March Update from Knowledge, Teaching, and Learning Working Group

As noted in the prior summary, this group has divided its work into four areas: Curriculum of the Future, Competencies, Pedagogy, and Recruitment and Support of a Diverse Faculty. In addition to charging four subgroups to tackle the relevant questions of those areas, we have spent a great deal of our time listening deeply to the faculty and others by way of a number of lunch time discussions. Below is a brief sense of a few of the topics discussed and the questions explored:

  1. What are the current teaching practices of the faculty: what are tried-and-true practices that work, what are folks doing that innovate in this regard, and what support is needed to do each effectively? What kinds of community-based or engaged-learning, or other models are faculty engaging in or experimenting with and what are some of the outcomes and implications?
  2. The place of student research in our academic program: what do we even mean by student research, why is it important—what are the benefits (but also the drawbacks) for students and the overall academic experience, what models of structuring the experience work or don’t work?
  3. The Honors Program: what are the positive and negative aspects of the Honors Program, what impact does support for the honors program have on curricular, student, and faculty resources, how does honors affect interdisciplinary possibilities?

Moreover, the March 21st fireside chat with students focused on the issues relevant to this group, so we look forward to more student input.

As for the substance of what we have been hearing and deliberating, here are just two of the recurring ideas in many of these conversations:

  1. Connections across and within disciplines are critical, both for students and for faculty: We have heard a tremendous amount about the ways that disciplines are shifting, often reaching out to frameworks, approaches and knowledge bases in other disciplines, and the need and desire for us to think about the ways we can support faculty and students making those same kinds of connections. This becomes not just about the ways we support existing interdisciplinary programs, but also about how we provide the right opportunities, space, time and environment for faculty to more fully engage each other in ways that foster mutual learning and create possible collaborations—both scholarly and pedagogically—that are distinct from (more permanent) interdisciplinary programs.  It’s about how we encourage students and give them better tools to bring things learned in one class to another class in more meaningful ways—to see where techniques and approaches are similar, useful, or different across areas.
  2. The habits of mind required for the 21st century are numerous, and a rich mix of old and new is vital to the teaching and learning of those habits: Critical thinking and analysis, creativity and innovation, writing, close reading, presentation (oral and using new media) skills, visual literacy, collaboration and teamwork skills, quantitative and scientific literacy, cross-cultural skills, an ability to engage in self-reflection, research and information literacy—these are just some of the habits and practices identified as important. Our question, it seems, is to what extent and in what ways should we cultivate and develop these habits and practices? We know that we already have some terrific mechanisms to help students, along with their hard work, to attain high levels of proficiency in many of these. This includes what we might call tried-and-true classes and seminars and approaches to teaching, our normal processes of reviewing the academic experience as a whole (to evolve distribution requirements or make curricular changes, for example), and our attention to recruiting, maintaining and supporting an excellent faculty.  These are vital and should be strengthened where appropriate.

With conversations among faculty, various subgroups and the full working group, we are still processing all of the various threads, identifying the commonalities and discussing the important places where ideas diverge. We anticipate soon being able to update the community with even more.