RSO fights for higher education reform, applauds critical thinking, class participation
With recent concerns being voiced by several parties within higher education, it is important to take a look at what is being done to rectify the future.
Learning Roots, a registered student organization formed last spring semester, was a response to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska. The book addresses faults within higher education, particularly the decrease in academic rigor, said Learning Roots Treasurer Tyler Wippel.
“We want students to embrace challenging academic work, not shy away from it,” the Lansing junior said. “That is, we want to ask them not, ‘How easy will the class be?’ But instead, ‘Will I gain valuable cognitive skills from this class?’”
Learning Roots Co-Founder Caitlin Homrich said the goal of the organization is to encourage students to claim their education and to generate higher standards.
“…[S]tudents wish to pay for a diploma and to skip a lot of learning along the way to achieving it,” the Port Austin junior said. “It’s common for students to feel any classes other than major classes — and even some of those — are irrelevant to them and useless, but if a bachelor’s diploma doesn’t represent general liberal arts education, development in critical thinking, reasoning and writing, as well as specialization in a field, what does it represent?”
Labeling the current generation of students as “21st-century learners” or implying that today’s students learn very differently than those before them is a disservice to education, Homrich said.
“We feel (the label) allows educators to focus on catering to lazy students, rather than demanding their students to claim their education,” she said. “Professors who provoke engagement through class discussion and active learning are much more applauded by Learning Roots than the professors who try to throw in as much technology as possible.”
Similar standards at community colleges are particularly essential with so many students starting there before transferring to a university. The reforms sought by the organization are applicable across all higher educational institutions, Wippel said.
“I think trade and vocational schools are a great option for a lot of people willing to learn: it’s not about prestige, it’s about passion,” Wippel said. “In fact, sometimes we see a reversal to common misconceptions: some trade schools might be more rigorous, but more applicable, than university classes.”
Reformation of current grading practices is an important aspect of creating a more rigorous education, Wippel said. Less than optimal work should be given an opportunity for revision, meaning there will be higher standards but not a more difficult grading scale.
“If we want a competent, confident work force, it does not make sense to lower that work force’s GPA a point and call it a day,” he said. “No, we want to see students truly understand their academic work, not just accept a grade and move on.”
By engaging students and reorienting educator and learner goals toward education, the suggested reforms are meant to spark individual interest in learning at CMU, Homrich said.
“I think everyone knows the ‘ah-hah’ moment — that moment when you actually learn something new and understand it, when everything else falls into place around it. It’s fun to experience, and it’s rewarding,” Homrich said. “Students would be having a lot more of these ‘ah-hah’ moments if they were actually expected to learn, had courses that facilitated this, and were held to it.”
Lauren Griffith, Learning Roots adviser and instructional designer at the Faculty Center for Innovative Teaching, said by refusing to fall into the roles of passive learners and authoritative lecturers, much more can be gained from the university experience.
“Changing the structure of higher education in this country is an important battle, but it is one that will take a great deal of time and effort,” she said. “… As students and faculty, we have the daily opportunity to engage in intellectual discussions with people whose perspectives might change our lives. Why would we waste a moment of that?”
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