Peer Review

From the Editor

Today, liberal arts colleges are setting the pace for creative reinvention by connecting the liberal arts and sciences to the world’s most important challenges.

—Carol Geary Schneider

Coherent curricular pathways rich with integrative liberal learning are key to developing the skills and knowledge students need for life and work in the twenty-first century. From 2012–2014, with grant support from the Teagle Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, AAC&U has worked with fourteen liberal arts colleges in the Faculty Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning (FLILL) project to advance comprehensive approaches to integrative liberal learning. This project explored how to improve the coherence and integration of learning for all students. Participating teams from Allegheny College, Babson College, Bard College, Carleton College, Clark University, Colgate University, The College of Wooster, Mount Holyoke College, St. Olaf College, Skidmore College, Spelman College, Wagner College, Wellesley College, and Wheaton College worked with AAC&U Senior Fellow Ann Ferren and Vice President for Integrative Liberal Learning and the Global Commons David Paris to establish principles and practices for effective integrative learning, to conceptualize best practices for fostering faculty leadership, and to implement and sustain integrative learning campus wide and in both general education and majors.

At the recent AAC&U Annual Meeting, Ann Ferren moderated a session on how integrative liberal learning programs strengthen the work of liberal arts colleges and higher education. Reflecting on her work with the FLILL campus teams, she noted that when she initially met with teams, “Everyone understood the first three LEAP Essential Learning Outcome categories (knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, and personal and social responsibility), but when it got to the integrative and applied learning outcome, things became a little less clear.” After multiple meetings and discussions on this topic, here are some of her key takeaways:

  1. Integrative learning is not a common term for faculty. Faculty more often use “interdisciplinary,” “connected,” “synthesis,” “application.” Only after considerable time working together did “integrative” become part of everyday language.
  2. It is far easier to describe structures or forms for integrative learning—such as writing across the curriculum, first-year seminars, interdisciplinary team-taught seminars, and internships—than it is to write and assess clear learning outcomes. Just having a learning community does not guarantee that students share perspectives or learn to use a variety of methods in analyzing an issue.
  3. Integrative learning is a developmental process and requires repeated practice at increasingly more challenging tasks to solve complex problems.
  4. Integrative learning is a creative process and thus highly personalized. It is only in the reflection on and articulation of the story of one’s intellectual and personal growth that one truly gains the integration of formal learning with informal experiences and connects professional and personal goals.
  5. If we are to provide the tools and inspiration for students to develop the capacities required for an increasingly complex world, the work we encourage them to do must be open ended, challenging, and problem based. The inquiry process is often messy and requires patient faculty who are slower to answer questions and who reward student answers.
  6. If faculty do not integrate and align their work, it is very unlikely that students will be able to do so on their own—thus faculty development, collaboration, and communication are essential. Faculty need to move from “my work” to “our work.”

This issue of Peer Review, also sponsored by the Teagle and Mellon foundations, features the perspectives of faculty and campus leaders at FLILL institutions. Project leaders share a variety of approaches to promoting and sustaining integrative liberal learning. In each campus example, authors share not only their experiences in extending integrative learning but also the important role faculty play in sustaining that work.

Collaborative faculty work is key to implementing successful campus integrative learning programs. In Integrative Learning: Mapping the Terrain, Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings reminded us ten years ago that “Campuses need to work together, share what they know about integrative learning, developing new ideas about assessment, and learning from each others’ designs. Local efforts can be reinvigorated through participation in a community of educators working toward similar goals, and that community, in turn, can contribute to building knowledge that can inform efforts to foster integrative learning at colleges and universities around the country and around the world.”

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