Open Notes on the Association of General and Liberal Studies 2018 – #AGLS18

It has been a privilege to participate in the 2018 meeting of the Association of General and Liberal Studies. I was invited to give one of the keynote addresses, Practicing the Arts of Liberty, and was grateful to be welcomed into a community committed to weaving general and liberal studies into the fabric of higher education.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to put the final refinements on the presentation and, as dawn spread its rosy fingers across the sky, I set out on a morning walk to consider some of the themes that emerged over the course of the conference.

Sunrise over the Allegheny River, Saturday, September 22, 2018

Engage and Support Faculty

If the general education curriculum is to be valued as the heart of the undergraduate experience, faculty need to be empowered to see in it the expression of a core commitment to cultivate the next generation of ethically imaginative citizens. We need structures that cultivate the intellectual life of the faculty through the General Education endeavor.

Indeed, we need to move away from thinking of GenEd reform as a once in a generation undertaking, and begin to build institutional structures and habits of continuous GenEd quality improvement and engagement.

Improving Learning in General Education: An AGLS Guide to Assessment & Program Review provides a helpful primer on precisely how to create a culture of continuous GenEd quality improvement.

When we undertook GenEd reform at Penn State, we recommended and they have now adopted Integrative Studies Seed Grants for Faculty. Similarly, during a GenEd revision that created its signature Pathways to General Education program, Virginia Tech adopted a Pathways Scholars initiative that supports the work of faculty as they redesign their courses in line with the expectations of the new curriculum. 

The results of that initiative were on display in the creative ways VTech faculty like Trudy Harrignton-Becker, Eric Hogan, and Ann-Marie Knoblauch had thought creatively about their courses and integrated dynamic, active learning opportunities for students into their curriculum. Prof. Harrington-Becker’s transcription course focusing on the correspondence of WWI veteran Joseph F. Ware and his wife, Suzie, is a great example of how an entire history can come to life for students by studying the correspondence of a single solder and his wife.

Putting Equity into Practice

The Department of Focused Inquiry received a Division for Inclusive Excellent Award to integrate a commitment to equity into the heart of their GenEd curriculum. They recognized that it would be important to create a teaching faculty with the cultural competencies required to integrate practices of equity into their courses. They asked each faculty member to set specific goals of their own in this regard, to try new assignments and pedagogies, and to reflect on the results of their work at the end of the year. Each faculty was required to add these goals to their faculty work plans, so the Chair could hold them accountable for their work and reward it accordingly when it came time for salary increase decisions.  

Telling the Story of General Education and Liberal Arts

John Frederick, Director of Faculty Learning and Engagement at Central Piedmont Community College, raised a series of questions about how and when to tell the story of General Education. He argued for the need to begin talking about General Education with High School Guidance Counselors, and then to integrate it deeply into all of our communication with prospective students and their parents. He also emphasized the importance of having a strategy to facilitate substantive conversations with faculty about the meaning and purpose of General Education.

This has been a significant concern of mine since I worked on the GenEd reform at Penn State. At the time, we tried to build support for GenEd by putting the habits of public deliberation we wanted our students to learn into practice through structured deliberations about the GenEd curriculum reform itself. Although we were not fully successful in that attempt, the initiative created a university-level discussion of the value and importance of GenEd. This discussion itself needs to be ongoing and continuous, which is another reason to move away from an approach that revises GenEd once every 10-20 years, to the continuous improvement model discussed above. 

Lightning Talks

The AGLS adopted an approach to lightning talks that required presenters to provide 20 images that appear on the screen for 20 seconds. It was compelling to watch. It is also a powerful way to make ideas come to life. The principle of simplicity under time constraint makes the format at once theatrical and disciplined.

Stephen Biscotte giving a Lightning Talk

Such structured lightning talks provide an interesting way to engage faculty and students about the importance and value of General Education. Hosting regular and structured #GenEd Lightning Talk events throughout the year would be a fun way to elevate the profile of the general education endeavor on campus.

Practicing the Arts of Liberty Keynote

To put my commitment to openness into practice, I used reveal.js to create open, public slides for my Practicing the Arts of Liberty keynote address. This blog post on cplong.org outlines the basic contours of the presentation, but does not include the candid conversation we had about the current situation at Michigan State University.

The generosity of those who attended the keynote address can be felt in the live-twitter stream that unfolded during the talk.

AGLS18 Links and Resources

Focusing on Values at the #MSUCAL Chairs Retreat @ThinkSpaceLab

At yesterday’s College of Arts & Letters Chairs retreat at the Think Space in Lansing, we focused our attention on the core values each of us seek to embody in our leadership and how we will put those values into practice in our relationships with one another as leaders and in our leadership of our respective units.

Our conversation today was rooted in a deepening trust won over a difficult period in our university’s history. The values that began to emerge as shared include equity, active listening, kindness/care, transparency, and accountability, but the real value of the conversation was the conversation about values itself. 

