Quinnipiac's New Synthesis and Learning Paradigm
Quinnipiac University is in the midst of an institutional transformation that will benefit every member of our community. We strive to provide our graduates the learning outcomes they need through a coherent, purposeful integration of the full student experience comprised of three intensive University seminars, the University curriculum, deep engagement in the content and construction of a major and active participation in co-curricular experience.
The educational journey encompasses the full undergraduate experience embracing not only curricula within and outside the major, but also with student affairs, residential life, and the wealth of experiences that students accrue in laboratories, on athletic fields, during study abroad, internships, community-based service work, and in student groups--all of the places where our students learn and grow. We strive for all pieces of the University to be tightly connected in ways that support learning and the development of the well prepared graduate.
Keeping the student at the center is not solely a faculty responsibility; it is the primary goal of our community. Individual efforts are linked to the common goal. Students are active participants in learning. Policies, routines, rules, practices and schedules are designed and implemented with a focus on student learning and success.
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As a result of this work, our students will be better served, we will know with confidence that we have done our very best in helping our students learn and succeed and the University's sustainability over the long run will be assured. Done well, we will undertake a journey together that is ongoing and during which we will continuously learn and benefit from our work together.
John Tagg, author of The Learning Paradigm College, says that among the things needed to develop a learning paradigm is the creation of a community of practice; a community where people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. A community of practice is one in which there is clarity around what we seek to achieve together. There exists clarity of mission, values and purpose. A community of practice, a learner centered community, is characterized by an understanding of how the efforts of individual members (faculty, staff, administrators and students), departments (academic and non-academic), schools contribute effectively to the whole.
The shift in a focus from instruction to learning not only requires us to rethink our role and the role of students in the learning process, it also requires us as individuals to consider our relationship to the institution. In developing the learning paradigm, we will develop a renewed understanding of what we are all here for. A community of practice won't exist among a relatively loose collection of individuals, departments, schools and offices. Most importantly, a community of practice within a learning paradigm puts students at the center. Tagg writes about breaking the patterns that hold us back from a transition from an instruction to a learning paradigm and says, "we can gather, as educators - not just faculty, but all of us who do the work of the college--around our students. Put them at the center." Some of the characteristics of the learning paradigm are as follows.
- Policies, routines, rules, practices and schedules are all designed and implemented with a focus on student learning and success
- Students are active participants in learning
- Emphasis is on generating better questions not just the right answers
- Risk of learning from errors and trying new things is minimized
- Primary focus promotes interdisciplinary investigation, deemphasizes focus on only a single discipline
- Students recognize the value of learning and seek to be smarter (rather then look smart)
- Students study for life not just for the exam
- Students seek to know and understand, not just memorize
- Student involvement in co-curricular experiences is valued as part of their learning
- A culture of robust learning is evident. There is ownership of action linked to personal goals, accountability and responsibility
- Assessment is used to promote our learning together as a community of practice.
- We concern ourselves with answering the question "What will my students learn?", not "What am I going to teach?"
Consider the conditions that define the 21st century world. Our graduates will enter a world that is complex and dynamic in nature and increasingly so. It is a world where certainty is rare and disruption is the norm. The rate of scientific and technological innovation, already rapid, will continue to increase. Global interdependence will become even more critical going forward. Economic turmoil is prevalent. Political unrest is evident. U.S. standing in the world is uncertain. And there is tremendous pressure on US competitiveness. There is clearly a need to pursue a strategy of building a dynamic, innovation-fueled economy. In light of these conditions, the bottom line for us is that ongoing changes in the world around us require us to examine the relevance and demand for the education we offer, both now and into the future.
We readily know and understand that our graduates need the discipline specific knowledge associated with a chosen major consistent with a particular career path. Our students know this as well. But the major coursework represents only a portion of the full experience. Our efforts are currently very heavily focused on this part of the student experience and the expertise that is acquired in major specific coursework is critical to student success. We do very well at this. However, if discipline specific knowledge is the only or the primary thing that our graduates take away from their experience they leave with limited capability, with only a sliver of the understanding they need from their college experience. They will suffer from a narrowness that will impede their ability to thrive.
To be fully prepared to meet the demands of a 21st century world, taking into account what we know is highly valued by employers and graduate schools, our graduates need an education that empowers them with (1) broad knowledge of human culture and the natural world, (2) intellectual and practical skills required to address complex problems in a dynamic world, (3) a sense of social responsibility, ethics, and values, and (4) a capacity to transfer skills and capacities across domains - an ability to synthesize, integrate, and adapt across general and specialized contexts, old and new. A twenty-first-century university education should prepare a learner to grapple with important contemporary issues as well as enduring human challenges.
We know what our graduates need to have in hand to be successful. We've determined this using a variety of sources of information, including input from employers, graduate schools and trade organizations. Graduates whose quality and effectiveness are second to none are broadly prepared through a coherent, purposeful integration of the full student experience, comprised of three intensive University seminars, the University Curriculum, deep engagement in the content and construction of a major and active participation in co-curricular experience. Furthermore, they can readily apply what they have learned and demonstrate the value they bring to any situation. The individual most likely to succeed in career, life and citizenry not only needs a full range of intellectual capabilities but he or she must be able to put them to effective use.
