Community-Centered Environments

What is a community-centered environment?

The norms and expectations established in your classroom enhance or hinder your students’ learning experience. Community-centered learning environments explicitly promote norms and expectations that encourage critical inquiry and collaboration.

For example, in a community-centered class it’s more important to take a risk than to answer every question correctly. On the other hand, in classrooms where it’s not OK to make mistakes and only correct answers are lauded, students are discouraged from asking for clarification, taking risks and exploring new hypotheses. The focus is on the learners, their current understanding and the process of learning, not on the correct answer itself.

How do I create a community-centered environment?

A climate of trust between you and your students and amongst their peers is one of the essential ingredients of a community-centered learning environment. When students know that you are interested in their needs and those of the entire class, they are more likely to participate in the community building process themselves. The absence of fear of failure or ridicule encourages students to challenge themselves and focus on mastery rather than just learning for good grades.

Community-centered trust-building measures

  • Discover something about each of your students’ prior knowledge or interests and, if possible, help them make the connection between these and the course.
  • Make your goals and expectations explicit and then elicit your student’s assumptions and expectations.
  • Make it OK to make mistakes.
  • Design assignments that encourage collaboration over competition.
  • Be explicit that everyone is learning – even the instructor – and that the process is as important as the final product.
  • Use moments when you don’t have the answer to model how you would find the information.
  • Structure your course with activities that encourage a high level of student engagement and questioning.

Other community-centered strategies

  • Encourage academic risk-taking by allowing room for your students to make mistakes, learn from feedback from you and their peers, and give them opportunities to build on their understanding and revise their work.
  • Promote intellectual camaraderie with activities that involve students helping each other solve problems, build on each other’s knowledge, suggest solutions and ask for clarification.
  • Create a community of practice amongst your peers in your department or institution.
  • Set clear expectations regarding participation, classroom norms, group work, etc.
  • Assign small group activities and guide students on the fundamentals of successful groupwork.

Community-centered strategies unique to online environments

All of the above-mentioned strategies can be deployed in any setting, but the following suggestions are specific to the online learning environment.

  • Place course guidelines and expectations in a readily available and logical location.
  • Increase participation of students with different learning styles with additional options for assignments or with different modalities of participation.
  • Encourage small group work and suggest that all or part of the collaboration take place either in person or via video conference.
  • Make a space in the course for students to have non-academic related discussions.