Those of us who spend our working lives in universities are fond of predictions. A kind of secular prophecy that emerges from the practice of advancing and testing hypotheses. There is nothing like a full-blown crisis for bringing this tendency to the fore. Barely a week passes without an article appearing in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed either predicting the end of the campus university in the face of the shift online, outlining the potential of a new approach or a cutting-edge technology to save us, or foreshadowing the collapse into darkness of the entire project of a wide-ranging humanist education.
All of us at the Center for Transformative Teaching were saddened and angered by the senseless death of George Floyd in May. We remember, too, the many other black lives unnecessarily and unjustly lost in this country. Therefore, the CTT believes that we should make a statement that echoes and supports those made by Chancellor Green and Vice-Chancellor Marco Barker earlier in the month.
Chancellor Green reminded us that, “we cannot simply acknowledge the situation with sadness and move on..we must take real steps to address racial inequities and a history of exclusion [and] we must take them now.”
What has impressed me at UNL, has been the work undertaken at all stages and by individuals from every corner of the university. This feels genuinely different to several organizations I have worked in where much was said, and little was done.
What exactly should be the role of a teaching and learning center in a university like ours? There are a whole range of views. There are those who believe that the work of teaching and learning centers in supporting instructors is so important and fundamental that the reach of such centers should be extended and extended. There are those who would abolish them – this tendency can sometimes produce an unlikely alliance of very senior administrators and strongly independent-minded faculty where the issue is cost for one, and administrative meddling for the other. And there are those – the majority I suspect – who have not given it much thought up to now.
Professor Ken Robinson, who died in August of this year, was one of the best-known and creative thinkers on education of the last 50 years. He sought to free us from the shackles placed upon us by those who use education for political purposes. He did this time-and-again by using witty and entertaining critiques of the absurdities created by those who apply reductive and wrong-headed policies to the complex world of teaching and learning.
Working in higher education it often seems that this is true as the polarization of political opinion among students increases and the numbers of the persuadable decreases. The shift in the attitudes of young people according to rigid doctrines of the right or the left may well be a significant feature driving a less civil environment and moving students along a path to possible radicalization. But what can we do to address these issues on the eve of the most divisive U.S. general election in living memory?
As Nebraska’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program celebrates the end of its summer session with a virtual showcase of student projects, and as the new academic year gets under way, it’s an ideal moment to consider the benefits of undergraduate research.
Not only does research provide great one-off opportunities for undergraduates – and the experience of UNL junior, Andrew Malesker, is a great example of this – it’s also a way to introduce active learning into the curriculum and to engage students from all kinds of backgrounds in meaningful ways. For me, as someone deeply committed to the belief that students should be provided with every opportunity to drive their own learning, it has unlimited potential as a pedagogy.
The way learning is understood in universities around the world has changed fundamentally in the last 15-20 years. Ideas and practices such as student engagement, the co-creation of knowledge, undergraduate research, interactive learning, peer evaluation, and others that are now commonplace in our institutional culture, were either unheard of, were in their infancy, or existed in highly specialized niches. Now, in universities in locations across the world from North America, to Australia, to China, to continental Europe, and the UK, significant resources are invested in student-focused pedagogies. I would argue that this shift represents a revolution in our approach to learning in higher education – albeit, as so often with change in universities, the revolution has been slow and has thus not appeared particularly dramatic.
In his most recent communication to the university, Chancellor Green wrote of 'the incredible challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic' and the way 'the UNL community has delivered' on the 'herculean task' of rising to those challenges. All of us at the Center for Transformative Teaching are proud to have had the opportunity to support the hundreds of instructors we have interacted with in workshops, the summer institutes, and one-to-one consultations since the move online in the spring.
The entire UNL community has wrestled with the many challenges of a hybrid face-to-face and online mode of delivery as we have been forced to imagine scenarios for the fall semester that have simply not been encountered in higher education previously. As though this was not sufficient to increase our anxieties and workload, we face uncertainty about how the current situation might develop and how it affects us outside our working lives. In all this, though, what has struck us most powerfully at the CTT is how fortunate UNL is to have such a resilient, adaptable, and creative group of educators. Read more...