Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching: 4. Developing community and active citizenship

Ros O’Leary & David Webster

The implication for thinking about learning as reconstitution of self (or transformation), puts emphasis on developing cooperative learning and learning communities. Drawing on Vygotsky , action theory (Bredo, 1997; Lave, 1996) and the idea of ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991) becomes important. Here a novice, or our student, starts on the outside of a community (the learning community of their course), and as their knowledge and understanding increases, they move to participating in the centre of the community – or community of practice (Wenger, 1998). So participation in learning communities and learning in groups, supports students in making meaning, how they apply that meaning and who they are. Furthermore, cooperative learning and challenge are arguably highly correlated (Ahlfeldt et al, 2005).

So how to nurture a learning community and facilitate cooperative learning that stretches students? Wenger (1998) describes a successful Community of Practice as one where its members are committed and value each other, and participate in joint activity and discussion. The implications here are that students: need to discuss and explore the learning community concept early on; are given the opportunity to build relationships (inside and outside the classroom); and participate in a range of joint activity and discussion – for example, solving problems, or addressing ‘big questions’ that matter beyond the classroom (Ahlfeldt et al, 2005).

The Wabash study (2013) also identifies active citizenship or community projects, where students work alongside a community in a shared endeavour, as highly effective and challenging. Such projects or field-based ‘experiential learning’ with community partners (which may also involve multi-disciplinary teams) provides students not only the opportunity to apply their learning in an embedded setting (not the ‘real world’, though, as such as term is intrinsically problematic), but challenges students to hone both their team-working skills and their citizenship skills and qualities – or graduate attributes such as the University of Gloucestershire’s 5 E’s (Engaged, Enquiring, Empowered, Empathetic, Ethical). Again reflection, on such projects, can make space for uncertainty and support developing the students further.

2 thoughts on “Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching: 4. Developing community and active citizenship

  1. Just came across your Blog and would love for you to take a look at what we’re doing at The Adjunct Connection ( If you’re interested, we could link to each other’s sites – I have a place (in the Main Menu) Free & Recommended Resources where I could place a link to you.


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