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This one may be a bit specific, but I’m eager to see if anyone has cracked the code.

I’m a fan of “learning communities,” which are usually two courses paired around a single theme. The idea is that two professors from different disciplines bring their lenses to bear on a common issue, and students get twice the time on task. One of my favorites at HCC involved “climate fiction,” in which an English professor and an environmental science professor teamed up to look at fiction about apocalyptic climate change.

The easiest blends tend to be when you have one course focused on form—either writing or speaking—mixing with another that has specific content. But complementary content can work, too: statistics mixes well with many social science courses, for instance.

At their best, the professors surprise each other, creating sparks in class that students pick up on immediately. (That’s also why I’m not a huge fan of running the same combination year after year after year. The whole point is to break routine.) It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, the students thrive.

But I’ve seen too many terrific ideas for paired courses fall victim to scheduling.

Outside of tightly constructed cohort programs, like nursing, it’s difficult to find a critical mass of students who need the same two classes in the same two time slots and who are interested in taking a chance on an ambitious theme. Typically, some who like the theme don’t need one class or the other; some who like both can’t do one time slot or the other; some who like the theme and the time slot have already taken one class or the other.

Our ERP systems struggle with learning communities, too. The registration systems are built on the model of individual courses. Every learning community requires manual workarounds. While that’s not a big deal conceptually, it’s a major issue when staff is already stretched thin.

In theory, making one of the two classes an asynchronous online class could get around some of the scheduling issues. But I’d be concerned that the give-and-take would be compromised.

Still, I hate to see a great pedagogical idea sacrificed to scheduling. That just seems backward.

Has anyone out there seen a reasonably elegant practical solution to the scheduling issues around learning communities? Preferably something that works at scale?

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