Friday, May 13, 2016

The Lifelong Learning Community

Back when I started this blog in 2007, one of my earliest post was entitled The Fragile Community, which was about a book co-authored by my friend, the distinguished communication scholar, Larry Frey. Subtitled, Living Together with AIDS, the book is based on ethnographic research Larry and co-author Mara Adelman conducted on a residential community for people with AIDS.


The reason this came to mind is that one of my former MA students from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Margaret Roidi, recently published an article in Synergy: The Online Journal for the Association for the Tutoring Profession. According to the website, Synergy "is the national peer-reviewed online journal for ATP; the mission is to provide an avenue for scholarship and discussion to further the knowledge of learning processes, tutoring practice and the administration of tutoring services." As for the article she published, its title is: "Tutor Training Procedures in Higher Education: Creating a Community of Lifelong Learners" (and yes, it's available online, I've conveniently linked the title to it, so just feel free to click away).

Now, aside from congratulating a former student on a significant achievement, I do want to acknowledge the important role that tutors play in the university setting, a role that often goes unremarked. Sometimes students need something more than class sessions can offer, some degree of individualized help, and this is where tutoring comes in. It can make the difference between student success and failure. As a faculty member, I do want to note that we try to give personal attention to students who need it. But much depends on class size, and even at an institution like Fordham University, where there are almost no large lecture classes and a tradition of cura personalis, there is only so much that a faculty member can do.

So, tutors are an essential component of any institution of higher education. That much is clear. But when you think about what tutoring entails, generally working with students on a one-on-one basis, it seems almost the antithesis of community. And yet, more and more, there is an emphasis in higher education on building communities of learning. As Roidi discusses, tutors are, or ought to be, an important part of these learning communities, to improve their teaching skills, and outcomes with students, and the university as a whole. As she puts it in her conclusion, "a community of tutors can benefit tutees, institution of higher learning, academic support programs, and the community at large" (p. 12)

Educational technology is an important component of this kind of initiative, as she also notes: "Tutors as well as instructional designers must possess a highly adaptive leadership mindset that can be influenced heavily by the rapidly evolving technological environment (McLuhan & Gordon, 2003)" (p. 3). Certainly, a media ecological observation!

And I think that the basic statement that Adelman and Frey make in The Fragile Community is worth repeating here: "Communication is... the essential, defining feature⎯the medium⎯of community" (p. 5). This is as true for learning communities as it is for residential communities, if not more so.

Building community⎯there once was a time when we could take it for granted as a basic function of communication, and the basis of all human life. Here and now, we find it more challenging than ever before, and therefore more essential.

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