The community we seek emerges in and through the conversations we have about how to put our deepest values into practice; and it is enriched by the ways we hold one another accountable to the practices to which we commit ourselves.

I am grateful to be part of a group of academic leaders who bring their creative energy to the important work we do each day.

As Eva Brann puts it in her book, Open Secrets / Inward Prospects: Reflections on World and Soul:

The springs of energy are forms of love: faith in the Program, affection for its people, appreciation for its forms, and a moving feel for the precariousness of all good things.

Open Secrets / Inward Prospects: Reflections on World and Soul

Some Notes on the Shared LCTL Symposium 2018

We’ve gathered at the B1G Conference Center for the Shared Less Commonly Taught Languages Symposium to advance Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) and discuss the progress we are making on two Mellon-funded grants, one hosted by the University of Chicago, one hosted by Michigan State University. These grants are committed, among other things, to enhance collaboration across institutions to support innovative ways to enable more students to reach higher levels of proficiency in languages that are not commonly taught.

This year’s symposium began with a keynote address by Stéphane Charitos, Director of the Language Resource Center at Columbia University. He offered a sobering account of the steady decline in enrollments in the languages more broadly and insisted that all language programs will be facing the challenges we are attempting to redress in our LCTL initiatives.

He was eloquent and insistent in framing the urgency of the problem: language learning is undervalued in the United States, and a failure to inspire more students to learn languages at higher levels of proficiency–including a textured understanding of the cultures from which the languages emerge–will undermine our ability to respond effectively to the most complex challenges we face in a globally interconnected world.

Happily, Stéphane did not remain at the level of diagnosing the current state of affairs and the root causes that brought us to the situation in which we find ourselves. The second half of his keynote began to point us in a promising direction that deserves serious consideration and intentional, coordinated action.

Charitos slide: Four Axes of Action

Stéphane rightly speaks of “Four Axes of Action” that mutually reinforce one another such that progress in one advances progress in others. They are:

Inform – Identify decision makers and stakeholders and tell the compelling story about the transformative power of language learning. Whenever possible, empower students to tell the story themselves.

Advocate – With robust data and compelling qualitative information, assiduously advocate for the importance of language education, integrating it wherever possible into the strategic vision of the University. Stéphane’s focus on engaging advisors is important. We need their help to encourage students to enroll in language programs even and perhaps especially when they have “tested out” of language requirements.

Innovate – Reassess what we are doing in our language programs. We need to provide compelling curricula that provides students with what they most want and need. Here, I would add, that we do ourselves a disservice when fear animates our response to the situation we are facing. Now is the time for bold experiments, new pedagogies, the development of responsive and relevant curricula.

Collaborate – We need to move from competition to collaboration. This requires us to think across boundaries and imagine innovative solutions to common problems. Our collaborations, however, need to be strategically coordinated so that we draw on the divergent strengths of our institutions to enhance the teaching and learning of language and culture. This is the spirit in which this SLCTL Symposium was organized, and the relationships we are establishing and nurturing will be the basis upon which new horizons of collaboration with open for us.

B1G AA Course Share

During the Symposium, we had a number of important conversations about how we might coordinate more effectively across the Big 10 Academic Alliance Courseshare. Traditionally, the Courseshare has focused on individual courses, but the coordinators of the program, as Danielle Steider emphasized, are starting to strategically work together to ensure courses at higher levels are available when students need them. We need to establish more structural support for this kind of strategic coordination that scaffolds the curriculum to ensure higher levels of proficiency.

To facilitate this, we ought to consider convening a meeting of Coureshare coordinators, engaged faculty, Department Chairs, and Administrators to identify ways to more intentionally organize the sharing of courses into the sharing of curricula. Some of the lessons we are learning here with LCTLs will be applicable to other programs that might benefit from the sharing we are learning more effectively to do.

Integrated Strategy with the Research Endeavor

As Federal funding for Title VI grants diminishes, I have been thinking more about how to create new opportunities for more sustainable support for LCTLs in particular, and language and culture education more generally. One approach we might take is to more effectively engage faculty and programs doing research in various regions in which a textured understanding of language and culture would enhance and elevate the research they are undertaking.

At MSU, there are many faculty engaged in research across the globe whose work would be enhanced by a strategic and articulated approach to the languages and cultures of the regions in which they work. The key here will be for us to facilitate collaboration as the research questions are being formulated so that the language and culture dimension of the research can be integrated into the heart of the work from the beginning.

Final Reflection

As I board the plane from Chicago, I am heartened by the creativity and commitment of colleagues who have dedicated their careers to enabling students to deeply engage new cultures through the languages that bring them to life.

Connections from the July 2018 #TOME Meeting

These are resources and links gathered along the way during today’s conversation at the July 2018 TOME meeting.