Social Pedagogy Practice for Learning Communities: Developmental English-FYE & Introduction to Business-FYE

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GalleryThe use of Social Pedagogy to foster learning on learning communities has been proven a successful in several high-impact practices, including First Year Experience being linked to several learning communities.

Authors: Jen Wittke, Marguerite Yawin, and Amy Feest


Marguerite Yawin and Jen Wittke have completed many semesters of a learning community, linking First Year Experience with an upper level developmental reading and writing course.   The essence of the learning community has been simple: the same group of students goes to each course and the instructors make connections between the courses during class.  Students learn non-cognitive skills in FYE to apply to their English work directly, and other coursework of course.  In English, they learn how to be stronger readers and writers in order to strengthen their FYE work and revisions.   The instructors communicate regularly about student attendance and progress, and meet with students together as needed.  Both use ePortfolio in the course throughout the semester, building to submission of final portfolio assignments at the end of the semester.text 1

After establishing the learning community as a successful practice with improved retention and success rates, Jen and Marguerite began to leverage the ePortfolio for its social pedagogy abilities.  ePortfolio gives students the opportunity for an authentic audience for their work, allows them to make connections between the courses, improves understanding about learning through reflective activities, and makes connections to the community.  Students are not only sharing peers to connect the courses, they now have a bridge between them through ePortfolio.

Basing on this successful model, Amy Feest linked an Introduction to Business course with Marguerite’s First Year Experience in Fall 2013.  In their planning stages, they included the same structure as the above learning community but have also incorporated stronger connections between the courses and activities to help improve students understanding about learning and making connections to their community.  This experience will be an important introduction to the Business Administration program, and students’’ future work in capstone.

Practice Step-by-Step and Role of Social Pedagogy

How to build social pedagogy into a learning community through ePortfolio.  Below are descriptions of various activities completed throughout the semester.

Non-Cognitive Skills: Using the Academic Skills Plans Effectively

In FYE, students complete Academic Skills Plans (ASP) throughout the course.  These assignments have students read about and choose strategies for: reading, note taking, organizing study materials, rehearsing and memorizing, and taking tests.  Each assignment has students choose strategies they want to use, explain how they will practice the strategies, and has them create an evaluation plan with benchmarks throughout the semester.  For standalone FYE sections, the students use their FYE textbook or sample textbook chapters from other courses to practice the skills plans.  Often these activities do not have context for the students, unless they are taking a course in which they can practice their ASPs.

Learning Community: FYE and Developmental English  

In past semesters, students missed the opportunity to practice their ASPs in their English course.  Though they may review the same reading in both classes, they did not directly connect with the plans.  Now, students use their ePortfolios as the place to join the two courses through these ASPs.  In developmental English, students go through a reading process that involves annotation.  They learn how to mark a text for structure, how to summarize passages, and how to respond to ideas.  The ASP offers suggestions on study environment and structure for notes, for example.  Using the comment section on their ePortfolios, students are able to review their ASP and choose additional strategies to add to their reading process for English.

When they begin working on note taking, students take notes on a video lecture in their English class.  They choose strategies to practice from their ASP, take notes, and then compare notes with a classmate.  Finally, on their ePortfolio, they reflect on their experience and review their evaluation plan based on their experience in English.  The ePortfolio helps them keep a record of their experiences with these assignments so that they may effectively use them in other courses and future semesters.

Learning Community: FYE and Introduction to Business

Graduating Business Administration students complete a capstone experience and use ePortfolio to present their work.  One of the most difficult tasks for students is to reflect on their overall experience because they do not always keep good records of their past courses.  Keeping a record of their ASPs and subsequent evaluation of study strategies will be invaluable for their future work.  These activities will help students show and explain their growth throughout their time at Tunxis.

In FYE, the textbook has a chapter on how to value and incorporate interdependence into a college success plan.  By creating and using the teams in Introduction to Business, group members can offer feedback on ASPs and how students can improve in class.  This can be done through the commenting feature with simple questions (as described below for other activities).  This will help students build community and encourage them to work with study teams when they see similar goals and approaches in other students’ work.

