Liberal Education Effective Practice conference

March 3, 2009 at 9:52 AM

Last Thursday and Friday, one of us (Jim) attended a very interesting 2 day conference for 32 people at Clark University on the topic of Liberal Education and Effective Practice. We thought that this week we would make our post out of Jim’s experience at the conference. The conference got a little play in advance as part of a New York Times article. Here is Jim’s write-up…

– Shwen and Jim

The conference was hosted by the Clark University President, John Bassett and the head of the AAC&U (American Association of Colleges and Universities), Carol Schneider. However, Richard Freeland, past President of Northeastern University, was the organizer, and he invited me to be a discussant of an excellent paper by Janet Eyler on Effective Practice and Experiential Education. Janet is a world expert on service learning from Vanderbilt and co-wrote the well-known book “Where’s the Learning in Service Learning.”

The other discussant was Ira Harkavy, who is regarded by many as the father of service-learning first at the University of Pennsylvania and then around the world. I felt honored to be among these scholars and to be part of the larger team which also included other scholars, past and current Presidents and their teams, and members from the Boston community of business people and foundation leaders. All of their bios are available on the web under speakers/participants.

As the title of the whole conference indicates, the papers were on the topic of how to make liberal education more effective and much of it seemed to me to be how to better understand and engage effectively the student. The first paper by Sternberg pointed to the multiple ways that students learn, with classical analytic intelligence being only one of them. That idea certainly resonates with the theme of this blog in which educating the analytic intelligence alone is argued to miss emotional intelligence or what Sternberg might call practical intelligence or wisdom.

The second paper by team from Miami University led by their President focused on a developmental model of student self-authoring in which the student is broadly engaged by the curriculum to develop their own story on any topic that is both socially situated and reflects mature judgment. I will come back to the third paper where I was a discussant as it is most relevant to this blog.

The fourth paper was based on the experience of the past President of Wellesley and her team in developing a curriculum that produces effective practice in its students. The fifth and last paper was presented by a team that discussed issues of diversity as well as other issues of effective practice and student engagement.

The third paper talked broadly about the value of experiential education to liberal learning with a strong focus on service-learning and ending with a discussion of the need for substantial reflection to really promote learning. I felt suited to this topic as readers of this blog will know. For example, we presented the quote from Pascal “The heart has reasons of which reason does not know” in the about section of this blog where we define ourselves. The idea is that it takes plenty of reflection to integrate the learning in these emotional circuits with the cognitive apparatus referred to by Sternberg in his paper as analytic intelligence. I also pointed out the contributions of brain scanners to our developing understanding of the deep brain circuits involved in emotional judgments as in the new field of neuroeconomics and suggested that such studies might someday be done of experiential education to accompany studies at the behavioral level. If you want to take a look at the written paper I prepared for the conference, complete with a few references, I left a copy here (with permission of the conference organizer).  It will be incorporated into the conference outcome, but not in this form.

One of the best moments for me came in general discussion of our panel when a foundation leader suggested that, among other things, we were trying to say that in addition to accomplishing other goals, experiential education also could be useful for the direct promotion of classical academic analytic intelligence achievements such as getting into prestigious medical, law, and graduate schools.

The results of this conference, as stated, will be disseminated through AAC&U and the web. I will let you know when they come out

What may be more of interest to our readers than how I spent two days last week are the issues at stake. The President of the United States has called for a deeper commitment to education just as some are worried that what higher education delivers is either not worth the price or does not prepare students to think in the real world. To those of us who passionately believe in the value of higher education, the challenge is to demonstrate its value. Many organizations, foundations, and other groups are weighing in.

Examples beyond this conference include LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) from AAC&U; Project DEEP as part of an Institute built around the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), whose founder was at the Clark conference; the Lumnia Foundation whose head wrote an open letter to the US President; and a variety of experiential education associations, particularly one with whom I also work, WACE (World Association of Cooperative Education). This is but a very partial list and I do not mean to offend by leaving anyone off of it, particularly those which were represented at the conference. But I wanted to give at least a few concrete examples.

Now is the time in the history of higher education with the advent of the internet and the development of social media such as Facebook to start a conversation between our students, scholars of education (of which I am not one), college/university administrators (of which I was recently one), and the larger community of business and foundation leaders who have a stake in what we do. In essence, by addressing issues at a series of levels and including from the start the student voice, this blog and that conference are trying to do just that.


While I have you here, I also want to thank David Lee for the very nice
shout-out from his blog eelearning, that we have added to BlogRoll. David’s blog reminds us of the role of web 2.0 and “other lobe of the brain” thinking in the e-learning world.

The Music of Thought and Emotion: clinical interaction in social work
1 Comment

One Response to “Liberal Education Effective Practice conference”

  1. Jim Stellar says:

    Liberal Learning refered to the term Liberal Arts not in the sense of politics but in the sense of a ‘liberal dose” of learning that is also wide-ranging. I think that this is helpful in the modern world that is complex, global, and requires continious learning. For example, who knew when I was in College in the late ’60s and early ’70s that there would be an internet?
    Your point about the connections between faculty, students, administrators, and the business community is important. Those groups can learn from each other and do need to speak more and more frequently. College administrators have a particular responsibility to encourage that conversation for the benefit of us all. Besides forums how else do you think we might do it? Anyone, please jump in.

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