Liberal Education

From the Editor

Educational innovation is very often born in the classroom, as individual educators adapt otherwise familiar curricular elements or mandates to suit the particular requirements of their courses and students or to accommodate their own values, interests, styles, and disciplines. The Featured Topic section below offers a window on this process.

The lead article describes an innovative approach to the evaluation of courses and instructors, which at most colleges and universities is a perfunctory affair: students are given a standard evaluation form at the end of a course and asked to respond to a series of summative questions. Despite its many obvious shortcomings, this system remains firmly entrenched across American higher education, and its often dubious results can be highly consequential—not least for faculty facing tenure and promotion reviews or instructors awaiting contract renewal decisions. The inadequacy of the prevailing system became especially clear to Lee Hansen after he had developed a new, proficiency-based approach to teaching general economics. If his new approach was to succeed, he realized, he would need to customize the student evaluation, making it into a tool for student engagement and making sure its results could be used to refine the course.

The second article focuses on the practical implications of the widespread recognition that global perspective is an essential ingredient in the education of today’s students. What exactly does the term “global perspective” mean, and what can be done at the level of the curriculum or even the individual course to help students develop it? These are questions to which Frank Rusciano has given careful consideration. His proposals for including global perspectives across the curriculum are rooted in the expertise he has developed not only as a teacher who has successfully “globalized” his own courses, but also as a faculty leader who has helped others do the same through campus workshops and conference presentations—including a recent presentation at the AAC&U Network for Academic Renewal conference on global learning.

Finally, the third article presents an innovative approach to the first-year orientation course. While at a humanities symposium, Ivan Fuller had an “ah-hah moment” as he listened to a fellow professor express her regret and frustration at the course limitations and time constraints that prevent her from engaging her students deeply in critical thinking. He, too, felt hemmed in by the demands of breadth over depth and regretted that he could not “dig deeply” with students. But why does depth have to wait for specialization, he wondered, when the intellectual skills it develops and the joy of learning it ignites are, in fact, more essential to success in and after college than are the “freshman survival skills” and other objectives of the standard first-year orientation course? After returning to campus, he developed and successfully piloted a more ambitious, deep-learning alternative to the first-year seminar for theatre majors.

As this issue goes to press, we mourn the sudden death of Bobby Fong. Among his many lasting contributions to American higher education—and, indeed, to this association—Bobby was closely and actively involved with this journal. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he served two terms on the editorial advisory board; in January, he had generously begun a fresh term. He was also a frequent writer for Liberal Education over the past quarter century or so. This issue carries his final article, a visionary and deeply humane appeal for attention to students’ souls, a call to “educate your communities in love.” It was a pleasure and a privilege to know and work with Bobby Fong. He will be greatly missed.

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