The Bottom Line

I’m happily working my way through the reading assignments for the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy that I am participating in (and finding all sorts of goodies to share with my colleagues), and this paragraph from Mary J. Allen’s book Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education (2004) reminded me why I care so much about assessment — because it’s (once again) about informing teaching and learning:

Earlier teaching models, primarily based on delivering content through textbooks and lecturing, assumed that students learn through listening, reading, and independent work. Typical grading practices, based on grading on a curve, frequently put students into competition with each other, discouraging student collaboration. More recent conceptions of learning stress that students construct knowledge by integrating new learning into what they already know. Learning is viewed as a cognitive and social process in which students construct meaning through reflection and through their interactions with faculty, fellow students, and others. This approach involves expanded use of active learning pedagogies, such as collaborative and cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and community service learning. Our ability to meet the educational needs of our diverse student body depends on developing an expanded repertoire of pedagogical strategies with demonstrated effectiveness, and assessment helps us identify these strategies. (p. 3)

And then (as if that wasn’t enough of a Rah! Rah! for educators), Allen identifies the bottom line:

The bottom line for assessment is student learning (p. 6) . . . . Just as the bottom line in business is the generation of profit, the bottom line in higher education is the generation of learning. (p.19)

Generating learning. That’s a really great bottom line.


My Third And Final Major Was English

David Brooks has written an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times called History for Dollars in which he advocates for studying the humanities, and it has me nogging.

Thanks to quinn.anya on Flickr for making this image available.

Brooks argues that studying the humanities will make a person more employable because they will be able to read and write well, will deeply understand human emotion, can think analogically, and can “befriend” what he calls “The Big Shaggy,” behaviors and phenomena that are difficult to explain. Of the latter, Brooks writes:

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

I object to his implication that blogs “lack the heft” of critical thought and inquiry, but I have to agree with almost every other proposition of his editorial. Let me tell you why.

My first major in college was journalism. I had spent the previous 3 years in high school tirelessly advocating for Freedom Of The Press and a separation of advertising and editorial (my main objective being to convince the school administrators that placing a Planned Parenthood ad in the student newspaper paper was not an endorsement for having sex). It made perfect sense that I would be a journalism major: I had prior experience on the newspaper and yearbook, passion, and it could be practical. I could get a job.

My second major was speech pathology and audiology. I changed it from journalism about a month into college because I decided I wanted to try to do something different from what I had been doing. It wasn’t an analytical decision at the time; it was more like wanderlust meets “I want to be employable after graduation.”

I liked this new major because I was learning in multiple disciplines: anatomy, language development and linguistics, psychology, neurology, etc. We also got to look at cadavers, which was scary and horrifying and amazing, all at the same time. However, in my first session in the speech clinic, when a distraught but forceful mother of a child with a bilateral lisp was insistent that we “FIX HIM!!!” in time for a speech he had to give at his church, my clinical supervisor turned to me and said, “Welcome to your future.” An off-the-cuff comment, but I listened.

My third and final major was English because I liked to write and I liked to read, and I didn’t want to spend time taking courses that I didn’t like. I temporarily set aside my pragmatic paycheck-oriented concerns and decided to focus on learning. And with that came great freedom and deep engagement and, as Brooks argues and I fully believe, marketability.

I have applied lessons from my English courses — from all of those Australian novels and Middle English Prologues and poems and essays and tree structures and Latin roots —  to every aspect of my work. From supervising and supporting employees, to preparing and monitoring budgets, to writing grants, to giving presentations to friendly and challenging audiences, to teaching and mentoring, to learning new computer programs or programming my voice mail, to communicating with various stakeholders and advocating with fierce grace, I call upon my English major skills and capacities of mind each and every day.

Brooks implies that there is money associated with a humanities education; I suspect that might be true (it has not been, for me). But what I DO have is compassion, creativity, energy, communication, and, in general, happiness with what I can and like to do.

My third and final major was English.  And as for The Big Shaggy? I’ll continue to nog on it, with heft (eh hem!), because, as Brooks asks:

…doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Yes. Yes it does.

Installment #10: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

Yes, yes, it’s been a while since I posted an installment of What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning.  But a lesson happened yesterday that so clearly stands out — because it’s funny, and because it’s right on — that I thought I’d better share.

