Learning communities work for faculty, too

The first faculty learning communities

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It was a chance conversation at a conference.

"A couple of years ago, I was at a conference sitting next to someone from the University of Georgia who was a landscape architect, and he mentioned he was part of a faculty learning community," said Carlton Basmajian, associate professor of community and regional planning and director of the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (CEAH). "He said, 'Faculty from a lot of different departments get together around a common idea and meet and chat.'"

Basmajian used that talk to help create faculty learning communities at Iowa State when he brought the idea to vice president for research Sarah Nusser. The first five communities have been formed and will work throughout the academic year to address the issues they are researching.

Not your typical research

Although CEAH directs the communities, they are open to faculty across campus. One of the key ideas is bringing together faculty from several colleges and departments with different backgrounds and expertise.

The topic proposals submitted to Basmajian for consideration are broad by design with the hope work will continue even after the community's time concludes. Having faculty collaborate is key.

"There is no expectation of any output. You don't have to write a grant, you just have to get together and talk," Basmajian said. "The key, for me, was no expectations. We wanted to get a group of people together, become friends, learn, talk and maybe you will do something down the line."

Basmajian said the connections could help research in another area as faculty learn what other disciplines can offer. He believes the communities could help new faculty connect on a campus with about 1,900 faculty members.

The accepted proposals received $1,000, including $500 in professional development funds for the organizer.

The first five groups are listed on the CEAH website and are open to anyone who is interested in the topic, Basmajian said.

At the end of spring semester, each group will submit a short report about what it accomplished.

Expanded view

Most big research questions don't adhere to disciplinary boundaries, and the goal is that faculty learning communities lead to looking at issues in new ways.

"I think that benefits the research culture here and people's feeling of connection to the place and each other," Basmajian said. "It can be easy to find yourself siloed because of department responsibilities or committees, and this can help with that."

The learning communities are the latest CEAH effort to enhance its reach. It offers research and symposium grants, and soon will begin hosting monthly "brown bag" events for arts and humanities faculty to gather and present their research and progress.


The next call for proposals will likely come in January or early February with an application deadline of April 20, 2020. Those selected will be notified before the end of spring semester.