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Facilitating Campus Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning
One of the key goals of Clark's Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) initiative is to help students be more reflective, intentional, and self-directed about their learning. Aligned with AAC&U's commitment to integrative learning, we believe an important outcome of a Clark undergraduate education involves students learning to draw connections at four levels: (1) within coursework in their major, (2) between their Program of Liberal Studies courses and their major courses, (3) among their curricular and cocurricular activities, and (4) across disciplines and contexts (often beyond the campus gates).
As we have spent the last half decade designing college environments that help students integrate their learning, we also have been designing environments that instill in Clark undergraduates the increasing capacity to make such connections on their own. The aim of this developmental framework is to ensure that by graduation Clark undergraduates demonstrate the ability to engage in integrative learning for themselves across multiple levels.
While our aims have not changed much over the past five years, the nature of our work has. In asking that students learn differently, we have come to realize that faculty, staff, and administrators will not be able to facilitate this change without learning to be more intentional and integrative themselves. New kinds of professional learning need to take place, and new structures and tools are required to guide this process.
In this case study, we share aspects of Clark's efforts to undertake the most significant curricular reform effort our university has ever initiated. This work has transitioned from the use of standard faculty governance and ad hoc committee structures to the more intentional and sustained use of learning communities (Brown 1984). In charting out this course, we have drawn significantly from the learning and developmental science literature. While it is well known in the literature that learning communities are powerful sites for professional development (Del Prete 2013; Lave and Wenger 1991), we have come to see the need for a strategy for scaling the work and a core set of resources that are necessary to drive and sustain authentic change. The primary lesson we have learned is that without significant attention to thinking freshly about mechanisms of campus leadership for this work, and without significant attention to professional development in support of campus leaders learning to be more intentional and integrative themselves, these important initiatives will fail.
Initiating a Major Review
In 2008, Clark's faculty decided to undertake a major review of its undergraduate curriculum, something that had not undergone substantial review for several decades. A faculty task force on undergraduate education was formed to rethink what it means to be liberally educated in the twenty-first century. The task force recommended a set of five university-wide learning outcomes. Four of these outcomes were adapted from the AAC&U's LEAP Essential Outcomes. A fifth learning outcome focused on what we call "capacities of effective practice," including creativity, self-directedness, resilience, adaptive expertise, and the ability to collaborate.
In addition to shared learning outcomes, the Undergraduate Task Force proposed a new model of learning that draws upon Clark's distinguished history in the learning and developmental sciences. The Undergraduate Task Force report proposed shifting the relationship between general and specialized education. Instead of taking breadth and depth as two relatively separate aspects of the undergraduate experience (and something separate from cocurricular activities), the aim was to see academic progress over time as a single arc of development. This holistic view of student learning identifies three phases. A first orientation phase marks entry to college; a second phase invites growth and exploration; and a third phase, enactment, calls on students to show their progress by enacting and demonstrating what they know (see Budwig  for a fuller description of this work). The task force's work was presented to the faculty assembly and by 2009, the five learning outcomes were adopted by a vote in the Faculty Assembly. With a nod to the acronym for AAC&U's signature initiative LEAP, we call Clark's framework LEEP—Liberal Education and Effective Practice.
New Models for Campus Leadership of Integrative Liberal Learning
Our early work on implementing the LEEP Curricular Framework drew upon existing structures and faculty governance channels, such as our Undergraduate Academic Board and Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, but this work did not fully live up to the goals articulated by the Undergraduate Task Force. These efforts were primarily organized at the level of individual courses, and were hardly integrated into larger structural units beyond individual faculty, which led to minimal curricular or institutional-level change. To implement this curricular framework beyond the individual course level, we realized faculty learning communities, as well as tools and templates to guide these communities, needed to be established.
Novel Forms of Campus Leadership: The Important Role Learning Communities Play
The Effective Practice Faculty Fellowship. Recognizing the need to create a shared vision for weaving integrative learning and effective practice into the undergraduate curriculum, we sought a process that would be transparent, inclusive, iterative, and sustainable. This led us to form the Effective Practice Faculty Fellowship, a group of approximately a dozen volunteers who came from various disciplines. The fellowship faculty met regularly as a learning community and planned a semester-long salon series open to all faculty that took place once a month. The goal of the salons was to generate ideas from a large group of faculty on campus who worked in breakout groups over lunch around a series of topics, such as building a collective faculty vision for LEEP, developing shared goals, and shaping curricular strategies for integrative learning and effective practice.
