“ W hen w e focus on studentlearning and think of teaching as helping students
learn, then a nu m ber of pedagogical and curricular design options beco m e con- ceivable. W e can be m ore creative and can choose a m ong m any m ore variables.”
Bringing new resources and new pedagogies into play requires us to
relax longstanding structures and barriers. This makes us question the
traditional roles of students and faculty; a much higher level of engagement and responsibility is assumed by students. Service and experiential
learning require coordination and a new or greater commitment of staff
time; this may change the ratio of academic to professional staff. Faculty
members bring their scholarship and experience into an altered dynamic
in which they contribute significantly as designers and facilitators rather
than mainly dispensers of formal declarative knowledge.
In our resource-limited context, five questions need to be asked – and
asked without presupposing too quickly that we know the answers – if we
are to realize the full value of this shift towards learning, away from teaching:
• What do students need to be able to do by the end of their course or program?
• What pedagogical and curricular opportunities can we design to help
them learn to do it?
• What resources can we consider as we design these learning opportunities?
• What can we do as institutions or educators to bring those resources to
bear on student learning?
• How will we know whether we are successful?
An interesting example of the impact of asking these questions is
to be found at Alverno College, a liberal arts college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where all students in programs ranging from religious studies
to nursing must demonstrate eight college-wide abilities at graduation.
Alverno College takes in a majority of visible-minority, first-generation,
part-time students – groups that historically have encountered difficulty
in postsecondary education. All the degree programs incorporate a high
level of self-, peer and instructor assessment, as well as a curriculum designed to help students learn the eight abilities as interpreted for each
degree program. The college uses no grades, relying on narrative feedback
to help students meet learning objectives. One of the requirements for
the highly integrated programs Alverno offers is frequent, well-prepared
faculty planning and information-sharing activities. To help motivate
students and provide student and program assessment, several hundred
community volunteers assess the work of students and give them and the
22 / www.universityaffairs.ca /January 2011
college feedback in assessments done outside class at strategic points in
the program. The clarity afforded by explicit, college-wide learning outcomes makes it practical to use community assessors as an important
learning resource. The lack of grades focuses students on the high-quality
feedback they receive from a variety of sources. Frequent faculty planning
sessions make it possible to integrate learning efforts over the whole curriculum. Alverno places well above the 90th percentile for National Survey
of Student Engagement (NSSE) scores.
Students at Quest University, Canada’s first private, non-profit liberal
arts college, based in Squamish, B. C., follow a “block program” consisting
of just one course at a time for 18 class days. This approach gives faculty
maximum flexibility on where and how they teach, since students aren’t
required to be on campus for any other course during those 18 days. This
opens the door to field studies, project work, international travel and a
wide variety of experiential learning. Students concentrate on one topic
at a time and build strong social interaction skills during project work
and seminar classes. To attempt this, the university had to put in place a
very different academic calendar and train faculty to make effective use
of large, concentrated blocks of time with students. In 2009, Quest University had the highest NSSE scores in North America.
At Université du Quebec à Montréal, an ingenious program of inter-cultural exchanges is helping students learn from each other in education,
social work, career planning and French as a Second Language (FSL).
The program organizers create several events that bring FSL learners
(most of whom are also immigrants or international students) into close
contact with francophone students from education, social work and
career planning. Each group of students learns different things from the
encounters – for example, social work students learn about the challenges
facing new immigrants in Quebec society while FSL students learn about
that society and how to cope with their anxiety as novice language learners.
In every case, students complete assignments based on the experiences.
To implement the program across several faculties, staff and instructors
have had to collaborate and communicate very effectively. Thanks to creative educational design and a broad-minded approach to the resources
at their disposal, a modest number of faculty and staff in this innovative
program generated substantial learning and high satisfaction among the
hundreds of students across the collaborating departments.
At the University of Sudbury, the departments of religious studies and
Native studies both operate extensive undergraduate research programs
with honours students, engaging them in graduating-year colloquia and,
in some cases, scholarly publishing. These practices substantially increase