When Matt Stilwell was fresh out of graduate school, full of current topics and current teaching methods, ready to greet the students of the 21st century, he turned the clock back to 1905.
He got a job over the summer teaching in the 1905 Boxelder School, a living history project on the grounds of the Fort Collins (Colo.) Museum. Matt taught penmanship, among other subjects. You remember pens, don’t you? They’re those things that were used to write messages to your friends before there was texting.
One-Room Schoolhouse=Learning Community of 19th Century
Boxelder School was a one-room schoolhouse, with all the students engaged in the same room throughout the school day. You could call a one-room schoolhouse the learning community of the 19th and 20th centuries.
21st Century Learning Community is Much Different
Two classes. Two teachers. Same students. At FRCC, this combination of classes is called a learning community. You can find learning communities at every campus and online.
Matt teaches Basic Composition, a developmental class, to students who also enroll in General Psychology I, a college-level, guaranteed-transfer class taught by another professor. And he teaches Introduction to Literature, a college-level, guaranteed-transfer class, to students who also enroll in Basic Composition, which is taught by another professor.
Two Classes are Better than One
Matt, fellow English professor Shawna Van, and others surveyed the research about success among students in developmental classes. They found that the research showed that two classes are better than one, when it comes to success for students. Their work, which started with a grant from the Lumina Foundation, has become a group of thriving and successful learning communities.
Originally, the learning communities paired Basic Composition, a developmental class, with a guaranteed-transfer class such as General Psychology I. The writing skills learned in the one class keep up with the skills required in the other class. Today, the concept has expanded. Students can enroll in two college-level classes paired as a learning community.
Finding Success in Teaching in a Learning Community
“Teaching with another instructor has totally rejuvenated my approach,” Matt says. “I have never learned so much about a subject as when I teach it with another instructor.”
Matt and colleagues at the Larimer and Westminster campuses shared the story of the success of FRCC learning communities at the 2009 Conference on College Composition and Communication in San Francisco. “That was huge recognition,” Matt says. “We were one of the few community colleges to have a proposal accepted.”
Matt Always Wanted to be a Teacher
“There’s something about being in a classroom,” he says. “I have the opportunity to see students grow. You see such dramatic changes, from some students not being able to log on to a computer to being able to write a term paper in Psychology. It’s fun to be in front of people, listening to the discussions and the tangents we go off on.”
“The community college experience is much different from a university environment,” he says. “I like the student body, the diversity, all of that.”