Magazine article Liberal Education

It Takes a Curriculum: Preparing Students for Research & Creative Work

Magazine article Liberal Education

It Takes a Curriculum: Preparing Students for Research & Creative Work

Article excerpt

APPROACHES TO HIGHER EDUCATION have changed dramatically over the course of the past decade or so. Much of this change stems from the seminal work of Barr andTagg (1995), whose Learning Paradigm brought coherence and energy to the study of collegiate education. At a minimum, the Learning Paradigm calls for a more open approach to student learning and an emphasis on engaging students, adopting multiple learning formats, and assessing outcomes. Three years after Barr and Tagg launched the Learning Paradigm into the mainstream of higher education, the Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University took research universities to task for their neglect of undergraduates and urged a "radical reconstruction" of the approach to undergraduate education. In its 1998 report, the commission issued ten recommendations that draw directly from the research mission of research universities and build on the Learning Paradigm by emphasizing an inquiry-based freshman year.

The Boyer report offers a powerful vision of undergraduate education, but as presented and implemented, the commission's recommendations fall short in three critical ways. First, the report emphasizes research-based learning solely for research universities. second, most universities have conceived of the undergraduate research experience only as an isolated component of a student's education, or as suitable for only some of the most advanced students. Third, both the Learning Paradigm and the research-based learning proposed by the Boyer Commission overlook the importance of student development theory for positioning research-based learning appropriately in the progression from freshman to senior year.

Technological advances have made research-based learning possible now in ways that were unimaginable in previous generations. Such learning can and, we argue, should be at the center of the undergraduate experience. In what follows, we describe an approach that combines research-based learning with student development theory to offer a more comprehensive model for organizing undergraduate education. We label this approach the Student as Scholar Model, where "scholar" is conceived in terms of an attitude or frame of mind derived from the best traditions of an engaged liberal education. The model operationalizes the Discovery Paradigm, in which scholarship-defined as original research and creative work-extends and transcends classroom learning.

Developing the Student as Scholar Model requires a fundamental shift in how the whole undergraduate experience is structured and imagined. It requires, at a minimum, the comprehensive adoption of the Learning Paradigm-from the first introductory course through the final capstone experience. It requires that a culture of inquiry-based learning be infused throughout the entire liberal arts curriculum, starting with the very first day of college and reinforced in every classroom and program. The Student as Scholar Model transcends the boundaries of the traditional classroom by taking advantage of the vast amount of raw material now available to undergraduates. And it draws heavily from a developmentally appropriate perspective on undergraduate education, one where the student moves from a more passive, externally motivated experience to the active, internally motivated posture of the scholar.

Technology as the enabler

The adoption of the Discovery Paradigm and the Student as Scholar Model as frameworks for education is possible now, in ways that were nearly impossible before, because both the nature of scholarship and access to the raw material of scholarship have changed so dramatically. The most obvious technological changes revolve around the development of the Internet and the concomitant increases in the amount of raw material readily available to students. Whether it is the human genome or images of rare documents, digital output from the Sloan Digital Sky project or galleries of art, vast sets of demographic data, or collections of historic maps, students today can readily access original materials that in years past were available only to the most advanced scholars who had privileged physical access to those materials. …

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