One way Inver Hills students can get a sense of community and learn from it


I’m in a photography and writing class, and there seems to be more cohesiveness than first meets the eye.

In front of the class of 25 are photography instructor Paul Wegner and writing-and-research-skills instructor Lisa DuRose, who are tag-teaming in a program called “The Observant Eye.” Wegner is discussing the work and themes of photographer Sally Mann, about whom the students have seen a documentary and read an essay.


The duo’s two-art class is part of an intriguing education model called “learning communities.”

The idea:

Students enroll in a collection of two or three required general education classes with similar themes. (In this case, it’s Beginning Digital Photography, Writing and Research Skills, and On Course, an introduction to college.)

They follow each other trough the series of classes, so they should end up both bonding and seeing the interconnectivity of college subjects.

DuRose tells me:

“We really want them to see the links between photographers and writers. They learn that good observers make good writers and good photographers. They learn how to be alert and communicate their observations. We really try to integrate these so students see connections — and see that classes are not a fragmentary experience in higher ed.”

DuRose said the idea started taking off at the college around 2005, when Inver Hills offered 2-3 pairings of courses. Now Inver Hills has 12-15 learning communities each fall with names such as “Pre-Health Sciences / Pre-Nursing” (psychology and biology), “Read, Rock, and Roll” (Intro to Academic Writing, Reading College Texts, and the History of Rock and Roll), and “The Self in Society” (those writing and reading classes combined with a beginning sociology course).

The college also offers a few for returning adult students. 

DuRose tells me:

“It’s just good pedagogy. We’re already starting to see the need for interdisciplinary studies. And when community college students come there, they don’t always know where they fit in. Many come from small high schools, and when they walk in here, they might feel a little overwhelmed. So it gives a sense of community right away. We find they stick around, they bond and form stronger connections with the college.”