Academic journal article Peer Review

Institutional Readiness for Signature Work

Academic journal article Peer Review

Institutional Readiness for Signature Work

Article excerpt

There is little doubt that the principles and practices of integrative liberal learning reflected in signature work can be of immense value in educating undergraduate students. As is noted in Budwig, Ratliff-Crain, and Reder's article in this issue, the work of the LEAP Challenge: Engaging in Capstones and Signature Work consortium has shown that most students need substantial assistance in preparing for signature work, but students are not alone in that need. Every institution in the consortium has noted that there is a significant level of institutional readiness needed for the full value of signature work to reach all students at colleges and universities. As Ferren and Paris (2015) have noted, there is demonstrated need for faculty leadership to deliver on the promise of the LEAP Challenge (see https://www.aacu.org/ leap-challenge), which called on campuses to guide students in significant signature work projects that are meaningful to the student and to the world. Participants in this project also learned quite a bit about what sorts of institutional capacity building need to take place for integrative liberal learning to occur. This article follows that line of work, looking at the professional and institutional development our consortium schools believe will enhance student signature work on their campuses. We look first at faculty development and then continue to examine other forms of campus leadership, as well as institutional structures and supports that have been created to enhance the chance for all students to succeed.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR SIGNATURE WORK

Faculty Development

The consortium schools have recognized that effective mentoring of signature work is likely to require faculty development, as supporting students in these self-authored, applied experiences requires a distinctly different set of skills from those associated with the traditional classroom. Faculty development programs help faculty gain a shared understanding of the definitions and requirements of the work and enable them to acquire skills to support students as they engage in signature projects, integrative learning, or capstones.

Consortium institutions have adopted two broad approaches to faculty development as it relates to signature work. Schools that included signature work as part of significant curricular reform tend to have more deliberate and comprehensive approaches to faculty programming. Elizabethtown College, for example, requires multiple signature learning experiences and has developed specific advising training to assist faculty in helping students choose the "purposeful life work" or "signature learning" (SL) experiences that are hallmarks of their new curriculum. In addition, the college has applied for grant funding to provide faculty development for courses that will include community-based learning or community-based research, as well as for interdisciplinary offerings which may fulfill the SL requirement. Similarly, as Clark University designed their curricular framework, Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP), to include culminating capstones and signature/experiential projects, they recognized the need for significant professional development. Clark used existing structures and tools-digital resources, shared tools, and ongoing learning communities-to build capacity to mentor both types of experience. For instance, a faculty learning community- organized to work on redesigning capstone seminars to be more integrative-provided a forum for faculty from five disciplinary areas on campus to discuss and design culminating courses and to create artifacts and tools to help others design future culminating capstone courses. The use of existing structures to address faculty development needs is also apparent in Connecticut College's scaling efforts. Having approved a new Connections curriculum, Connecticut College planned its annual three-day Camp Teach and Learn activities to include a variety of workshops and activities related to the new Connections pathways model. …

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