The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) kicked off today in Las Vegas with a fantastic keynote by Chris Anson. He delivered his speech as a third-person narrative following an art history professor discovering the political and social movements around higher education, which of course included the cost of college and the online alternatives being explored.
He pointed out that underlying the debate is the relationship between credit hours and accreditation, which is based on seat-time. What do we lose when we turn to competency-based education, which permits any number of educational experiences so long as the student can pass a standardized competency test? These questions lead to a more fundamental one: What is the purpose of college? Is it job training? Or is there something more that we gain from the overall experience of a liberal arts education?
Anson argued that there are critical capacities gained throughout the two-year or four-year college experience—curiosity, reflection, imagination, appreciating a wide range of ideas and traditions. These capacities are developed by engaging class discussion, co-curriculum experiences with social clubs and study groups, collaboration, and hands-on learning; in short, requiring students to do something. But he also posed an important question: are our institutions really providing students with the transformative experience that leads to these capacities? In most cases, and especially in crowded lecture halls, the answer is no. As Anson put it, “Students are paying for a transformative experience and they are getting a pedagogy that hasn’t changed in years.”
So what do we do? Anson advises us to start by learning more about how students learn and then make our own courses more engaging, more transformative.