I had a great visit to the state of New Hampshire yesterday. I participated in a statewide meeting of the New Hampshire College and University Council (NHCUC)/New Hampshire Campus Compact (NHCC), their Fall Academic Conference. The conference theme, near and dear to my heart, was: Re-imagining Undergraduate Education. About 120 people participated, from 4 year public colleges, community colleges and not-for-profit and for-profit institutions.
What I was struck by was the energy and engagement of the participants. I suspect three or four years ago, the mood would have been quite different. But a combination of rising threats and declining revenue sources seems to have reshaped the landscape. People were thoughtful and serious about how they might change their institutions. I think there was an openness to new ideas that I find very hopeful for our work.
I always learn a lot from these trips. One thing notable that was missing in my own thinking, but prominent in the discussions, was the role of students in this work. Two ideas emerged that I need to incorporate into future presentations. First, students can be part of the problem, as resistant to change as the rest of us. Good students, after all, are the winners in the current system. Why would they want to change? And other students may not want to truly be engaged, particularly if the price is more work. They may enjoy their passivity. George Kuh suggests that indeed there may be an unspoken pact between students and faculty: faculty won’t ask too much of students, and students in turn won’t create problems for the faculty member. But a second theme also emerged, that students could be incredibly helpful in designing new programs that are truly engaging, and that produce powerful learning outcomes.
We talked at some length about faculty roles. If faculty move from sage to coach, or from presenter to designer of learning environments, faculty development takes on even greater significance. Doctoral programs seldom teach people how to teach, and they sure don’t teach people how to design learning environments and coach. I suggested that the best faculty development programs for new faculty are multi-disciplinary, year-long programs to provide new faculty with the skills they will need to be successful in this new age.
The day’s discussion also reinforced for me the idea that this can’t just be about modifying courses, even if that is done on a large scale (and most of the time, of course, it’s not done except in a very limited fashion). Modifying courses but leaving the larger context unchanged simply will not work. Thus our emphasis on a campus wide re-imagining process, that affects everything, seems to be the right approach.
As usual, I got some additional ideas from participants. One was an article by George Siemens and Kathy Matheos on “Systemic Changes in Education. A short 18 pages long, I’m looking forward to reading it, if the first several paragraphs are any indication of the article’s quality. http://www.ineducation.ca/article/systemic-changes-higher-education I’ll put it in Diigo. I also want to make sure Anya Kamenetz’s book, DIY_U, gets more prominence in my presentations.