projects, developing peer support networks that foster teamwork and encourage friendships through the exploration of shared interests.

There is strong quantitative and qualitative evidence that LCs help underprepared students to 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. At HCC, learning communities have played a critical role in supporting the college mission along with leading the campus in innovation, collaboration, and inclusion.

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, professors Jim Dutcher and Ileana Vasu received an email from Jesse Vengrove, a student who participated in The Persistence of Reality, a LC held back in spring 2007.  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.


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040