As institutions become more intentional about student-centered learning, it has become more pertinent than ever to inspire confidence in students. It is no surprise that training timid and uninspired students is an effort in futility.
Do you wonder why talks about culture in colleges have now shifted from typical humanities course discussions to talks about defining campus culture? It is because schools are now intentional about building students’ strengths and abilities as individuals.
The College of General Studies at Boston University has been very effective at creating a culture of confidence and connection at the institution. And who better to give a first-hand account of that success than the Dean of General Studies and Professor of Humanities Natalie McKnight?
As Natalie chatted with Jeffrey Yan, Co-founder and CEO of Digication, on the Digication Scholars Conversations podcast, she let us in on Boston University’s efforts to create a culture of confidence and connection between members of the institution’s faculty and the students.
The Culture Keeps Defining and Improving
Natalie explains that it has become important for students and faculty members to do what they do, to the best of their ability. According to her, this will not be possible without a well-defined culture. Everyone is involved in honing and developing this culture through different years and levels of study - from students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and even parents are fully involved in creating this culture as “part of the whole enterprise.”
The university’s culture is no longer a mere topic of discussion in the classroom, but it is now a phenomenon that they keep “defining and improving.” As an inherent part of their practice of continuous improvement, Boston University’s College of General Studies has been using Digication ePortfolios and assessment tools over the last decade to see what students are doing in order to reflect as an organization.
Natalie shares, “it is kind of staggering for me to think about how much those ideas about culture have evolved over the last 10 years and Digication has been part of that…in getting our students to use Digication, to kind of reflect on their learning and to archive what they've done and then, using it to assess how students have progressed in our program and then to assess how changes we've made in our program have worked or not worked.”
Boston University Uses Teamwork To Enhance Campus Connection
Natalie makes us understand that for Boston University, the goal is not to churn out graduates but to produce critical thinkers, who can communicate and solve problems. To reach this goal no one is an island. Both students and faculty work as parts of teams with common interests and missions. At BU, campus connection is truly brought to life through teamwork and collaboration.
She believes strongly in the powerful and lasting effects of teamwork. It is, therefore, not surprising that she declares that the team system is "best for learning and is best socially…” She explains that General Studies students have shared classes with students in different disciplines. This way, they get to know more about each other while faculty members also get to know their students. She further describes this system as “socially and intellectually cohesive.”
The General Studies faculty forms teams of an average of 80 students who then take classes with the faculties in humanities, rhetoric, and social sciences in the freshman year.
Then, the team shares three faculties in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences in the sophomore year. During those two semesters each year, the faculty really get to know the students, the students really get to know the faculty and the students also really get to know each other. In Natalie’s words, this is what makes the school “distinct and impactful.”
The school's effort toward creating a culture of confidence and connection doesn't end here. Members of the faculty also have roles to play. Faculty meet every week to discuss with each other what is happening in their courses. This helps create “interdisciplinary connections among their courses,” Natalie explains in this revealing episode of the podcast.
To shed more light on how they enforce student-centered learning at BU, Natalie highlights how this interdisciplinary approach works in practice:
“Let's say you were teaching social science and you were talking about World War I; you're introducing what led the world into war, and I'm teaching humanities but I would have known because I'm on a team with you that you're going to be talking about that. I'd line up my syllabus so I'd be talking about World War I poets who were in the trenches writing sonnets and films that were filmed during the war so that they [sic] (students) get the artistic perspective on the war. In rhetoric, which is a writing argumentation research class, they might be looking at World War I propaganda posters and how people hung those posters to persuade others to enlist in a war that was basically decimating an entire generation.”
In essence, rather than discussing the war in Social Science or talking about Medieval poetry in Humanities, or verb modifiers in Rhetoric, the interdisciplinary approach helps the faculty to give a "holistic perspective" on the subject. This way, students now view and talk about the war from different perspectives, regardless of their field of study. They are furnished with a more critical understanding of a particular era in human history. This way, they can easily remember facts about this era or topic because each course reinforces the other.
If you surmised critical thinking and versatility as some of the strong points of BU students and graduates, you are right. In this Digication’s Scholars Conversations podcast, Natalie McKnight helps guide us through the institution’s strategies for creating a culture of confidence and connection amongst students and faculty members and effectively raising future leaders from Boston University.