Over a month ago, I was working on an essay on the Intended Outcomes of Higher Education for my class on Impact of College on Students and Society. I tweeted about using a reference on Digital Identity Theory and received a response that I should share my essay via blog. So this is a slightly edited version of that essay. Please feel free to share thoughts, points of disagreement and other essential critical thoughts in the comments below! I would love to get a conversation going.
Often students enter institutions of higher education because it is the “next step” their family expects of them. They see their courses not as ideas to be questioned and considered, but content to be mastered for the next test in order to acquire a letter that allows the student to be gainfully employed at a higher salary. One must wonder if this is because students (and society) have taught us this, or if we have taught students (and society) this. Either way, the first thing we must teach entering students is the purpose of spending time at an institution of higher education.
The purpose of higher education is to create active individuals who are capable of independent analysis based on comprehension of current and past events in order to make well-informed decisions that positively impact the world. In other words, a college graduate should be prepared to be an active citizen of the communities they will join in their post-degree journey. The community they join may be their place of employment, their neighborhood, their place of worship, their city, or another group. This ability to analyze thoughts and ideas to make informed decisions lumps a number of Learning Outcomes outlined in College Learning for the New Global Century including “knowledge of human cultures,” “personal and social responsibility,” and “intellectual and practical skills” (LEAP National Leadership Council, 2007) The learning outcomes listed by LEAP are very specific and detailed, but essentially boil down to the tangible ability to make informed and well analyzed decisions.
In order to create active citizens, we must not focus on cramming as much knowledge into a student as possible, but rather we must focus on teaching students the basics in fields like literature, art, math, science, and history as well as how to acquire any information they may require in the post-collegiate setting of their lives in order to understand the issues that surround them. We must teach students that the ideas they will discuss in higher education are not just for the test – or if they are, the test is, as writer John Green says, a measurement of “…whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. . . The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it” (Green, 2012). Education should not be about getting a letter on a piece of paper, but preparing oneself to engage with the world around them.
Institutions of higher education do have a responsibility to teach students basic professional skills. However, it should be noted that colleges and universities are not professional preparation programs. Our focus should be teaching students how to learn skills that they will acquire in the workplace. Student involvement in clubs, organizations, Greek Letter Organizations and paraprofessional positions within Student Affairs departments should teach students a reasonable and useful number of transferable skills with which the student can move into the world and be successful. Being successful is defined differently by different people in different places, but it is important that when we tell students we want them to be successful, we explain what that means. It is easy to forget or skip over an essential part of teaching transferable skills – how the skills are useful to the students beyond their time in academia.
A lot of discussion has been had created recently about students and how they connect with technology. Some schools are giving out iPhones or iPads to their entire freshmen class, and theories on Digital Identity Development (Stoller, 2012) are beginning to form. Yet as institutions we still do not understand how to educate students on how to use technology not as a wheelchair or a crutch, but an aid to further their knowledge. The National Panel Report Greater Expectations discusses how “revolutionary technologies have transformed information and life” (AACU, 2002), yet our institutions generally lack integration of these technologies. In a world with constantly evolving technology we need to ensure that students understand how to properly interact with the technology that surrounds them daily.
Students need to perceive that going to a college or university is about more than just acquiring a piece of paper (LEAP National Leadership Council, 2007). It needs to be about becoming a better person, being able to critically analyze developing skills, understanding how to apply said skills in a variety of environments and learning how to effective use technology as an extension, not a support. In order to foster this kind of environment, we need to inform potential students that these are the things we value and actually demonstrate that these are the things we value through our actions.
AACU (2002). Greater Expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington: D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities
Green, J. (January 26, 2012). The Agricultural Revolution: Crash Course World History #1 [video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yocja_N5s1I
LEAP National Leadership Council (2007). College Learning for the New Global Century. A Report from The National Leadership Council for Liberal Education & America’s Promise. Washington, D.C.: Association for American Colleges and Universities
Stoller, E. (2012). Digital Identity Development. InsideHigherEd. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/digital-identity-development