The New Ecology of Learning

This past Wednesday I attended two events that helped frame my day.  In the morning I was invited by PSUFA (Portland State University Faculty Association) to welcome our part-time faculty.  In the afternoon I attended the first Carnegie Conversation of the 2014-2015 academic year held by our Office of Academic Innovations (OAI). Over 100 faculty, staff, associate deans and deans came to hear Dr. Randy Bass, Vice Provost for Education and Professor of English at Georgetown University speak on “From Disruption to Design: the University in the New Ecology of Learning.”

Both events demonstrated the commitment our faculty have to creating a great learning environment for our students.  As I said to our part-time faculty, it is critical that PSU support all faculty members in their teaching efforts.  To our students you are their “professor” regardless if you are full-time or part-time, have been at PSU for decades or just arrived this academic year, or are tenured or not. In his presentation, Bass challenged us to think about “What might the world look like in 2030?” “What will the conditions of knowledge, technology and learning be like in 15 to 20 years?” “What will a graduate of a university need to look like in 15-20 years?”

He contrasted the traditional formal undergraduate curriculum as many of us know it, with experiential learning (internships, community based learning…).  He made the point that experiential learning tends to occur at the margins of the learning environment even though we recognize its high impact.  He also spoke about those aspects of the curriculum that distinguish (or do not distinguish) one institution from another.  He acknowledged that 20 years ago PSU broke ground in distinguishing itself with our University Studies program and that universities need to continue to seek new ways of delivering instruction.
Although PSU still has work to do, reTHINK PSU is keeping us ahead of the curve described by Bass. The keynote presentation resonated with the recent experiences of many of our faculty and staff in the audience who are creating relevant curriculum, looking at new methodologies of delivery and assessment, experimenting, adapting teaching approaches, and going outside of current comfort zones.  It is clear that at PSU that faculty leadership has continually driven curricular change, whether 20 years ago in the creation of University Studies, or in the last year with the Provost Challenge initiatives. 
This is the 16th year Portland State has participated in Carnegie Conversations on Teaching and Learning; an initiative that began with support through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to improve the quality of student learning and raise the visibility of scholarly approaches to teaching and learning.  The event this past week was the first in OAI’s 2014/2015 series. See http://www.pdx.edu/oai/calendar/view/calendar for more information on these and additional OAI campus events.
I hope the PSU conversations about the relationship and juxtaposition of formal versus experiential learning, about the use of technology, and about who our students will be in the next 15-20 years will continue.  I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this and approaches PSU might take.

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