Benefits of a Living Learning Community
What is a living learning community, and is it a good choice?
As if sending a child away to college isn't stressful enough with finances and preparations, the issue of dorm choices and independence can cause a parent to worry a lot. This is especially true if you've been a part of the same environment in your own day and understand how much the right or wrong dorm or roommate can affect your child's year. When we began to investigate the options, I was really intrigued with the concept of living learning communities available at my Alma Mater, and I was thrilled to learn that one of the first residence halls in the country designed specifically for LLCs was opening as my daughter entered her freshman year.
A living learning community is essentially designed to help students in the residence hall environment succeed in their first year of study by living with extra support measures in place. Students have a study focus in the programming and design of their hall and are placed in a living area with other students pursuing similar studies. In some cases, a living learning community may be designed to help students who haven't determined a major. In other cases, a common major is chosen by all students in the community. The facility at UNR promotes a range of majors from nursing to journalism, also providing a community for undeclared majors.
There are many reasons to think about such an option for a student:There are academic tutors and advisers involved in helping llc students to succeedThe living environment is regulated so that it is conducive to study and success, especially with regard to noise levels and behaviorA student interacts with others in his or her area of interest, having the chance to be encouraged in studies, friendships and goal setting, among other factorsEvery community is going to be somewhat unique because of the courses taken, but the goal of such a facility or program is to encourage success in the early years of study. A student in a learning community won't escape all of the challenges of dorm life. However, there is a more structured support system than in general dorm settings.
What do you know about living learning communities so far?
Where are you in your experience with an LLC?
Common challenges for freshmen in dorms... - Some of the reasons a living learning community may be a great starting point...
Involvement: As a freshman in my own residential life experience, I lived in a suite setting. Eight students occupied each suite, and it was necessary to interact with people from diverse places with very different interests. Some were from my own high school, making it easy to adapt. Others were from other states. Some interacted easily while others were shy. As a shy student, I was relieved to have friends close at hand. Our floor didn't have a lot of planned interaction, and I appreciated having some immediate connections.
Observing the LLC as my daughter moved in, there was an energetic atmosphere with a lot of emphasis on success. The first night was a little tough for mom and dad because our student was eager to head out for a movie night instead of relishing those last family moments until Thanksgiving. Independence. Hmmmph. It was good to see the outreach at the first! All parents have a little trouble with this step, but knowing that there's involvement at the first is helpful.
Roommate Challenges: Getting along with a total stranger can be frustrating. I didn't have tremendous problems in this respect in my own college days, but my brother sure did. My own child has observed this as well, and has seen good resolution efforts. Additional staff in an LLC can help.
Focus on Studies: On our own, my suitemates and I in my first year ran the gamut in study habits. The suite could be loud because of punk music, television or other activities. Self-discipline could easily be overridden by wild roomies. The LLC is structured with lots of study areas outside of the students' rooms. White boards abound. Classrooms in the structure provide additional study areas. The environment lends itself to a focus on study and learning.
The LLC won't force your student to get help from a tutor, but a live-in tutor is awfully helpful. A living learning community won't ensure that you get to class, but a caring resident assistant will make observations and check in to see how things are going. Access to advisors can be helpful in keeping a student on track as well.
Classrooms in the Dorm...
There is something nice about being able to get up and go to your first class on the first floor of your residence hall. Of course, I don't advise going to class in jammies. Still, it's nice for the freshman not to have to rush out of the hall to make it to class. While not all classes are in the dorm, there are some available. My daughter's English classes during both semesters of the freshman year have been on the first floor, providing her with great convenience. After hours, these are great study rooms as well.
Party atmosphere in a college dorm... - Management makes a difference!
There's a definite realization that a party atmosphere can exist in a dorm. However, more oversight allows for better observation by staff and less presence of the party lifestyle that can derail a successful university experience.
As a parent with experience as a student at this school, I attended parent orientation with an understanding of some of these pitfalls. I think it's good for parents to make sure that they are involved in this activity if it is available. Whether your student lives in a learning community or not, this is the chance to ask direct questions about your concerns. I was so pleased to hear about some of the progress my Alma Mater had made on security and safety issues, noting how some of the pilot programs from my years there had really developed and impacted the campus.
How the LLC has affected my child?
I think the living learning community has provided a safe and comfortable environment for my daughter to exercise her independence. She has access to others in her major who are just a year or two ahead in their work toward their degrees. She has people to study with who are on a similar path. She is learning about different ways of dealing with her interests: online studies to get through core classes quickly; the best upperclassmen dorm choices; involvement in student organizations and activities.
Having been a resident assistant, I realize that most residential life departments desire that all facilities be safe and conducive to study, but this environment is just a bit more structured and monitored, helpful for keeping kids focused without micromanaging.
A student is responsible for his or her own activities at the university level, but a structured and supportive environment can provide a good start through access to extra advisement and involvement on the part of upperclassmen. The leaders aren't there to run a student's life, but they are available to help navigate issues in the major and in the environment.
Parents may think about selecting an LLC out of concern for a student's safety and success. Students should think about this option because of the access to helpful information, personnel and other resources provided.
Will your student think about an LLC?
There aren't many dorms to date that have been designed specifically as LLCs, but the concept is becoming a popular interest for promoting success of university students. It's a lot like teaming at the middle school level, from my perspective. I was involved in the teaming concept for a couple of years, and the main focus was to make a big setting more personal through developing a community. At the college level, the teaming approach is called a living learning community, at least as I see it.