LEARNING COMMUNITY: A TOOL TO ENHANCE ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL INTEGRATION
The improvement of persistence and academic success is subordinated to a good academic and social integration that could help students to perform better in the whole academic experience (Tinto, 1975). Learning communities are one of the instruments used in American, Australian and European universities to prevent dropout and to promote academic success (Zhu, Baylen, 2005; Smith et al., 2004; Shapiro, Levine, 1999; Tinto, 1997). The University of Bari started an experimentation implementing learning communities in Psychology of Work course.
The research pointed out the influence of learning communities in preventing dropout intentions and academic success through increasing several academic outcomes such as academic and social integration and commitment. Learning communities could be also as an early instrument of vocational guidance as they allow students to experiment skills useful for workplace context.
The sample was formed by 227 freshman students of psychology randomly parted into two sub-groups in which one followed the learning community method, while the second one had traditional lectures on the same arguments without discussions and participations. Learning communities’ program was focused on academic skills development and improvement. Measures involved are: academic and social integration (Pascarella, Terenzini, 1980), commitment (professional by Meyer, Allen, 1991; institutional by Nora, Cabrera, 1993; goal by Pascarella, Terenzini, 1980), academic skills perceptions (Cottrell, 2003), persistence intentions (Eaton, Bean, 1995) and skills transfer (Sarchielli, 2008; Cottrell, 2003). The questionnaire was administered at the beginning and at the end of the experimentation and after six month from the end of the activities in order to find the effects of learning communities’ participation within participants and between the two groups. We run out a multilevel linear model in order to preserve the nested nature of the data. Results partially confirmed the hypotheses. Future perspectives are discussed.
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