The comprehensive, integrated and interdisciplinary undergraduate curriculum and program, an entire learning community, within which students understand and experience how every component of their Quinnipiac experience, curricular and co-curricular, is connected and important to their development needs to be developed. The pieces of this are available, but they need to be drawn together effectively.
Tagg reminds us in his book that in Latin, the word curriculum means a race or racecourse, implying a purposeful movement toward a goal. Just for a moment, think about what our students' use as a guide to successfully maneuver through the "requirements" for degree completion. The experience is a checklist of courses representing the "hurdles" to success. There is no sense of the importance of the individual pieces, how they are potentially connected and no coherency, no clear relation to one another. In the absence of a coherent, intentional course of study that synthesizes all of the important components of the students' educational experience the attitude that prevails in the learner is that their education experience simply consists of several barriers to be overcome as opposed to an intentional pathway to being the extraordinarily prepared graduate we say we seek as a goal. It is our responsibility to do everything necessary to change this.
The fact that this purposeful, effectively integrated educational experience doesn't currently exist is not because we don't care or that any of us is ill intentioned or that we aren't working hard. The reason it doesn't exist is that we are not operating as a learning paradigm community. Furthermore, we can't deliver an education that meets the future needs of our graduates unless we develop a learning paradigm. We need to eventually evaluate virtually everything we do and determine whether or not each of these things is consistent with a learning paradigm. We need to think about our policies, rules schedules, governance structure, use of resources, types of resources, what we measure, how we measure, how we use measures, what we value, what we reward, what we give recognition to. We also need to think about what we communicate to and expect of our students more effectively--from their first exposure to our University and throughout their experience while here and as alumni.
John Tagg offers his own twist on the Golden Rule. He says, "Do what you want your students to do. Be what you want your students to be. It is a rule that can be applied to and by everyone who works at the college. It can also be applied to and by the college or university as an institution. It is simple. It is testable--we can easily find out whether we are following it. It will not lead everyone to the same answers, but it will lead everyone to discussable answers, ideas that can be shared and tested."
The work that our community is undertaking will benefit each and every member, will benefit the University and advance it to be among those recognized as one of the most effective. But most importantly, it will ensure that we achieve our common goal of producing graduates second to none, fully prepared to excel in work, in citizenry and in life in a 21st century world.
Essential Learning Outcomes
Deep, disciplinary knowledge lies at the core of a Quinnipiac University education, complemented by a University commitment to prepare students for adaptability, achievement and leadership in a dynamic, unpredictable world. Through a balanced curriculum, Quinnipiac University students examine the forces that have shaped and continue to shape our world, and use this information to integrate their specific interests into the broader context of the local, national, and global community. Quinnipiac University graduates are able to consciously and decisively demonstrate a number of key outcomes essential to the life and practice of a responsible, educated citizen. Graduates acquire these outcomes through a purposeful integration of the University Curriculum, requirements within one's major, and experiences beyond the classroom.
- Written Communication - An ability to think critically, clearly, and creatively in written expression in areas of interest and expertise.
- Oral Communication - An ability to think critically, clearly, and creatively in oral expression in areas of interest and expertise.
- Responsible Citizenship - An ability to recognize, analyze and influence decisions and actions at the local, national and global community level, and to engage in the community as responsible citizens.
- Diversity Awareness and Sensitivity - An understanding of and respect for the similarities and differences among human communities. This includes a recognition and appreciation for the unique talents and contributions of all individuals.
- Social Intelligence - An ability to work effectively with others, to understand and manage interactions, and to act ethically, constructively, and responsibly to achieve individual and common goals.
- Critical Thinking and Reasoning - An ability to recognize problems, and to acquire, assess and synthesize information in order to derive creative and appropriate solutions.
- Scientific Literacy - An ability to understand and apply scientific knowledge in order to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to make decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A scientifically literate person is able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it.
- Quantitative Reasoning - An ability to represent mathematical information symbolically, visually, numerically, and verbally, and to interpret mathematical models such as graphs, tables, and schematics in order to draw inferences. Also, an ability to use arithmetical, algebraic, geometric, and statistical methods to solve problems.
- Information Fluency - An ability to find and critically evaluate information from various media, to analyze it, and communicate outcomes in the process of solving problems in a changing and complex world. Also, an ability to use information and computer literacy skills to manage projects and conduct rigorous inquiry.
- Creative Thinking - The capacity to combine or synthesize existing ideas, or expertise in original ways and the experience of thinking, reacting, and working in an imaginative way characterized by a high degree of innovation, divergent thinking, and risk-taking.
- Visual Literacy - The ability to interpret visual messages and/or to create such messages in ways that advance thinking, decision-making, and communications. Visual Artifacts include, but are not limited to: electronic media, art, charts and graphs, diagrams, maps, metaphors, data, concept, information, strategy, and compound.