As the effective practice work moved forward, faculty deepened their knowledge of curricular work beyond their major and gained a noticeable sense of community. Nevertheless, faculty outside the fellowship had a more difficult time thinking about models that offered bold solutions for integrating Clark's curricular elements beyond a set of classes or the major.
There were three takeaways from the Effective Practice Faculty Fellowship efforts. First, we came to recognize the power of learning communities for breaking down university silos. Second, we realized that in order for students to learn differently and in an integrative fashion, faculty, staff, and administrators need to be organized and have professional development to do the same. Third, we received a suggestion from the faculty Undergraduate Academic Board that encouraged leadership to begin work in the major, given that these curricular units were where faculty felt most comfortable. While counterintuitive at first, this turned out to be a powerful recommendation.
The Exemplar Learning Communities Project. This project was designed to foster professional development, bringing together faculty representing several distinct majors, with each exemplar group including five to ten faculty, staff, and one academic administrative leader responsible for the LEEP Curricular Framework efforts. Through iterative cycles of working with membership from different majors on campus and staff from cocurricular units, each exemplar group works as a learning community to support the efforts of individual departments and programs. The goal of the Exemplar Learning Communities Project is to develop department plans for implementing two of the five LEEP learning outcomes, including consideration of the developmental pathways of (1) expected student behaviors at each of the three developmental phases—orientation, growth and exploration, and enactment; (2) the foundational learning and high-impact experiences provided to help students meet these expectations; and (3) plans for assessment of the selected outcomes.
Over the past eighteen months, two iterations of exemplar learning communities have taken place with a third community—focused on our First Year Intensive seminar courses—having started in fall 2014. The first community worked with four different majors (biology, economics, music, and screen studies), while the second group includes four other majors (computer science, cultural studies and communication, English, and management). Clark's new LEEP Center—a support structure on campus integrating all academic support services and providing students with LEEP advising—also has participated in the learning communities to help foster discussion of linkages between the majors and the academic support services and cocurricular activities available on campus.
While currently the first two learning communities have focused on the major, and this work will continue iteratively, our newly formed third learning community brings together faculty and staff involved with the first-year experience to consider ways first-year programming can assist students not only transition into college, but also help them link their first-year experiences to other curricular elements. To help ensure learning is transferred between work going on in the major and the first-year programming, cross-membership between the second and third learning communities was set up. Each learning community spends a semester or more working together formally, though an aim is made to recognize the need for ongoing reflection and iterative cycles of improvement back at the department level for this work.
A second important goal of the exemplar learning communities has been to develop a set of professional tools and public resources that help guide learning that goes beyond simply participating with other peers in the learning community. Building off learning and developmental research (Budwig 2013, Windschitl et al. 2012), we believed that these tools could have a particularly important role to play in our LEEP initiative in that they not only might build individual capacity, but also could be a great resource in making departmental thinking visible—public and available (to self and others)—facilitating organic change in ways that support institutionally agreed upon goals.
Novel Forms of Campus Leadership: Tools and Artifacts to Guide and Share Learning
At Clark we came to realize how challenging it was for departments to think intentionally and specifically about the separate learning outcomes and how they each linked up with expected student behaviors and high-impact experiences. It also was difficult for departments to focus their work on developing pathways of expected student behaviors across time. This led to the creation of a learning outcomes template, which helps departments systematically inquire and reflect on these issues. Another important tool has become the poster template, a device that assists departments in sharing work on their learning outcomes template with other curricular units in a public way. The poster template allows units to share information about the department, two of the learning outcome templates that describe developmental pathways, and gives insight into department plans for next steps. What is critical is that these tools guide inquiry—both at the level of the individual unit, as well as facilitating cross departmental conversations. These tools do not prescribe. The templates allow units to create unique plans and outcomes.
The tools and artifacts are deeply connected to the work of the learning communities. The templates are provided to augment the work, with each learning community not only utilizing these tools, and seeing the results of others' use of them, but also contributing to their further development. A Moodle site houses the work of each of the learning communities, organized longitudinally. A section of the Moodle site also holds the most recent poster drafts of each department so each department can work on their own plans but also draw upon the work of others. Members of each individual community provide peer feedback both formally and informally in the context of the learning community meetings. A resource section also holds the latest version of the common templates. We have found that the pace of work of the learning community speeds up with each iteration, largely due to the improvements in the templates and resources supporting their use. In winter 2015 these tools will be available to faculty and staff at Clark as part of a new webpage that describes this work.