This is Mac during his soccer class (blurry because both the toddler and the mama/photographer were in motion):

Mac Playing Soccer

In soccer class, the tots are learning all sorts of skills that are not totally about soccer. They are practicing listening skills, learning how to play with others, learning when to stop and rest, as well as developing several motor skills that will serve them well on and off the field.

Yesterday’s soccer class focused on practicing red light (stop), yellow light (slow down), and green light (go fast).  Black light was also part of the lesson: that’s when you stop and do a disco dance (typically resulting in at least one over-zealous parent throwing out his or her back). We spent a good 10 minutes running up and down the field practicing red light, green light, yellow light, with an occasional black light thrown in there for fun.

Later in the afternoon (after a really good nap), Mac, Dado, and I decided to ride our bikes over to Hopworks for dinner.  Mac was in the bike trailer, attached to my bike:

Ready To Go!

On the way home, we were going up a fairly steep hill and I was huffing and puffing (steep hill + a beer + Mama who doesn’t ride her bike often enough = Sucking Wind & Burning Legs), slowly pulling the 40-pound trailer to the top.  Dado zipped by us, straight to the top in no time, and Mac (my backseat driver)  said:

Mama goes yellow light; Dado goes green light.

No kidding – ‘cuz Mama is pulling your a*$ up the hill, kiddo! This Mama is almost at red light; yellow light for this Mama is a downright miracle!

But the lesson here? Mac is applying his new learning to different situations, different contexts. This is key to learning as an adult, too, but as adults, we often forget to do this because we are so focused on applying learning to the context in which we learn it (or need it) that we forget we can apply it elsewhere, take it with us, use it to identify and solve new problems that emerge (like how to get Mama up the hill faster).

Though I am pretty sure that Mac didn’t stop and think about how Dado was going faster than Mama, and what principles of this he’d learned about earlier in the day that might apply, he did apply the concepts of the morning soccer lesson to a new situation. There are lots of educational theories about this, and I’ll spare you all the academic drivel here, but I will ask you:

  • What do you do to make sure you are consciously applying your new learning to different situations?
  • How are you making your learning portable, so you can take it with you from one class to the next, from one context to another, from a flat green field to that steep wind-sucking hill you have to climb?

Think about it! And then, for fun, do a disco dance to celebrate. Black Light, people! Black Light!


#1 – Learning Can Happen When We Challenge our Perspectives

#2 – Learning is Developmental

#3 – We Learn by Direct Experience

#4 – We Learn by Observing Others, Even If Others Are Not Experts

#5 – The Importance Of Books In Learning

#6 – Selecting the Right Learning Tools

#7 – Ask For Help

#8 -Learn In Community

#9 – Embrace Ambiguity and Find Your Way

Only Connect

Thanks to anemoneprojectors on Flickr for making this image available for reuse.

This morning I listened to part of Obama’s speech about sending in 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  At the end of his speech, he called upon Americans to be united:

It’s easy to forget that when this war began, we were united — bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.  I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again.  I believe with every fiber of my being that we — as Americans — can still come together behind a common purpose.  For our values are not simply words written into parchment — they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people.

(Man! That Obama gives good speech!)

This part of his speech didn’t necessarily inspire patriotism in me, but it did remind me again of seeking integration in my life. It also reminded me of a quote from E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect…

I think, more than ever, I need to create opportunities to connect the varied and disparate aspects of my life and to connect with other people and species as much as I can. I think connections will keep me healthy and … balanced. If I were one to make New Year’s resolutions (I am not), mine would be to try my best to live my life by this credo.

Only connect …

I really don’t see any disadvantage to it.

What Can You Do Differently?

Thanks to Leo Reynolds for making this image available!

Thanks to Leo Reynolds for making this image available!

When adults come to or come back to college, I think many advisors and friends ask them this question:

So what will you give up?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this because I am working with a group of students this term who have been asked this very question and are trying to figure it all out.

Having entered my doctoral program as an adult (I was 34, had a full-time job, family and community responsibilities and activities, and 2 cats and 1 dog, though at that time no kid), I asked myself the same question:

What will I need to give up in order to fit this educational work into my already busy life?

At some point, after experimenting with my schedule and, in fact, being sad about giving things up that I didn’t want to give up, I realized that the answer was nothing.


How great is that?

I truly believe that you don’t need to give up anything. What you DO need to do is think about what you can do differently.

