Interconnectivity and Attitudinal Shifts(June 9, 2006)
What have we learned?
A pivotal change is underway in college-level learning. At the heart of this change is a shift from an “Instructional Paradigm” to a “Learning Paradigm.” Two factors are driving this change: 1) many students are underprepared for college-level learning, and 2) there is a renewed emphasis on quantifiable, measurable outcomes in student learning.
In light of these factors four major trends have emerged—a move away from isolation to K-16 alignment, an organizational paradigm shift, a shift from providing instruction to producing learning, and a shift from content-based learning outcomes to measurable student learning and defined content standards. A fifth trend, a focus on literacy, is threaded throughout each of these four. The Beaverton School District’s “Literacy Position Paper” provides a good working definition. The paper defines literacy as “the ability to use strategies independently to construct meaning from a variety of texts; to draw upon texts to build conceptual understanding; to effectively communicate ideas orally and in writing; and to possess an intrinsic desire to read and write.”
The major trends
- Alignment Shift/ Interconnectivity:
At the national, state, and local levels, educators are discussing the K-16 continuum. The key questions are: How large is the disconnect between high school and college in respect to higher-level learning? And to what degree does this disconnect contribute to the lack of student success? Reforms must occur across curriculums so that a failure at one level isn’t exacerbated at the next. Strengthening the alignment between higher education and K-12 curriculum is essential.
- Organizational Paradigm Shift:
Some schools and colleges today are examining their organizational culture. In particular, they are reassessing how their institution’s culture and practices potentially hinder student success and learning. Many colleges, in particular the Vanguard Colleges, are emphasizing the notion of a college as a “learning organization,” where a collective emphasis is placed on learning. Peter Senge describes such an organization as a place “where people are continually learning how to learn together.” In this context, a stronger commitment to professional development has emerged.
- Learning Shift:
In the past the college existed to deliver instruction, but today the college exists to promote student learning. In a way the paradigm of teacher as subject and student as object has been reversed. The focus has shifted to assure that the student is connected to the learning community, that the student is no longer a passive vessel to be filled. Instead the student is an active participant in the construction of knowledge. Student learning centers and other student support services (e.g. library services, career and academic advising, mentoring and wraparound services) that support student persistence and retention have received more attention. Additionally the use of cohorts and first-year transition programs have become more frequently used. Practices need to be driven by research. Assessments need to inform instruction. Clear and challenging learning goals need to be established.
- Outcomes Shift:
What PCC refers to as Course Content Outcome Guidelines (CCOGs) are called Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) at other schools (College of the Redwoods, for example). Too, the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges has shifted from “Learning Outcomes” to “Content Standards.” According to SBCTC “learning outcomes” are “statements of minimal expectations,” but “content standards . . .clarify the knowledge and skills needed to demonstrate the outcome.” There is a renewed sense of student efficacy and responsibility. Increased attention is placed on students’ habits of mind and how these habits affect students’ ability to “do something” with the knowledge they’ve learned.
- Emphasis on Literacy:
Throughout the literature we’ve read, from the PCC Prerequisite Survey to Vanguard Colleges to Brown University to Cabrillo College’s Digital Bridge to the Community College of Baltimore County, there is a renewed focus on core competencies organized around reading, writing, math, critical thinking, information literacy, and habits of mind. The Beaverton School District’s “Literacy Position Paper” quoted above also mentions that “As our nation becomes more technologically advanced and globally interconnected, literacy has become increasingly complex. Preparing students with the literacy foundation needed to function effectively in society, develop their knowledge and achieve their goals is our most compelling challenge.” The Beaverton School District has also placed a strong emphasis on math literacy, as well.
The following pages contain links to ongoing research, studies, models, practices, and trends. Though they have been separated into categories—1) Learning Outcomes, 2) Models, Programs, and Practices, and 3) Trends and Themes—they are all interconnected. Whatever the model or practice, greater literacy, more student-centered learning, and a desire for greater student success, is the objective.