How Demanding Is College Learning?
In his review of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, University of Iowa professor David Bills noted that the real problem the book highlights "is not so much that too few students are learning enough critical thinking, but that traditionally advantaged students have a better chance of learning in college than do those who enter college with a history of disadvantage." In other words, Bills writes, a lack of academic rigor in colleges only perpetuates the traditional learning gap between the haves and have-nots.
The authors of Academically Adrift, sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, point out that research shows a positive correlation between rigorous high school work and college completion rates. The forms of support disadvantaged students need in high school and college are the same: contact with teachers, high expectations, and academic support. Only by a renewed institutional emphasis on undergraduate learning, which Arum and Roksa call a moral imperative, will colleges help the new generations of students develop "a lifelong love of learning, an ability to think critically and communicate effectively, and a willingness to embrace and assume adult responsibilities" (Arum & Roksa, 2011, p. 144).
After watching the video with Academically Adrift coauthor Richard Arum, consider how the issues of teaching and learning in higher education are similar to or different from high school education. Examine your own school's academic rigor from an outside reporter's perspective by asking such questions as
- What is my school doing to assess learning—to identify what's excellent and what needs improvement?
- For areas that need improvement, what plans have been put in place to address them? How will the school follow through?
- How can my school address the quality and rigor of our courses and teaching? For example, what are the reading and writing demands in various courses?
- How much time do students study at home?
- What other ways can my school measure student learning?
Whether you respond to the questions alone or with colleagues, what preliminary conclusions can you draw about how your school approaches teaching and learning?
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 18. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.