The benefit of these learning communities then lies not only in developing professional leadership for intentional integrative learning, but also in strengthening this leadership through the process of rich documentation. The posters provide a mechanism to share the work of learning community members with departments that have yet to participate. This past spring, Clark's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning hosted an afternoon session that allowed departments to share posters with faculty and staff. These sessions both inspire future work and also show the diversity of ways departments across campus are implementing integrative learning and effective practice, countering any concern that a one-size-fits-all model is expected.
What We Have Learned
While there is general consensus on campus that integrative learning and effective practice are critical to liberal learning, implementing the ambitious goals of Clark's LEEP initiative has been more complex than we originally thought. Clark's Undergraduate Task Force Report created a general buzz of excitement. Much of the reform efforts were designed to ensure that all students experienced the best of what undergraduates found transformative. Instead of developing completely new curricular elements and experiences, much of the proposed curricular change involved more intentionally organizing student learning. One of the key findings of our work related to implementing the LEEP framework is that faculty and staff also need to become more intentional and integrative in their efforts. Helping students coordinate pathways that integrate their learning across curricular and cocurricular experiences, and allowing students to take on increasing agency and intentionality for their integrative learning, require faculty and staff to do the same.
Learning communities have been central to the professional development work we have described. They provide an open and supportive environment that facilitates professional development. Faculty and staff feel comfortable in professional learning environments designed to allow members to co-create integrative learning pathways for students. But we have found that learning communities do not simply develop organically. They need strong support and nurturing. Significant design goes into their formation, and continuous leadership that scaffolds learning is imperative. In such contexts, tools and artifacts become powerful resources that foster enhanced professional development. We have found two features that have improved the success of learning communities: first, the individual learning communities need to be networked or linked together over time in planned and sequenced ways; second, learning communities depend on tools and artifacts that serve as important scaffolds that encourage disciplined and collaborative inquiry.
One challenge for our community has been a tension in this work between totally organic work on the part of faculty and staff and significant leadership from the academic administration—individuals who typically carry broader institutional vision and time commitment to the LEEP implementation initiative. We have landed in a spot that is neither top down nor bottom up. Drawing from literature in the developmental and learning sciences, we have coined a term, guided emergence, to characterize this approach (see Budwig 2013; Budwig and Elsass 2013). Guided emergence sees the role of campus leadership as one that designs environments and provides and assists with the creation of tools and artifacts that allow individuals and broader learning communities unique opportunities for authentic engagement and the chance to flourish. We believe guided emergence provides a conceptual tool for rethinking the role of faculty and academic leadership in facilitating new forms of campus leadership for the integrative liberal learning we know is central to the educational outcomes we desire for our students.
This work benefited from Clark's participation in the AAC&U consortium on facilitating faculty leadership for liberal learning and we acknowledge the active engagement and feedback our project received from many of the other consortium school participants and AAC&U consortium leadership. The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations also provided generous support to the Exemplar Project work for which we are grateful.
Brown, Ann L. 1984. "The Advancement of Learning." Educational Researcher 23 (8): 4–12.
Budwig, Nancy. 2013. "The Learning Sciences and Liberal Education." Change 45 (3): 40–48.
Budwig, Nancy, and Priscilla Elsass, P. 2013. "Guided Emergence: A Process for Weaving Learning Outcomes into the Undergraduate Academic Experience." Paper presented at the AAC&U Network for Academic Renewal Conference on General Education and Assessment, Boston, MA, February 2013.
Del Prete, Thomas. 2013.Teacher Rounds: A Guide to Collaborative Learning in and from Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wenger. 1991.Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Windschitl, Mark, Jessica Thompson, Melissa Braaten, and David Stroupe. 2012. "Proposing a Core Set of Instructional Practices and Tools for Teachers of Science." Science Education 96 (5), 878–903.
Nancy Budwig is the associate provost, dean of research, and a professor of psychology; Sarah Michaels is professor of education and the director of the cultural studies and communication program; Lisa Kasmer is an associate professor of English—all of Clark University