Learning Communities: Exploring Subjects from Multiple Sides

“From a faculty perspective, it shakes up curriculum and allows professors to see things in new creative ways.”
— Dr. William Offutt

By Lisa Marie Basile ’10

Some of Pace’s most unique – and most popular – classes are taught by not one, but two professors who pair up to team teach “learning community” courses, allowing students to explore topics from two very different vantage points. For example, “The Economics of Sex,” is taught by a women’s and gender studies professor and an economics professor, offering students a special look at mass consumption, sexuality and consumer behavior. “Lords, Ladies, and Avatars: the Middle Ages in Art, Literature, and Second Life,” provides a look at Medieval life through virtual technology by pairing a literature and graphic arts professor.

Incoming first-year students have been required to take at least one learning community course since 2003 when the core curriculum was revised to include an emphasis on interdisciplinary learning.

“Learning communities are organized around non-traditional subject headings. They go more in depth, from two different angles,” explains Associate Professor of History and Faculty Advisor of the Pforzheimer Honors College Dr. William Offutt, who helps professors develop new learning community courses.

“From a faculty perspective, it shakes up curriculum and allows professors to see things in new creative ways.”

“I took the course, ‘The Individual and Society’ and our two professors took us to Yale so we could see art from the era we were reading and writing about,” said junior biology major DJ Hopson. “The teachers were so creative and active; it was great! It has been one of my favorite classes since being at Pace.”

This semester, “American Mosaic: History and Literature of U.S. Immigrant, Ethnic, and Racial Groups in 20th Century,” is being offered. This course combines history and English and focuses on the idea that Europeans, Africans, Asians, Hispanics, Natives equal Americans. The students are learning about the American immigrant and racial groups of the 20th century, and will visit Ellis Island and New York City neighborhoods.

Another popular learning community, according to Dr. Offutt, is “New York City: The History and Architecture of a Modern Metropolis.” The blended history and art course looks at the buildings within New York City and the implications of those buildings. Field trips are also a component of the course, allowing students to look at achievements in architecture and the urban landscape.

In the spring, students will be able to enroll in “Lords, Ladies, and Avatars: the Middle Ages in Art, Literature, and Second Life.” This learning community, taught by English Professor Martha Driver, PhD, and Art Associate Professor William Pappenheimer, will teach students to recreate medieval castles and tapestries and costumes in Second Life.

Because learning community courses offer such a different experience from that of high school, students may need extra explanation in the beginning, Dr. Offutt says. “But once they understand the nature of the course, they usually jump right in. There is good evidence that students who take learning communities tend to be more engaged with the university and other students.”