Higher Education for the 21st Century: Roger Brooks at TEDxConnecticutCollege



what I really want to talk with you about is whether the small residential liberal arts college is a viable entity there's an entire world of discourse that I think everybody's familiar with it's arisen about the sustainability and vitality of the liberal arts model everybody in the room knows about the cost problem right so this is a whole set of linked factors that together have caused tuition pricing to rise at every school in the nation that trend is likely to continue think of just a few of the factors demographics indicate that there will be fewer college bound students that's a trend downward trend that's going to continue until 2017 and then stay essentially flat for a more than a decade the slower than preferable recovery of our economy means that many families are not seeing significant or real income growth and so saving for college is harder than ever colleges themselves are engaged in a sort of amenities arms race that seeks to provide a physical plant that's just enough better to attract students that otherwise might go elsewhere and liberal arts colleges with our high touched instructional model are driven by the need to raise salaries and benefits enough to attract the faculty and staff that can provide the education that students deserve now on top of all that there's an additional problem of learning recent studies have demonstrated that many students never experience deep learning while they're in college many students come to campus lacking an academic motivation and gain little of it in four years for many students the basics of the liberal arts education such as critical thinking and moral reasoning scarcely improve and we're still those basics seem rarely to lead to the types of applied knowledge that are required for employment in the real world so business as usual cannot continue on small residential liberal arts colleges and if the model is problematic it's at least partly because it's been inherited from a past that's quite different from our future in particular we have an 18th century calendar a 19th century curriculum 20th century pedagogy and it's the 21st century so what I'd like to do now is spend a little time together imagining what a liberal arts colleges might look like in the future let's begin with the calendar at a certain point it made very good sense to run our institutions on the 18th century agricultural calendar that dominated the u.s. at its inception one that had most citizens inside at home during the dark of winter out in the fields in the summer and the typical academic year is one result to 13 weeks semesters that I've shown here in orange and the remainder of the year is off for students or faculty to work or conduct a research let's begin imagining a fuller use of the year extending the residential nature of a liberal arts college to for 10 week semester x' quarters that have a couple weeks between each and maybe a slightly longer break for winter and summer holidays let's now imagine that the calendar is not merely aligned with four seasons but with four critical domains of knowledge such as have been put forward by the American Association of colleges and universities courses when each within each quarter could be systematically designed to focus first on in-depth study of content on acquiring and honing skills and research methods that would enable independent learning on developing the moral and ethical dimensions and effective capacities for study and then on applying what's been learned to real world problems using either the local community or global reach via a study away as a laboratory so what would you get from this kind of fuller use of the year first of all if each one of the three or four courses in the first quarter was linked to a in the successive quarters students would have an opportunity to follow each of their individual topics through all four domains of knowledge second learning could be highlighted not only as a good in and of itself but through effect and application would also be seen as personally important and as instrumental in resolving 21st century problems third the calendar would be driven by a coherent theory of Education namely that learning happens best when it crosses boundaries involving both abstraction of principles and the skilled application of those principles to new situations and fourth if a typical bachelor degree right now takes 8 semesters of approximately 13 weeks of class that's 104 weeks students could get more time in their studies in a shorter period of time just three years of 40 weeks would give them a hundred and twenty weeks of study and I probably don't need to mention that a degree completed over three years might cost less than a degree or in four years but even without the very fullest extent of that change can we imagine supplementing the to current semesters with a January term that takes up ethics and a concerted use of the summer to work co-op fashion on application of coursework surely there's a wide variety of new and different arrangements of the calendar that are possible and might give us better more consistent pedagogy as well as more efficient use of our year it's turned out of the curriculum I said before that the current structure is a legacy of the 19th century and in particular it stands on the shoulders of great European University models that came to supplant earliest American curricula around the end of the 19th century earlier American institutions had a single curriculum usually with a goal such as advancing education the entire curriculum belonged to the entire faculty with very little that we would think of a specialization our current more european curriculum by contrast has department tall structures that are meant to support very strong disciplinary emphases the curriculum has at its core now a major in-depth learning in one of the disciplines preceded by a few courses to broadly ground students in general education and if you get done with all of that early enough supplemented by electives for student choice all too often in this model however general education is a chore to be ticked off as early as possible so that students can get to their major or even to a second major or even at the cost of all electives to a major and to minors and all this because we've entered this era of credentialing in which students and their parents and maybe even their prospective employers believe that the credential is the appropriate token of learning but once again can we imagine a curriculum that structurally promotes integrated learning what if general education moved from a check off at the beginning to a true career long partner with the major and elective courses perhaps our own impulses to interdisciplinarity might help us craft a large-scale