The good folks over at the University of Venus began a networking challenge this fall. I never got around to actually signing up for it, but I thought it was a great idea and I intended to participate. Their challenge consisted of doing one of the following:
- Go interdisciplinary
- Go international
- Go outside your institution
- Go to a neighboring institution
- Go to your local community
What a great way to broaden my perspectives and learn new things, and bring back good ideas to my own institution; what a neat form of professional development; and except for “go international,” many of these things I would be able do with low impact on my to-do list and relatively low-cost to me or my institution.
But then I realized that I already do this kind of stuff all the time. These kinds of activities have been integral to my own scholarship for a long time now (if you subscribe to Boyer’s definition of scholarship, which I do). Perhaps these kinds of activities might be defined as networking activities (as University of Venus does) or could even be considered some funny form of academic tourism, but I prefer to think of them as I have experienced them: learning visits.
Let me share some recent examples. I will begin, first, with an experience of being visited:
Several months ago, colleagues from an institution similar to mine (but way across the country) contacted me about coming to my campus for a learning visit. I had met a few of these good folks at a conference a year before; we had a healthy exchange of ideas then and had remained loosely in touch. Their institution was planning to take a team of folks to three universities in the Pacific Northwest, just to learn. They came and spent a day with us, learning from and sharing with several folks on my campus. It turned into a learning exchange within a learning community. Indeed, we asked as many questions of them as they did us, and we learned as much from them as I hope they learned from us.
Since then, one of the members of that visiting team and I have had virtual coffee dates to continue to discuss shared challenges and opportunities (mostly about assessment, but also about implementing liberal arts programs as well as working with adult learners in higher education). To continue our shared learning, next week several of us are visiting again (though this time virtually) to talk about Prior Learning Assessment. And we are visiting with each other just to learn: What’s working and why? What’s not? What ideas might we come up with to improve our programs and our students’ experiences?
This past Friday I completed a learning visit of my own to a university in Southern California (and my university will host them in a learning visit this coming week). This was actually one of the assignments for the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy in which I am participating, but it was a great excuse to spend the good part of a day at another institution learning about what they are doing with assessment and how they are building their teaching/learning/assessment culture. I met with folks from a few academic areas, student services, and institutional research, and also learned how their cross-college assessment committee supports this important work at their institution. I learned about their progress, and their challenges. The visit gave me several ideas for strategies and tools I might bring back to my institution (with adaptations of course), and it also confirmed some of the work we are already doing. I learned.
I am learning so much from these learning visits that I am planning more. With colleagues from our Assessment Program, I am planning a learning visit to a local college to explore their experiential learning simulations lab and think about how such teaching/assessment systems might apply to other disciplines. With a colleague from our Service Program, I am planning to visit another local university to learn about their service-learning program.
I have taken the challenge to heart, and I intend to keep doing so. I think learning visits might be unique opportunities to higher education (perhaps I am incorrect, but I can hardly imagine car or technology companies doing “learning visits” with other car or technology companies). I also think they just might help all of us get better. If higher education is about learning — our students’ learning and our own — then learning visits are one relatively simple way we can achieve great learning outcomes.