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The learning communities program at Iowa State University began in the early 1990s as a localized effort of some faculty and staff and has grown into a thriving multiple-model program that enrolls approximately half of the first-year class. Currently, students are enrolled in a wide variety of learning communities, from those designed for specific academic majors to general residential programs. In the 2002-2003 academic year, 2,139 students participated in 46 communities organized into 119 teams. Assessments indicate that learning communities at Iowa State provide students with myriad academic and social benefits. All these communities hold in common an interest in offering students an experience that integrates their academic and social lives. Many of these communities offer this integration through a variety of first-year seminars, while others embed this integration directly into pre-existing courses linked in the learning communities. How this integration occurs, either as part of a separate seminar or in other courses, is central to the discussion in this chapter. Throughout the life of its learning communities, Iowa State has worked to institutionalize the grassroots effort without squelching the enthusiasm among early innovators. Innovations often begin with individuals and groups who invariably first work outside the existing structure of the institution. If the innovation begins to take hold, it quickly can create conflict with existing structures, and its further growth requires institutional change. How the institution responds to such change has a significant impact on the success of the innovation. Indeed, the University enhances innovation and improvement whenever it fosters such change by coordinating the formal parts of the institution with the informal networks and venues for accomplishing tasks.


Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Higher Education Administration


Copyright 2004 Howard N. Shapiro. This article previously appeared as a chapter in Integrating the First-Year Experience: The Role of First-Year Seminars in Learning Communities, published by the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience, Students in Transition, and the University of South Carolina, 2004. Please see for more info.