One College, Many Journeys

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” — Henry Miller

The residential college approach to liberal arts education is defined by whole-person engagement in a welcoming and diverse community; cross-boundary relationship- and knowledge-making; and enduring cycles of learning and discovery.

This approach is built on a legacy of shared principles which organizes a college’s many distinctive programs into a greater context. Just as a college has built its physical environment to support those principles, so, too, could an online environment benefit the campus community, partners and friends around the world.

Part One: An Integral Approach to Undergraduate Education

The ingredients of a college education — its values, programs, and initiatives — are central to it role providing a residential liberal arts education. Its recipe — an integrated approach to the whole educational experience — is even more distinctive than the sum of its parts.

The Purpose and Objective of Residential College

Residential higher education helps people thrive throughout their personal, professional, and social lives in an ever-changing world.

A college’s objectives are to help people:

  • Discover and develop their deepest strengths and passions
  • Hone their skills for disciplined investigation, critical evaluation, and creative expression
  • Plant deep roots in a focused area of scholarship and research
  • Explore across boundaries of knowledge and culture
  • Apply new insights, expanded perspectives, and compassionate intentions to meaningful collaborations in a globally-interdependent and culturally-diverse world

To encourage and empower personal and ethical growth, the college approach consists of key principles around which core values, programs, and initiatives can be organized.

Organizing Principles

A Welcoming and Diverse Community

  • Shared values: authenticity, vigor, supportiveness, challenge, playfulness
  • Themes: complex identities, whole people
  • Metaphors: space, place, environment

The core of a college education is deep involvement in a welcoming learning community where people get to know each other face-to-face, as whole and complex, across a range of roles, events, and places: from classrooms, studios, and laboratories, to the dining commons, residence halls, and playing fields, to regional and international service and learning experiences.

Although learning at a distance can transmit information from teachers to students, learning in a face-to-face community such as college’ can engage and nourish the whole person.

As traditionally-distinct boundaries between professional, personal, social, and civic facets of our lives are being blurred through online social networking, college is a place where people can get to know each other across all those dimensions. They learn to approach each other — and their partners beyond college — as individuals with unique histories and perspectives.

Intellectual and Social Connections Across Boundaries

  • Shared values: interdependence, diversity, responsibility
  • Themes: self-awareness, social responsibility
  • Metaphors: connections, relationships

On a small campus, opportunities for making cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural connections emerge in many ways:

  • Through formally-structured curricula, co-curricular activities, service learning, and field research programs;
  • Through a variety of social, athletic, and off-campus activities; and
  • Through spontaneous interactions made possible by the serendipity of physical presence

Every waking moment is part of a college education.

  • By reaching across boundaries to understand the strengths that each member brings to a collaboration, groups can achieve a more inclusive vision to meet the needs of all participants, and see the personal and social results of their decisions, reinforcing greater self-awareness and social responsibility.
  • By prioritizing cultural diversity within the faculty, staff, and student bodies, college increases the breadth of campus experience and strengthens the core of the college education.
  • By envisioning the organizing ideas that integrate a variety of disciplines, new insights emerge through the synthesis of innovative thinking.

These multifaceted on-campus relationships between students, faculty, visiting scholars, and staff, also serve as the foundation for connections with the extended community of college’ partners and friends around the world.

Dynamic Cycles of Discovery and Learning

  • Shared values: change, adventure, imagination, creativity, insight.
  • Themes: Bold embrace of change.
  • Metaphors: journey, path, cycles

Recent college graduates live in more places and work in more jobs than their parents and grandparents did. Being prepared to tolerate ambiguity and navigate changing circumstances is crucial, especially for future professions.

College prepares people to confidently embrace change as a context for learning and growing. They are encouraged to venture into unknown territory — especially when it’s uncomfortable — to expand their perspectives, identify the gaps between what is and what might be, and apply innovative thinking, problem solving, and ethical decision-making. This holistic approach to learning can be drawn upon every day, month, term, year, and phase of life.

Exploration. Whether self-initiated or assigned, a cycle of learning begins with the call to explore new territory and depart from the status quo. Disciplined observation and mastery of scholarly and research skills can identify new directions for inquiry.

Evaluation. Initial discoveries must be critically evaluated and the most productive pathways prioritized. The loss of some possibilities in favor of those which are more promising requires strong, discriminating effort.

Commitment. A period of contemplation allows intuition to clarify new insights. Self-knowledge and social responsibility provide context as new knowledge is integrated into a new vision.

Synthesis. Bringing new insights back into a productive realm can be challenging when a new perspective conflicts with existing social and intellectual structures. The learner returns to share new knowledge, to apply insights to social collaborations, and to contribute to larger, meaningful causes.