My top three examples:

1) Instead of spending several nights a week trying to cook an interesting and healthy dinner for my family (something I truly enjoy doing), I decided that I could do this differently. So instead, I did this only on Sunday nights, and the rest of the week we improvised and pieced together meals. My husband still says: “A 2 burrito day is a good day indeed.” Tortillas, rice, beans, and some salsa can go a long way toward a quick and healthy meal.

2) I wanted to spend time with my husband and friends, but at first, I kept to my old schedule and then devoted all weekend to school work. After a while, I realized that wasn’t working so well, so instead of sacrificing an entire weekend to my studies, I got up 2 hours early every weekday morning to do school-related work before going to my job. By the end of the day I was tired anyway, so I spent that time with family and friends to refresh and reconnect (and go to bed early). I gave most of one weekend day to school work, but then allowed myself one full weekend day without. I still had plenty of time for family and friends and activities I wanted to do, and I managed to get my school work done as well. I figured out how to do “school time” differently.

3) Integration, to me, seems key. Instead of trying to separate tasks into time slots, I tried to integrate things. Instead of eating lunch at my desk, I walked or did yoga during my lunch time to integrate exercise into my work day. I also integrated my learning into my work — it was, after all, related. If I had a learning project to do, or a work project to do, I intentionally found a way to make them “learning/work” projects. Though I am not fond of metaphors that promote violence, I always tried to kill 2-3 birds with one stone (sorry, birds!). In my mind, this is different than multi-tasking; integrating is bringing disparate things together and finding connections. (It also made learning that much more meaningful — as I wrote about here.)

Do any of you have examples of doing things differently so you can, in fact, do it all? If so, I’d love to hear them!

Want To Change The World?

Today is Liberal Arts Education day here on PrattleNog. My head is spinning with thoughts about the tremendous personal and social benefits of such because three items have crossed my path related to this question: Why is a liberal arts education important? These three items have raised for me four BIG CONCERNS. Here goes:

First, Inside Higher Ed posted an interesting opinion piece today titled The Case of the Disappearing Liberal Arts College. The authors argue that change in higher education is essential and inevitable, and that liberal arts institutions continue to be critical to well-educated citizens.  Their proposal? That private philanthropic foundations take the lead in guiding changes to higher education thoughtfully and carefully.

BIG CONCERN #1: Are private philanthropic foundations positioned well enough or powerfully enough to take on the “market forces” that the authors describe? I applaud the authors for suggesting next steps, but I fear that their proposed next steps are not strong or significant enough, partly because of the next item that crossed my path.

Here is this next item: A colleague sent me the link to this video of Liz Coleman, the President of Bennington College, speaking to the importance of a liberal arts education. One of the key things she says is this:

When the impulse is to change the world, the academy is more likely to engender a learned helplessness than to create a sense of empowerment.

BIG CONCERN#2: Don’t you think the “academy” — as a place of learning and transformation — should be doing exactly the opposite? (A side note: I think in many ways my own institution often does, but sometimes I think it may be more accidental than intentional.) Watch the whole video because Coleman makes some very good points.

Finally, closer to home, we are wrapping up phase one of our Envisioning Marylhurst process. One of the strategic themes identified in this process — one that I worked very hard to shape during the first conference after a dichotomy between a liberal arts education and a professional education was suggested — is this:  “Pioneer the integration of the liberal arts and professional studies to support lifelong learning.” The key word in this phrase is integration.

BIG CONCERN #3: We really need to take this work seriously if we want to provide the kind of education that Coleman proposes: “a truly cross-disciplinary education — one that dynamically combines all areas of study to address the great problems of our day.”

BIG CONCERN #4: Is this the kind of institution we want to continue to be?

Wow. I sure hope so.

A Visit To The Candy Shop


Yet another goodie from Larry Daloz’s book Mentor:


The proper aim of education is to promote significant learning. Significant learning entails development. Development means successively asking broader and deeper questions of the relationship between oneself and the world. This is as true for first graders as graduate students, for fledgling artists as graying accountants.

A good education ought to help people become both more receptive to and more discriminating about the world: seeing, feeling, and understanding more, yet sorting the pertinent from the peripheral with ever finer touch, increasingly able to integrate what they see and to make meaning of it in ways that enhance their ability to go on growing. To imagine otherwise, to act as though learning were simply a matter of stacking facts on top of one another, makes as much sense as thinking one can learn a language by memorizing a dictionary. (p. 243)

Total candy for people like me; I have just this kind of sweet tooth!