Student voices: the residential business learning community experience
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The College of Business at Iowa State University (ISU) implemented learning communities (LCs) in the fall of 1995. This program has since evolved to include residential LCs beginning in the fall of 1999. Since much of the data collected on LCs (at ISU and elsewhere) is quantitative in nature, there seemed to be a gap in explaining and identifying the community building aspect of the LC experience, and its affect on student learning. This study set out to discover those tangible, underlying elements and factors that the residential business LC students found beneficial to their community building and learning, as well as those that connected them to their LC.;Utilizing qualitative methodology, specifically the case study approach, focus groups and personal interviews were conducted with 11 of the 23 first-year residential business learning team (BLT) students throughout the fall semester 2001. Interviews were also conducted (in spring 2002) with the two sophomore peer mentors, who assisted in guiding these BLTs throughout their experience.;A number of themes came to light in the discussions with the students: the importance of the residential setting, the connections to their peers, the impact of their involvement within the team, and the structures and functions of the BLT around them. These themes highlighted those elements that helped the students successfully navigate their first year at ISU. In analyzing these themes from a student development standpoint, Sanford's notion of challenge and support and Chickering's vectors of development played a key role in understanding the impact of the college environment on students' growth and adjustment, and their movement along these lines. A secondary analysis included a critical theory perspective, based on the "hidden" inequalities inherent in the social structures within the BLTs and LC initiative on ISU's campus.