Sustaining Learning through Change

Members of the college community practice these phases of exploration, evaluation, commitment, and synthesis on many scales, in many settings throughout their campus experience. Students, for example, have countless opportunities to practice this learning cycle before undertaking a capstone project, larger in scale than what has come before, but not new in form. Ultimately there are many more rounds to come.

Part Two: Extending College Principles into the Online Experience

In order to help people thrive throughout their lives, colleges continually expand their vision and programs to match evolving personal, social, and civic contexts in an ever-changing world.

Several of the many cultural shifts that have transformed higher education over the past hundred years have been sparked by the emergence of new telecommunications infrastructures, including telephones, radio, television, and the Internet.

In the past decade, an exponential increase in computing power, widening access to knowledge repositories, and the convergence of digital media formats has brought about more than just a technical revolution. The nature of knowledge generation and use is itself changing: how it’s created, how it’s accessed, and how it evolves over time.

A Welcome and Diverse Community

One hundred and fifty years ago, much of what was known about people was limited to biographies, letters, and early photos — mostly on paper . That material was generally centered on well-known people and stored in physical libraries.

Today, countless facets of personal, social, professional, and civic experience can be shared easily by anyone through digital multimedia on the global Internet infrastructure. Innovative and powerful knowledge can emerge from anywhere on the Internet and be accessed effortlessly.

By refocusing online messaging away from an institutional perspective and towards people and ideas as primary organizing principles, colleges can draw attention to, and support the development of, innovative knowledge generated by students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

For example, each college person — throughout her or his life — could have a single permanent online profile that provides links to public content about them: features and stories, scholarship and research papers, organizational participation, sports and other activities, and material published off campus … starting with the public content they (and college staff) are already creating. Placing such public content in a person- and idea-based organization would reinforce the distinctive, multi-dimensional interests of college people and the role of integrative ideas in bringing together multiple disciplines and perspectives.

This framework would not be an anything-goes social network, but a repository of thoughtful public media that reinforces interconnected knowledge generated at college. Having such a place to aggregate public content about college people also allows and encourages the development of a public “voice” by every member of the community.

Finally, not only do individuals and groups have multi-faceted identities, so too does a college itself. The college “voice” — a persona representing the essence of a college — can be shared through media and reflect the many interests and opportunities college provides for the members of its campus and extended communities.

To move forward in this direction, colleges can steward contributors to the online environment through training, coaching, and quality assurance. Staff could select and convene student reporters to gather media content of all types. In short, colleges can present and represent their identity and values through regular online media content that covers a strategic spectrum of the college experience.

Intellectual and Social Connections Across Boundaries

One hundred and fifty years ago, the vast majority of information was classified by professionals in controlled taxonomies and housed in restricted-access repositories.

Today, dynamically-interconnected online knowledge about people, places, events, and ideas can be created and accessed across the world.

Colleges should implement online communications frameworks that allows scholarly content to be easily contributed and dynamically linked via many kinds of relationships, from multiple formal classifications to community-contributed tagging.

Colleges can reinforce the interrelationships between people, places, events, and ideas by taking content out of its silos and applying a dynamic network of multiple classifications.

For example, a performance event on environmental sustainability by a student organization can appear within collections for music, art, biology, geology, performance, public events, student organizations, sustainability initiatives, and more. Visitors could subscribe to any category and receive notifications when new content is posted. Such a network of interrelated content can reinforce the cross-disciplinary nature of the college experience.

College staff can define, lead, and manage the use of such a system by college people and partners around the world, monitoring organic collaborations and self-managed profiles and assuring evolving features that are intuitive and effective.

Dynamic Cycles of Discovery and Learning

One hundred and fifty years ago, education was a luxury granted only to a small number of people — in academia, fraternal associations, and religious orders — who were formally charged with scholarship, research, contemplation, and creativity.

Today, the boundaries between people and learning institutions are becoming more permeable, and creative collaborations are being recognized as a core responsibility for successful individuals as well as global organizations.

By demonstrating leadership in cross-boundary learning collaborations, residential colleges can encourage informal groups to self-organize into online spaces for the period of their duration — as they work together to explore, evaluate, commit, and synthesize in their area of interest — and then deactivate their space when the cycle is complete. Some spaces would be permanent, some quite ephemeral, and others at every scale between.

In addition, learning and service partnerships with colleagues around the region and the world are an integral part of the college experience. By allowing organic collaboration spaces for those partnerships — including protected areas for sensitive discussions — college can extend an integrated online framework with the world.

Since these processes transcend the traditionally-distinct realms of online content — transforming persuasive, transactional, and informational content into a single framework for community knowledge creation — colleges can advance a multi-year vision to successfully integrate those innovations across academics, student services, advancement, and technology into a shared media environment.

