Faculty Learning Communities

What is a Faculty Learning Community?

In general, a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) is a group of faculty and/or professional staff—from any category or level of experience—who gather regularly over the course of a semester or year to engage in discussion, project development, peer support, and reflection around a common issue or opportunity related to teaching and learning.

FLCs support faculty in multiple ways. In addition to fostering conversation and community around shared interests in teaching, FLCs encourage—and provide a safe space for—experimentation and growth in teaching and learning practices. Because of their focus and extended timeline, FLCs can also be designed to engage participants throughout a cycle of professional development, from inquiry and discussion through planning and implementation to feedback, assessment, and readjustments.

FLCs can form around specific practices (collaborative student projects, mindfulness in the classroom, online learning, teaching large STEM classes) or common faculty experiences (teaching as a non-tenure-track faculty member, supervising clinical or experiential student learning, exploring the opportunities of mid-career faculty). All of these FLC groups are often more structured, outcomes-focused, and/or continuous than other types of faculty development support opportunities such as workshops, “brown bag” series, or reading groups.

What does a Faculty Learning Community look like? See some examples on our list of Past FLCs!

FLCs at Mason usually

  • Include 8-12 members
  • Include faculty from several disciplines and/or backgrounds
  • Meet 4-6 times a semester
  • Focus on a project or line of inquiry related to teaching and learning
  • Create space for discussion of, experimentation with, and/or reflection on complex questions
  • Establish individual and/or community goals for each semester
  • Designate one or two FLC Facilitators to organize and guide the meetings and support an active learning environment for all participants
  • Enable all participants to contribute to the group via reading, inquiry, sharing of models, and/or other peer support
  • Actively promote collegiality and community development

For priority consideration for support from Stearns Center, FLCs at Mason should demonstrate engagement with Mason’s strategic plan or our identified transformative learning practices, such as undergraduate research or project-based learning, global engagement, entrepreneurship, and/or community engagement.

All FLCs must provide a one-page written report to document their activities at the end of each semester. Final reports can include individually authored and/or collaboratively authored summaries. Participants in an FLC will receive a letter from Stearns Center acknowledging their contributions.

Faculty-directed, Stearns-Center sponsored FLCs are currently on hiatus. Please see our newsletter for other opportunities to connect with your peers or support your projects.

Faculty Learning Communities FAQs

How does Stearns Center support FLCs?

For all approved FLCs, we can provide guidance and support during the initial organization of the group: topic selection, participant recruitment and publicity, and semester planning. We can also help schedule meeting rooms and identify materials to support FLC meetings. We recommend that first-time FLC facilitators meet with a Stearns Center team member or attend a workshop to discuss opportunities, best practices, and goals. We list active and previous FLCs on our website, and provide formal letters documenting participants’ involvement. Finally, we follow up with participants of an FLC to find out how the experience has affected their teaching and their students’ learning.

For 3-6 Enhanced FLCs each year, Stearns Center can provide some additional resources:

  • A stipend for any group facilitator(s), up to $1000 per person or $2500 total annually, who participate in FLC leadership training and complete their group’s progress reports
  • A budget for materials or supplies for the group or its members (not including food), up to $1000 annually
What is an Enhanced Faculty Learning Community?

Enhanced FLCs work on the principles outlined above, and focus on in-depth or longer-term faculty development in one or more of the following ways:

  • They establish at least a two-semester plan for engaging participants in individual and/or collaborative development projects
  • They support participants in creating a formal resource or collection of resources that can be shared with a larger audience of Mason faculty, and/or in creating a professional publication or presentation
  • They provide expert guidance as well as peer support to enable faculty to gain, apply, and assess a new teaching-related skill set related to Mason’s strategic plan or transformative learning experiences
  • They acquire funding to support faculty work (e.g. travel grants, stipends, graduate student support) from an on-campus or external source, in addition to their Stearns Center funding

In recent years, Stearns Center has sponsored and funded Enhanced FLCs on topics such as critical thinking, a scholarship of self-study, and social justice.

Stearns Center supports 3-6 Enhanced FLCs each year with

  • A stipend for any group facilitator(s), up to $1000 per person or $2500 total annually, who participate in FLC leadership training and complete their group’s annual report
  • A budget for materials or supplies for the group or its members (not including food), up to $1000 annually

Proposals for Enhanced FLCs are accepted on the same review cycle as those for all FLCs.

How do I propose and/or organize an FLC?

If you have an idea or the beginnings of a plan for an FLC, you should start by filling out our FLC Proposal Form online. You should be prepared to

  • Identify an overall topic or question for the community to investigate
  • Describe briefly some discussions and/or projects that the FLC would help participants engage in
  • Explain any way that this FLC connects with the university’s strategic plan as well as with the needs or goals of a variety of Mason faculty: across disciplines, departments, and/or status levels

If you have more information available, you can also provide any of the following:

  • Names and/or departments of other likely participants
  • Information about possible readings, activities, or projects
  • Outline of meeting foci and events

However, a Stearns Center team member will be happy to talk with you about developing specific resources, recruiting participants, designing faculty projects, and/or scheduling meetings; you don’t have to know all the details in advance to propose a successful FLC.

When can I propose an FLC?

Proposals will be generally accepted through the 12th week of the semester prior to the term in which they are scheduled to begin. See our Events Calendar or our newsletter for current dates.

What roles do FLC facilitators play?

Facilitators will identify the overall question or inquiry line for the FLC and plan a sequence of meetings and resources that will support participants’ involvement. Much of the substance of an FLC is co-created with the participants, and FLC design should allow for that collaborative space.

Facilitators serve crucial roles in focusing the attention of participants on crucial questions or opportunities; in providing readings, models, or other resources to support initial FLC inquiries; in designing activities or projects that help participants translate general ideas to their own teaching or scholarship; and in moderating the FLC meetings in ways that encourage participants to share their insights and that support participants in exploration, risk-taking, and community-building.

First-time FLC facilitators will meet with a Stearns Center team member or participate in a workshop to discuss useful strategies and relevant best practices for supporting FLCs. Stearns Center team members can provide additional support to FLC facilitators as needed during the semester.

How do I join an FLC?

Calls for participants in open FLCs are issued prior to and at the start of each semester. See our Current and Past FLC’s page for information about specific FLC topics and meeting times, and use the information posted there to contact the facilitator(s) about joining the community. Some FLCs have limited space and enroll participants on a first-come, first-served basis.

How can I best contribute to an FLC?

Participants should commit to attending all FLC meetings during a term and should be prepared to contribute actively to the work of the community at each meeting. Prior to each meeting, FLC participants will usually need to review readings or models, draft a response or example, and/or locate additional resources to share with the community.