By SUSAN JONES
In an increasingly technological world, “the primary purpose of higher education has to be helping humans get better at being human, because we know machines are getting better,” keynote speaker Randy Bass told the 2019 Teaching and Assessment Conference.
Bass, vice provost for education and professor of English at Georgetown University, spoke on Jan. 25 about the future of human learning to kick off the seventh annual Teaching and Assessment Conference, which included a day of workshops on everything from Discipline-Based Assessment to Personal Education.
“We come to work to do our thing every single day, and we don’t really get a chance very often to step back and take account of the fact that we’re one of the few institutions in our culture that’s really in the future business,” Bass said.
That future, Bass said, has to consider not only what skills will be valued but also how to best teach those skills to students.
“The classroom is, in many ways, our oyster,” Provost Ann Cudd said in her introduction, “the place where we can rethink and re-evaluate how best to connect with our students. Occasions like today allow us to share, compare our findings and learn new ways to direct students toward sampling classroom wisdom and ultimately living lives of impact.”
Colleges need to look at what kind of graduate they want to produce, Bass said. The work humans will do in the future will be on solving unstructured problems, working with new information and carrying out non-routine manual tasks, he predicted. The skills that will be needed include: analytical thinking, creativity, complex problem solving, technical design, leadership, emotional intelligence, systems analysis and more.
These skills, Bass believes, need to be taught through an integrated system of learning for the whole person. While Silicon Valley has been pushing a more disintegrated, modular type of learning divorced from traditional higher education, Bass said that the future depends on integrated and inclusive education.
He cited several key factors that matter in an integrated setting.
- Active learning, where students are tasked with real problems to solve. A program at Georgetown aimed at retaining first-generation college students in the sciences got a pre-freshman year summer biology bridge program involved in a real-world problem at a local vineyard. Bass and his wife, Georgetown biology professor Heidi Elmendorf, were talking to the winery owner who wanted to use feral yeasts found in the soil, but “he was complaining as a small winery he can’t afford the kind of sophisticated microbial soil testing that big wineries can.” So, the summer students were tasked with figuring out a way to test the soil. Their catchphrase became “What would work best for Jeff (the winery owner),” so they could see how they’re work had real-world implications.
- Students need to learn to learn. He cited the book “Teach Students How to Learn” by Saundra McGuire, in which she details the value of spending an hour early in the semester to teach your students metacognitive study skills. She also says making students teach the material to others is often more challenging and useful than test-taking.
- Teach the whole person, which includes knowledge, skills, disposition and values. This is where professors can encourage grit, humility, ethics, empathy and more to cultivate a balanced person. These traits can only be learned through experience, Bass said. As one of the Jesuit priests at Georgetown told him, “Humility is always experiential.”
- Relationships with mentors matter more than was ever thought. Bass said a Gallup-Purdue study of 30,000 graduates 20 years after college found that if you had an adult mentor who cared about your progress and/or a sustained project that lasted a semester or more, you were 74 percent more likely to be flourishing and engaged in your work now.
- E-portfolios can help students make connections across different parts of their lives, Bass said, thereby integrating all of their academics and activities.
- Students want to think that they are doing work that matters.
Bass said our curriculum is designed now to move from lots of content to a little practice, but that needs to flip.
“So to me the question is not how can technology do a better job of teaching than we can, but how can technology help us do a better more human job of teaching,” Bass said.
Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said this is only the second year that “teaching” has been added to the assessment part of the conference. He was excited about turnout for the event and said, “I believe next year, we’re working on reserving the Petersen Event Center.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.