Professional and Alumni

Learning Community Partnerships

Learning Community Partnerships:
Academic Units and Kappa Omicron Nu

Dorothy I. Mitstifer


The recent Kappa Omicron Nu project to explore the future of honor societies in FCS/Human Sciences and the issues identified during the Summit (on the future of the field in higher education) provide ideas for Kappa Omicron Nu to ensure a distinctive educational benefit to members and the field. Another motivating factor for change is the conclusion of leaders in the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) that honor societies must do more than recognize scholastic achievements to continue to exist in the new millennium. ACHS envisions the need for honor societies to assure their continued existence by making significant contributions to the academic goals of institutions.

Kappa Omicron Nu has been active in providing materials for leadership and professional development and has relied on honor society advisers to help chapter officers conduct significant programming. But this approach has tended to be a laissez-faire one that has produced insufficient and irregular outcomes except in some model chapters. The Board has concluded that a more proactive and collaborative approach is indicated.

Both Karen Craig (UN-L) and Dorothy Mitstifer (KON), at the Seattle AAFCS Meeting, called for integration of co-curricular goals within the academic program. Further support seems to be indicated by the action group on "Learning Communities," formed at the Summit and headed by Suzie Crockett. This group has been sharing resources and discussing "How should the literature about learning models and learning communities inform the future of FCS in higher education?" Yet another rationale is the increased emphasis on assessment, which challenges every academic program to determine where educational goals will be learned and how they will be measured.

A variety of goals related to scholarship, research, leadership, ethics and professional standards, diversity, globalism, environmental quality, service/experiential learning, among others can be achieved through co-curricular activities. Kappa Omicron Nu had a unique opportunity to explore this initiative with advisers and delegates at Conclave. Kappa Omicron Nu is well aware that institutional support is necessary because the academic program is its domain. It is assumed that there would be multiple paths and strategies to accomplish partnering because each chapter needs to determine the approach through collaborative planning with departments and faculty within the institution. National Kappa Omicron Nu stands as a ready partner in planning and implementing this initiative. The generic question is "What should undergraduates learn through the honor society programming?"

In a nutshell then, Kappa Omicron Nu wishes to partner with academic units to identify academic goals and strategies that Kappa Omicron Nu can deliver on behalf of its members and all students within the unit. Two credible observers of the college scene champion learning communities. Cross (1998) discussed the importance of learning communities in developing socially constructed knowledge. She noted that knowledge is maintained and constructed through negotiation with knowledgeable peers in a community of practice. Known as constructivism, this theory holds that knowledge is actively built by learners as they shape and build mental frameworks to make sense of their environments (p. 5). Thus the practice of scholarship is embedded in learning communities. Cross called this approach to learning connected conversations. Boyer had a slightly different version. Because he perceived the fragmented nature of the college experience the disconnects . . . , he proposed that the primary purpose of higher education is to connect the disconnects and make the college years a more holistic, fulfilling, and significant experience for students (Coye, 1997, p. 21).

Senge, the acknowledged learning community theorist and practitioner, explains Polanyi s notion of tacit knowledge as the dimension of knowledge that is generated within learning communities. Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowledge learned only through being part of a community, trying new behaviors, seeing the results, and gradually assimilating that knowledge into one s behavior (Senge, et al.,1999, p. 422).

During the Delegate and Adviser Forums at the 1999 KON Conclave, participants had an opportunity to consider the idea of Kappa Omicron Nu as a Learning Community and to brainstorm and prioritize possible goals and strategies to implement the notion. Several advisers committed to piloting Kappa Omicron Nu partnerships with academic programs. Case studies of these pilot programs will be developed for the purpose of implementing this initiative on a broader basis during the 2000-2001 academic year.


Coye, D. (1997, May/June). Ernest Boyer and the new American college: Connecting the disconnects. Change.

Cross, K. P. (1998, August). Why learning communities? Why now? About campus.

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G., & Smith, B. (1999). The dance of change: The challenges to sustaining momentum in learning organizations. New York: Currency Doubleday.