Today's post is taken from "The Shapes of Learning," an article written by Bobby Fong that first appeared in the January/February 2013 edition of Trusteeship.
Bobby Fong led Ursinus College from 2011 until his sudden passing Monday morning. As a member of AGB's Council of Presidents, he was an engaged advisor, and his commitment to education and learning in all forms was apparent throughout his work. AGB will miss Bobby, his probing questions and his thoughtful considerations. Today we remember him for his ongoing passion for the many faces of higher education.
American colleges and universities must be committed to inclusive excellence, promoting both access to and quality in higher education. But the current excitement over online innovations can obscure the complexities of this dual commitment.
The development of massive open online courses (MOOCs) signals a renewed appreciation for the “sage on the stage,” wherein a renowned authority conveys the current knowledge on a subject with cogency and eloquence. MOOCs can offer free or inexpensive access to knowledge on an unprecedented scale, and boards are rightly asking what effect this innovation will have on higher learning and degree attainment. MOOCs and other forms of online learning may address some concerns over access and affordability, but they are not panaceas. Packets of knowledge attained by fulfillment of discrete course requirements are not equivalent to an education. The National Survey of Student Engagement has identified certain high-impact teaching practices that help students attain these needed skills, including the establishment of learning communities and an emphasis on writing-intensive courses, collaborative projects, undergraduate research, service learning, and internships. These practices are characterized by interactive learning; rigor as measured by time on task; a focus on teaching the arts of inquiry, analysis, and problem solving; and teachers who act as “guides on the side.” Over my 35 years as a professor, dean, and president, I have seen the lecturer model complemented with a rich variety of pedagogies. Instructors intersperse exposition with discussion; more frequent papers and quizzes have succeeded the traditional midterm, research paper, and final; students do collaborative projects as well as individual presentations; classroom activities lead to independent research and internships. At its best, undergraduate education is better done to the extent that institutions have supported the blending of the sage on the stage with the guide on the side.