Mentoring a Learning Community: A Student Research Empowerment Program for Adult Education Graduate Students

By Lin, Xi; Cordie, Leslie et al. | International Forum of Teaching and Studies, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Mentoring a Learning Community: A Student Research Empowerment Program for Adult Education Graduate Students


Lin, Xi, Cordie, Leslie, Witte, Maria, International Forum of Teaching and Studies


Introduction

A learning community is a group of learners who share similar or common academic goals and attitudes, who meet regularly to collaborate on coursework or proj ects. Researchers have noted that a learning community can provide a dynamic, multilayered, and nested learning environment for students, especially doctoral students (McAlpine & Norton, 2006; Pyhältö, Toom, Stubb & Lonka, 2012). Getting doctoral students involved is a key factor for their professional development which could motivate them to develop new ideas and scientific knowledge (Pyhältö & Keskinen, 2012). Their involvement with a scholarly learning community may also contribute to their doctoral experience and educational outcomes, such as degree completion, time-tocandidacy, employment after graduation (Gardner, 2008, 2010; Lovitts, 2005; Pyhältö, Stubb, & Lonka, 2009; Stubb, Pyhältö, & Lonka, 2010; Wulff & Nerad, 2006).

Other outcomes of involvement were divided into three categories: networking, connecting the classroom to the community, and professional development (Gardner & Barners, 2007). Gardner and Barners (2007) noted that the doctoral students involved in the learning community indicated that this involvement had a positive influence on their ability to network and helped them expand their existing networks. These doctoral students saw a clear connection between what they were learning about at their universities and the larger academic community. Finally, these students considered the involvement of the learning community was a direct preparation for their future careers, providing them with skills, connections, and better understandings of the expectations of their future careers.

Mentoring relationships between the students and the faculty is the foundation of establishing a learning community. The experts (i.e., faculty) would help the novices (i.e., students) succeed in competing pressures and expectations (Roberson et al., 1997), they also provide valuable role models for novices and enhance their learning outcomes (Badiali & Titus, 2010; Gillespie & Israetel, 2008). The novices in return would become experts and then provide peer support, guidance, and leadership, while experts revert to novices as they learn innovative skills and gain new experience through this reciprocal relationship (Shapiro & Levine, 1999). It is shown that the mentorship between faculty and graduate students would assist these two groups be successful in the academe (Boyle & Boice, 1998).

With various benefits, this paper introduces a learning community established by graduate students and guided by faculty in an adult education program at a southeastern research institution. Based on a learning community model, this paper addresses the goals, resources, activities, and students' achievements and future development of this learning community. This paper also describes how this learning community assists the professional development of both the graduate students and the faculty mentors. Finally, it is expected that this paper will share ideas with professionals in other adult education programs who desire to help their students prepare for career and professoriate roles.

Learning Community Model

Smith and colleagues (2004) identified a learning community model, which consisted of five core practices: community, diversity, integration, active learning, and reflective assessment.

Community

"Community is developed through a sense of inclusion" (Romsdahl & Hill, 2012, p. 724), and graduate students often consider the learning community as an acculturation process of adjusting to the requirements of graduate school (Romsdahl & Hill, 2012).

Diversity

Diversity refers but is not limited to the different teaching and learning styles, a supportive environment, university-wide consideration and commitments to equity, opportunities, and evaluation of success for traditionally underrepresented groups (Smith et al. …

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