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"Students Achieving" - A Campaign To Change The Way Students Learn

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The posting below is an excerpt from a forthcoming article, "The

Campaign Approach to Change: Targeting the University's Scarcest

Resources," that will appear in Change, the journal of the American

Association for Higher Education. The article is by Larry Hirschhorn

and Linda May, of the Center for Applied Research, Inc. The excerpt

is one of a number of mini-case studies appearing in the article that

illustrate the use of campaigns as a way of mobilizing resources and

personnel for improvement in education.

The article is copyrighted ?2000 The Center for Applied Research,

Inc., and reprinted with permission. For further information please

contact: Jessica J. Geiben Lynn, Associate, Center for Applied

Research [].


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: No, UNext Isn't the "Anti-University"

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Mini-Case Study:



John Strassburger, president of Ursinus College, used the idea of a

"campaign" to change the way faculty teach and students learn. The

newly appointed president and his team framed a theme of "Students

Achieving." This theme focused attention on new ways students can

show their mastery of a subject.

Higher-education professionals have inherited a method of teaching

based on lectures, exams, papers and grades. To demonstrate

competence, students must pass exams and write term papers. However,

if we reframe mastery as the capacity to perform, to do something,

then we need to develop a richer array of methods and venues for

students to display their competence. As many educators have

suggested, such performances can take the form, for example, of

publishing, participating in research conferences, consulting to a

social agency, exhibiting art, staging a play, designing a Web page,

or developing a database. With these forms of achievement, people

other than the professor - journal editors or community leaders, for

example - evaluate the student's performance.

Faced with the need to perform for a wider audience and thus

experience greater risks and stakes, students master more skills.

Similarly, faculty, who also feel accountable to these wider

audiences, change their practices to ensure good student performance.

With this focus on achievement, students will increasingly evaluate

one another's work, faculty will coach them on a broader range of

skills (such as presentation and project management), and the

classroom will take on the quality of charrette or studio where

students and faculty together evaluate works in progress. Employers

will consider evidence of such performances much more seriously than

they would reported grades. The performances begin to speak for


Having settled on the theme of "Students Achieving," Ursinus College

deliberately chose not to use the conventional machinery of strategic

planning - task forces with balanced representation and formal

reports - to advance the concept. These tools, Ursinus' leaders felt,

were limited because they require the development of comprehensive

plans before people fully understand what it is they hope to

accomplish. Moreover, strategic planning draws its legitimacy from

traditional participants, often precluding unsung faculty and

students who are actually changing their practice and could take up

effort to change teaching and learning. Instead, the "Students

Achieving" campaign became influential not through exhortation but

through activity.

The president and his team launched a number of initiatives. They

eliminated the summer school and compensated faculty for lost income

by increasing their salaries. The goal was to create time for faculty

to display their own mastery through publication, research and other

venues in the belief that you cannot increase student achievement

unless you increase faculty achievement.

The college created summer fellowships for students to work

one-on-one with faculty, who are paid to supervise the work. About 15

percent of the rising senior class currently receive these stipends

to do scholarly work full time for eight weeks in the summer before

their senior year. The fellowships have created higher expectations

among students and faculty about what is possible for undergraduates

to achieve. They have been enormously attractive to prospective

students and to donors.

The school hosted a student research conference with sister colleges.

It gave departments money to start student journals. It launched an

occasional paper series to explore the new approaches to teaching and

learning. These papers have been immensely popular with alumni and

create a context in which the college can seek funds from alumni to

support the learning initiatives.

In thinking about these initiatives as part of a "campaign," the

president and the people who work with him now view all events as

opportunities to underline the key theme. Instead of creating new

forums or venues, they piggyback on current ones. For example, the

college now features student presentations on Homecoming and Parents'

Day. The college turned the customary "state-of-the-university"

convocation into a summer conference to showcase teaching innovations.

After two years of the campaign, the faculty voted overwhelmingly to

institute a requirement that all students successfully complete some

form of independent learning. The college made student achievement

the focus of its reaccreditation, and the visiting team reported that

what they found academically was "inspired" and "inspiring."