Rules Of Engagement: How Students Can Learn Well And Do Good

David Skorton (President of Cornell) & Glenn Altschuler (Vice President for University Relations at Cornell), Forbes, May 28, 2013

HON 251 Citizen & Self

Thanks to Elizabeth Gish for pointing out this post. Dr. Gish teaches HON 251 Citizen & Self, which puts into practice the principles discussed in this article.

Cornell University just created Engaged Learning + Research, ‘an interdisciplinary and university-wide resource, designed to advance academic service-learning, community-based research, and public scholarship across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines and programs,’ focusing on ‘four main areas: pedagogy and curriculum, research, community development, and institutional change.’

Engaged/experiential/immersive learning is an integral part of honors education

Engaged learning is a departure from the traditional model of learners as isolated individuals who listen to lectures, participate in discussions, write research papers, and take tests without assistance of any kind from anyone except the instructor. At its best, engaged learning resembles problem solving in the real world, where individuals are encouraged to get help wherever they can find it.

In classrooms, engaged learning involves assignments to teams of students, capstone projects, portfolio creation, and for-credit opportunities for undergraduate research. Beyond the classroom, the Carnegie Foundation defines engaged learning as “the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.” Students who participate in engaged learning programs don’t just volunteer free time between classes; the hands-on work they do is part of a curriculum and complements what they learn in the classroom.

Soft skills are more important than hard skills (see our previous discussion, including many comments from students)

Employers value the skills acquired through engaged learning, though they may not be familiar with the concept. In a 2011 Michigan State University survey of large and small companies, employers rated “soft” skills, such as communication, social skills, collaborative decision making and problem solving, higher in importance than job-related knowledge and technical skills.

Education to find employment and solve complex problems in the 21st century

Employment is an important objective, of course, but it’s not the only reason students pursue engaged learning. Many see education as a means to address complex problems: sustainable energy, social inequalities, racial and ethnic intolerance and terrorism.

As the Kellogg Foundation has acknowledged, “Engagement—in which institutions and communities form lasting relationships that influence, shape, and promote success in both spheres—is rare.” By teaching students to practice and internalize engaged learning, broadly conceived, we believe that colleges and universities can prepare them for the 21st-century world of work and give them the tools to effect real change in the world.

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