Authentic Audiences for ePortfolio Work

Part of the ePortfolio requirement in FYE is to write a biography for the home page and complete their academic goals section.  In order to help students learn how to develop their academic persona via ePortfolio, they can comment on each other’s ePortfolio in the writing or business classes, using the knowledge they have from the other course.  The types of questions to answer:

  • Has the writer used enough details?
  • Is the tone appropriate for an academic setting?
  • How reasonable are the goals?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve goals and the plan to achieve them?

Learning Community: FYE and Introduction to Business

Another way to work on integration is to have students compare the biography they write for their ePortfolio with a business resume.  Both convey a person’s history and goals, and students can reflect on the strengths of each.

FYE also works on goal-setting.  Students will see the importance of setting goals early, especially in the business program, and creating a plan to follow.  As a business activity, they could comment on each other’s goals, using what they are learning in the course to support their evaluation.  Questions to answer:

  • Are these goals realistic?
  • What else do they need to consider?
  • Or, another approach could be to ask questions of each other, such as “If you are going to do this by May 2014, one question I would have is, what kind of support at home do you have or need in order to accomplish 5 courses per semester?”

If possible, having the business advisory board comment on the students’ ePortfolio, specifically the goal section, will create an authentic audience.  They could then revise based on the feedback from the advisory board.  Then, the students could write a formal thank you letter to the external reviewer.  If the advisory board is unable to do this, the current capstone students could review and comment on the ePortfolios of the first-semester students.

All of these examples encourage students to understand the relevancy of their current coursework to their future.  ePortfolio becomes a convenient tool to share content with other students and outside stakeholders.

Reflection Between Courses

Learning Community: FYE and Developmental English  

In the reading and writing course, the students complete a variety of reflection assignments throughout the semester.  (See our polished practice for developmental English for details.)  A few times a semester, students post reflection work on their ePortfolio and comment on each other’s reflections.  They answer the following questions (adapted from Laura Gambino):

  • What can you relate to in their reflection?
  • What suggestions do you have based on their struggles with their work?
  • How does their reflection make you think about your reflection, and what would you change about your reflection?

This type of work can be applied to create a wider opportunity for social interaction between the courses.  Students can complete the same types of questions on their work for the linked course.  Students will begin to see themselves as learners within the college environment, which involves understanding how courses connect and knowledge builds.

Becoming Part of a Community

In FYE, students are required to attend and reflect on experience at a co-curricular event.  They can post this assignment on their ePortfolios, and then work with the knowledge gained from that experience in their English class.  Ideally, it would be useful if students were able to attend an event on campus related to an essay assignment in class so that they can understand why events on campus can improve their overall knowledge.  There are business-related activities on campus during the semester, so the students would be able to experience something related to their interest and complete an assignment for both courses.


We have gathered evidence of the FYE-Developmental English Learning Community since 2009.  (Fall 2013 is the first semester for FYE-Introduction to Business.)  The following chart compares retention rates from fall to fall for the learning community group compared to other developmental English students since students are placed into the course based on their English placement test scores.

The learning community, which has consistently used ePortfolio in the courses since the beginning, makes a significant difference in retaining students.

LC evidence

 Learning CommunityOther New/FT Students Other New/FT Developmental English Students
Fall 2009 Cohort: Fall2.462.212.19
Fall 2009 Cohort: Spring2.282.282.22
Fall 2010 Cohort: Fall1.932.222.11
Fall 2010 Cohort: Spring2.222.242.21
Fall 2011 Cohort: Fall2.212.031.85

For more in depth discussion on how ePortfolio has affected our students, please visit our What We’ve Learned section.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Professional Development

The faculty who developed this practice were either part of the original leadership team or completed a semester-long cohort series.  In addition, Marguerite and Jen participated in the Integrative Learning Research Team, which influenced their learning community work by creating social pedagogical activities to add to the courses.


ePortfolio is the bridge that connects the courses.  By using technology, they are then able to carry that work with them, build on it in future courses and semesters, and use their past experiences to help them complete a capstone ePortfolio.

Scaling Up

We will be using this to scale up in the developmental English department.  Due to state legislation, we are required to change our courses by Fall 2014.  As part of the course revisions we will be making ePortfolio an integrated experience in the new course.

Connections to other Polished Practices
See our reflection in the developmental English classroom and the “Business” of ePortfolios practices where you can find additional examples of student work and assignments.

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