Sustaining Learning Through Change

Just as colleges and their people are ever changing, an online communications framework should be able to sustain useful, engaging, and self-organizing experiences over time.

But the online environment is only an enhancement for the face-to-face experience. By extending the collaborative production of knowledge, creating a growing repository of that knowledge, and supporting of the integration of knowledge into encompassing ideas, such an environment could enhance, and provide a deeper view into, the college experience.

Appendix A: Scenario for an online environment

A Welcoming and Diverse Community

Here’s a scenario that could be made possible by an online communications framework.

You are interested in learning more about about a college professor, student, or alumni/ae. You go to their online profile, and find links to their many interests: from journal entries about current research, to scholarly papers, to photos of overseas educational travel, to short audio impressions of an performance, to reports of a tennis championship, to videos about field research, to a recital performance, to the full text of a presentation, to an audio slideshow of a short-term archaeology project. Finding the collection of content interesting, you fill out a form and ask to be notified when they post new content.

As you explore people and their academic passions, you not only learn more about your own areas of interest, you also see that students and faculty are encouraged to undertake their own individual journeys, especially when their combination of interests is distinctive.

Intellectual and Social Connections Across Boundaries

Following a link from a college profile to the content of interest to you — say the audio slideshow of a research project — you see a whole set of links to the journals of other students and faculty participants on the project, scholarly papers by college faculty on the topic, other archeology courses and projects at college, listings of other study-abroad topics, and a microblog annotating important Internet resources from the field.

Such a dynamic, vigorous online environment would demonstrate the college’s values in action throughout the campus and extended communities. In doing so, this virtual experience would also open a vivid window on the college education for prospective students, faculty, staff, service partners and philanthropic friends.

Dynamic Cycles of Discovery and Learning

A core feature of a college education is the integration of curricular study with civic engagement and off-campus study partners around the region and around the world. Support for sustaining relationships with partners, however, is currently limited to off-campus collaboration services, e-mail, telephone, and paper correspondence.

Unfortunately, such services do not always provide a common experience, consistent features, or the ability to designate a range of access restrictions, from private to worldwide.

By providing a single, one-stop shop for all online communications — including both private collaborations and public Web presences for work groups, organizations, and departments — college can enhance the processes of learning — from group establishment to collaboration and publishing — all in one environment.

Appendix B: The undergraduate cycle of learning

First Year: Exploration

The first-year college student starts out by exploring options. Summer programs, outdoor orientation programs, introductory courses, and mentoring provide a spectrum opportunities for investigation.

Second Year: Evaluation

During the second year, students evaluate which possibilities match their own strengths and passions. They send roots down into the soil of several academic areas, eventually discovering those that provide the greatest sustenance. At public events, students get an opportunity to present their current academic and research work to the campus community. Many students also choose organization and service activities that nourish their extra-curricular interests.

Self-awareness and social responsibility are integrated into a selection of a major and minors at the end of sophomore year, a decision to which students will commit the rest of their college career.

Third Year: Commitment

The third-year student makes deeper commitments to a chosen major through (for the vast majority) off-campus study and research, as well as internships and exchange programs that integrate skills and knowledge.

This is a year of testing insights through collaboration with fellow students, through research with professors, and through service projects with partners around the region and the world. college calls upon students to initiate, take responsibility for, and, thus, control their own educational paths within a context of rigorous thinking and responsible action.

This is the year that students begin planning for their transition to life after commencement, beginning to apply their new perspectives in professional or post-graduate settings.

Fourth Year: Synthesis

The final year culminates with a distinctive feature of the college education, called variously a capstone project or senior thesis, a rigorous integration of scholarship and research in which each college student brings together a broad, interdisciplinary vision with deeper roots in a chosen discipline and, for most, the experience of off-campus study.

Thus, the larger cycle commences again. Alumni take their undergraduate experiences into a spectrum of professions and academics with a common thread: they are more prepared to embrace, navigate, and thrive within the challenges of change that will surely envelop them — and be a constant — in their soon-to-be-experienced futures.

Appendix C: Recommended Reading

Bennis, Warren, and Patricia Ward Biederman. Organizing genius: The secrets of creative collaboration. New York: Perseus Books Group, 1998.

Brafman, Ori, and Rod A. Beckstrom. The starfish and the spider: the unstoppable power of leaderless organizations. New York: Portfolio, 2006.

Pink, Daniel H. A whole new mind: moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.

Tapscott, Don, and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics: how mass collaboration changes everything. New York: Portfolio, 2006.

Tapscott, Don. Grown up digital: how the net generation is changing your world. New York: McGraw Hill, 2009

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