or unified curriculum one that for example intentionally asks students each year to weave connections between the courses that they've taken and again even without making the fullest extent of that change simply by tweaking the current curriculum to make sure that general education electives and the major have courses that build in complexity and challenge throughout four years I believe we could attract more and more students vary widely general education reform looms very large for liberal arts colleges because it offers new and vastly richer experiences of sustained and integrated study throughout the 40 years of a degree program let's think a little bit about pedagogy we continue to embrace pedagogy has developed in the 20th century these were and remain overwhelmingly faculty and the pedagogical form of the lecture is one result faculty members profess knowledge to a large group of students and in this model learning is measured by seeing how well those students can regurgitate the information and maybe earn their checkmarks but still it seems like learning must be about more than repeating the content and acquiring just some disciplinary skills better would be pedagogy x' that were more focused on student learning and here students must construct knowledge they are the ones that are responsible for assembling material in new ways to make meaning not just for the discipline but for themselves as well to be sure faculty members will remain in this picture centers for teaching and learning for example or helping faculty be more intentional about their instruction open classroom projects that invite faculty to visit one another's courses are making teaching a much more public act but still all too often even in this more student-centered model looking after student learning is relegated to the assessment of outcomes although now centered on the students this is really only a more sophisticated version of repeating content and of checking off skills what I'd like to imagine is a situation beyond the faculty or student centered models imagine that taking note of the intimate scale of a liberal arts college we were to teach and craft assignments so as to set students up as communities of problem solvers who together must deal with the politics and economics of real-world vexing questions to say nothing of sociological and scientific findings questions of aesthetics and values or disputes and ethics in and beyond the classroom students would have it to develop the skills of teamwork by taking problems apart working on the smaller parts and then reassembling them and maybe even resolving the underlying problem this is a very long way from the expert professor that's lecturing in front of a classroom but I think we can take this even a step farther let's go on to imagine that is at the upper levels the faculty re-enter is part of the learning community albeit their more senior and they're more skilled they too would be inquiring here this is the next evolution of joint research or of a advanced seminar in which the focus is on ideas from readings or texts or artifacts that were confronted before class and then thought about and experimented upon together this kind of thinking produces new contexts that demand new activations of the knowledge previously acquired right that's the deep intellectual engagement that is actually the pedagogy of the 21st century now finally I want to say something about technology in the future of liberal arts colleges if you open up the pages the Chronicle of Higher Education or the New York Times and everywhere you'll find the perception that technology can dramatically reduce the costs of college by collapsing distance and bridging the gap between faculty and students massive open online courses are all the rage but here's the rub the technological solution that MOOCs offer doesn't match the situation of liberal arts colleges there's no yawning abyss here between faculty and students there aren't classes with hundreds and hundreds of students who can't find a way to interact with their instructors so here the problem that technology is often thought to resolve simply doesn't exist but technology is really on the cusp of offering something incredible to liberal arts colleges and it's not just the replacement of sketchpads with iPads which changes the relationship between faculty and students when you hand in a painting and it's not just the addition to the curriculum of ways of understanding huge data sets especially in the social sciences but now also in the digital humanities and of course in science-based information instead I'm thinking of work that was pioneered by Joshua Faust of Portland State University I'm thinking of an entire suite of software tools that is just about to be made possible so here for example is a tool to enrich the advising meeting over course selection each colored brick represents one department and if you click on one of them it can show you a scrolling list of recent graduates and what they're doing post graduation so be a very helpful tool to have when advising a student about the selection of a major if you click through this to a particular course the visual catalog is smart enough to show only the courses that the student is eligible for and clicking on one of them like 113 might show which general education learning goals the course covers it could show courses in other departments that are linked by topic and by method and further it can show the names and contact information of recent students in the course who might offer their reviews of the course to a prospective student now that slide represents an advising conversation I would be interested in having with any student at Connecticut College at the very end of the day I believe that the liberal arts colleges will depend on our ability to reimagine the very basis of our model right up into the 21st century but we're restructuring an industry typically focuses on outsourcing economies of scale and cutbacks reductions in the labor force for us in higher education I believe it will require a renewed embrace of certain kinds of underlying principles liberal arts colleges offer immersive intellectual experiences and they're built around the intimate scale and built around structural and curricular diversity built around community shared by disciplinary engagements and by service locally and globally and in my vision all of this comes together in a year-round college with an integrated curriculum that creates a sort of educational destination and pedagogy that stimulates deep learning everywhere in other words a liberal arts college of the 21st century that would be structured to produce pervasive expectations of excellence and aspirations to significant achievement thank you very much

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