Peer Review

The Courage to Create the Time for Reflection

Ultimately, the greatest challenges facing higher education faculty and administrators involve time and courage. Many need time to rethink and to reflect upon course content, pedagogies, and learning outcomes, and to summon the courage to collaborate with colleagues to achieve the learning our students need. The preceding collection of articles illustrates how problem-based learning can become a central focus for student engagement and learning from course level to institutional framing and design.

Much has been written and heard in the media and at conferences about the value of personalized learning for the current and future generations of students in higher education. However, so often personalized learning translates into reductionist and atomized learning modules. These options are heavy on information transfer and discrete transmission of focused content. This conception of personalized learning lacks what higher education’s mission and label connote—integrative learning to promote higher order analysis, evaluation, synthesis, and creation of new solutions.

Today’s students have been living in a technology-rich digital environment from birth. I am continually struck by people’s dependence on their digital devices as they commute on buses and trains, as they walk down the street or ride an escalator, or as they have a meal in a restaurant with friends or family—all of whom have devices at the ready on the table and seem to rarely actually speak to each other. Eye contact has become a fleeting occurrence. In this digital era, information is ubiquitous and readily available via key strokes. A search engine query result is tailored, based on earlier searches and responses to previous messages, and is filtered for what the person most likely wants to see. The result is personalized, but is this the model that higher education should follow?

I am not dismissing the advances and benefits of the digital environment we now inhabit. My point is that so much of what happens in the current rush to personalize and digitize education is not what a higher education liberal education is meant to do. A liberally educated person is one who not only knows and can access information or knowledge, but who also knows how to find information that (1) is grounded in evidence; (2) challenges the accepted or prevalent understanding; and (3) promotes engagement with others for debate and examination of usefulness, applicability, and common understanding. In short, learning is a process, a social interaction that needs to involve more than one’s self and a programmed set of algorithms.

For one to become competent at anything requires practice over time. It is a process that requires iterative engagement at progressively more sophisticated and complex levels of challenge and achievement. As faculty and educators, creating space to rethink how we spend our time with our students in and out of classes, what we ask them to do to demonstrate their learning, and how we connect their learning in context to all of the learning they bring with them is critically important. Important as a means to connect their learning to their individual experiences and interests, but also important for the connection and integration of new learning to the existing learning each student embodies.

Faculty and administrators also need to find the courage to reflect upon what we individually do in relation to our colleagues concerning students’ larger educational experiences. To that end, I contend that the STIRS framework is worthy of their consideration. The signature work illustrated through STIRS challenges students to formulate questions to investigate; to devise strategies to wrestle with contemporary and enduring problems through hands-on, untidy, and unscripted problems; and to integrate and make sense of their learning in a way that will last beyond students’ time on campus.


Terrel Rhodes, vice president for quality, curriculum, and assessment, and executive director of VALUE, AAC&U

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