The LEAP Challenge Blog

Jeanne L. Narum
AAC&U Distinguished Fellow

How Might We Imagine the Liberal Arts Learning Environment in 2020?

To what ends?

In a 2005 paper delivered to the Board of Science Education at the National Academy of Sciences, James Fairweather (Michigan State University) suggested that one reason for the lack of ‘stickiness’ of meaningful reforms in undergraduate STEM learning environments was that proposed or attempted initiatives were siloed, designed to tackle one part of an ill-defined problem or need rather than designed from the first to engage and shape an institution-wide awareness of and commitment to the change initiative. Similar insights about transformative change are presented in research by Peter Eckel and Adrianna Kezar, who have produced research-based evidence about the importance of leadership in fostering change, about core change strategies, and about the need for attention to culture and context in the process of imagining and undertaking change.

Woven into sessions throughout this meeting are various themes about institutional change—about best practices and lessons learned in the governance and management of colleges and universities in these fiscally difficult days, as well as in collective efforts to ensure the success of all students. There is evident a significant body of collective wisdom about what works—and why—and about what has not worked and why.

It will be interesting to capture and distill the stories from individuals, projects, and campuses about how they defined the problem their change initiative set out to address. More important, though, is to seek lessons learned about the role of leadership in nurturing change and shaping a campus-wide culture in which imagining and undertaking transformative change is encouraged (and perhaps even celebrated).

From my work with Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) over the years, I’ve observed many different attempts at innovations—some of which have been efficient, others of which have been non-productively disrupted. I look forward to hearing from AAC&U colleagues about what they are hearing and learning during our time together. Perhaps together we can begin to answer the question posed in the headline for this meeting: To What Ends?  I’ll be thinking about ideas and insights to take back to my work on Monday. I look forward to reading yours.

Jeanne L. Narum is a Principal at the Learning Spaces Collaboratory, as well as Director Emerita of Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL). She is also an AAC&U Senior Scholar.