Why won’t she just tell us what should be in the paper?” a student laments to a friend. “They will not think; they just want the answers handed to them,” a professor complains to a colleague. This gap in expectations exists across campuses, across disciplines, for veteran and new teachers, and for talented and not-so-talented students. Students assume that professors who do not clearly the “truth” are incompetent; professors assume that students who want only the answers are poorly prepared or lazy. This volume of New Directions for Learning and Teaching offers an alternative diagnosis of this expectations gap: that professors’ expectations often go far beyond students’ assumptions about the nature of knowledge. Robert Kegan (1994) explains that it is not what students think but rather how they think that is important in the learning process. Students who believe that knowledge is certain and held by authorities ask those authorities for “the truth,” whereas students who believe that knowledge is relative to a context and acquired through inquiry look to professors to guide them in that inquiry process. Thus how students make meaning mediates how they learn. This volume introduces faculty to the multiple dimensions of meaning-making that affect learning, offers ways to engage in dialogue with students to tap into their particular ways of making meaning, and articulates teaching practices that effectively link teaching and students’ diverse ways of meaning-making.
This volume takes a holistic view of learning and development (King and Baxter Magolda, 1996). Three assumptions form the core of this view. First, individual learning and knowledge claims are grounded in how individuals construct knowledge. Learners’ assumptions about the nature, limits, and certainty of knowledge, referred to as cognition or epistemology, mediate how they learn. Learners interpret their experiences to form assumptions, reorganize those assumptions in the face of new experiences, and use those assumptions to guide meaning-making. Second, how learners construct and use knowledge is closely tied to their sense of self. For example, complex assumptions about knowledge are necessary but insufficient to make wise judgments in a context because a coherent sense of identity that operates outside of approval of others is also required. Learners who are intensely concerned about what others think of them have difficulty authoring their own views. Thus the intrapersonal (sense of self) and interpersonal (relations with others) dimensions mediate the epistemological dimension of development. Third, the process through which learners interpret their experiences improves in a developmentally related fashion over time. Assumptions about the nature of knowledge become more complex with educational experiences, generally moving from assuming that knowledge is certain to assuming that it must be evaluated in a context. Sense of