CID Summer 2005 Convening: Supporting Intellectual Community

Topic 1: Creating and Nurturing Robust Intellectual Communities

University of Michigan School of Education

This Snapshot describes how the doctoral program in the UofM School of Education helps create and nurture an intellectual community in the department and doctoral program.

Teachers and researchers benefit from developing in an intellectual community with many opportunities to interact with a wide range of colleagues. Many departments deliberately create these opportunities with formally sponsored events. Other community-building activities are initiated by individuals and groups within the department. There are challenges to insuring broad participation in these activities, and multiple communities may flourish in a department without achieving inclusiveness of marginalized individuals (e.g., part-time students, parents of young children, dissertation writers, emeritus faculty, foreign students).

Building Intellectual Community at the SOE

Building intellectual community among our first year students has been one of the primary tasks of our committee. The process of doing this has caused committee members, students and faculty, to fundamentally question what we do to prepare doctoral students. Our major tools for building community have been instituting a core curriculum for first year students using a cohort approach. This has been facilitated by the fact that all of our doctoral students attend full-time.

Goals for the Community

The CID committee, (called the Ph.D. Task Force) has been working toward structuring (a) more common experiences for all students at the beginning of their doctoral program and (b) a more coherent process of making available opportunities for engaging in intellectual activity outside of course work, such as research, teaching, and colloquia.

As we continue the process of improving our doctoral program, we are considering the ways in which the experience of building community among doctoral students can also strengthen community among faculty members.

Tools and Resources

Below is a list of the tools and resources that our program uses to develop intellectual community.

Building Academic Community

- Four core courses

- First year cohort approach

- Moving toward proseminar for all first year students (rather than divided by specialization)

- Seriously discussing cohort-wide prelim based on core courses

- Monthly colloquium series

- Developing peer mentoring programs within specializations

Recruitment and Orientation

- Accepting fewer students and guaranteeing funding for five years

- Orientation day, (including lunch) for all new and returning students, faculty, and staff

- Specialization-specific functions such as welcoming dinner at a professor's house

- Accepted students' weekend in March

What Problems are We Solving?

Most of our courses were introductory level courses, so that professors could make few assumptions about what students already knew.

There was great unevenness in students' experiences in the doctoral program - more entreprenurial students got more. Students also sensed serious inequities.

What Are We Trying to Do to Solve These Problems?

We aim to enrich students' common experiences prior to their engaging in deep specialization. This will allow us to make the students' specialized training more advanced.

We aim to reduce very small, inefficient course enrollments.

We aim to achieve more consistency in student guidance, experience, and support.

We aim to engage in conversations, as a faculty, about what all doctoral students should know.

Evaluation and Record Keeping

Our Task Force has taken evaluation and record keeping very seriously. The following is a list of evaluation and record keeping tools that we have used.


- First-year student focus groups at the end of 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 academic years

- Follow-up questionnaires for 2003-2004 cohort

- Invested program funds to conduct, transcribe, and analyze focus groups and survey data

Record Keeping

- Kept detailed minutes of each meeting

- Invested in student support for the Task Force to accomplish detailed record keeping

First-Year Student Focus Group Questions
These are the questions used to guide the focus group discussion that we conducted with the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 first year doctoral students.

Second-Year Student Questionnaire
This questionnaire was distributed to all 2003-2004 students at the end of their second year of doctoral studies.

Ongoing Challenges

The following questions remain as we move forward to build a robust intellectual community within the SOE.

The Work of the Task Force

- As membership changes, can momentum for change be sustained?

- How can we expand our Task Force-consensus to the larger faculty?

Building Faculty-Wide Support

- How can a community tolerate and respond to dissent?

- How can we mediate building community as we also decrease faculty autonomy?

Core Courses

- Now that we have core courses, how do we work to make the content of those courses transparent?

- How can we make sure other courses actually build on the content of the core?

- How much do core courses depend on who is teaching them?

- Does increasing the core dilute the specializations?

Preliminary Exam

- What should be the form of a common prelim?

- Who should write it, who should grade it?

- What if students don't pass?


A key component of making our work successful has been the membership of the Task Force. Which faculty and students are members of the Task Force has made it possible to actually make progress. Without key faculty at the table, progress could be undermined.

Another important lesson learned is that we started this work without students. The small group of faculty who began working on this project three years ago didn't even think to include student members. As our work has progressed over the past three years, student input has proven to be crucial for our success.

Contact Information

Valerie Lee

This electronic portfolio was created using the KML Snapshot Tool™, a part of the KEEP Toolkit™,
developed at the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Terms of Use - Privacy Policy