Magazine article Liberal Education

Engaged Learning: Enabling Self-Authorship and Effective Practice

Magazine article Liberal Education

Engaged Learning: Enabling Self-Authorship and Effective Practice

Article excerpt

RECENTLY, through its Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2007) synthesized the college outcomes necessary for successful practice in twentyfirst-century life: knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative learning. Because these outcomes span the cognitive, social, and personal dimensions, achieving them requires more than information acquisition or even critical analysis. It requires transformative learning, or learning "to negotiate and act on our own purposes, values, feelings, and meanings rather than those we have uncritically assimilated from others" (Mezirow 2000, 8). Most importantly, it entails a shift from uncritical acceptance of external authority to critical analysis of authority in order to establish one's own internal authority. This internal authority is what developmental theorists call self-authorship, or the capacity to define one's beliefs, identity, and social relations (Baxter Magolda 2001; Kegan 1994).

Kegan argued that self-authorship requires us to "take charge of the concepts and theories of a course or discipline, marshalling on behalf of our independently chosen topic its internal procedures for fonmilating and validating knowledge" (1994, 303). According to him, self-authorship not only encompasses epistemologica! maturity, it also requires cultivating a secure sense of self that enables interdependent relations with others and making judgments through considering but not being consumed by others' perspectives. Effective partnering, work, and citizenship in a diverse society necessitate the capacity to manage external realities using the compass afforded by our internally generated beliefs, identities, and social relations.

Evidence abounds that, in recent decades, students have typically entered college relying on perspectives they have uncritically accepted from others and are not sufficiently challenged and supported to transition to internal authority during college. Students who have experienced significant challenge, particularly as a result of marginalization, may exhibit self-authorship prior to college or during college (Abes and Jones 2004; Pizzolato 2003; Torres and Hernandez 2007). Intentional efforts to promote self-authorship in college also show promise. The possibility of developing self-authorship earlier than has typically been observed implies that a carefully sequenced and de\'elopmentally appropriate curriculum can help college students develop self-authorship.

We advance a new model tor a universitywide curriculum that we call the "Engaged Learning University." Based upon research on student development, this model features principles and practices that lead students steadily toward self-authorship in which epistemologica!, interpersonal, and intrapersonal maturity are integrated. Before articulating details of this model, we describe the evolution of students' meaning making during and after college. Then, we offer an engaged learning philosophy to promote transformational learning, and finally, we conclude with a description of our comprehensive curriculum designed for twenty-first-century life.

The evolution of self-authorship

The concept of transformative learning is grounded in the constructive-developmental perspective advanced notably by Jean Piaget ( 1950). This perspective asserts that people construct reality by interpreting their experiences and that the ways of constructing realityevolve according to regular principles of stability and change. We generate meaning-making structures, or "rules," based on our experiences of how the world works. We use these rules to interpret new experiences until we encounter experiences that cannot be explained by our rules. Initially, we regard those experiences as exceptions; but when too many exceptions overwhelm our current meaning-making structure, we adjust it to a more complex one that accommodates the new experiences. …

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