February 28, 2011

Are College Students Academically Adrift?

One component of the Writing Initiative is to include more critical thinking in the redesigned writing-intensive course sections.

I am also teaching a course in critical thinking this semester. In one of my seraches online, I came upon Professor Richard Arum, New York University, who has done a major longitudinal study of student learning in higher education. His research follows approximately 2,400 students at 24 diverse U.S. colleges and universities over a two year period to examine how institutional settings, student backgrounds, and individual academic programs influence how much students learn on campus.

His study uses a recently developed, unique learning assessment tool, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which measures the "higher order thinking skills" that colleges and universities aim to teach: problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication skills.(The CLA is a tool developed by the Council for Aid to Education, a national nonprofit based in New York.)

Are you surprised? Research has shown for a long time that students spend more time on social pursuits than the average 13 hours per week spent studying.

Arum points out that faculty incentives within higher education (promotion, tenure) are generally aligned with research pursuits, rather than the quality of undergraduate instruction. This is less true at community colleges, but there are still many non-teaching requirements and distractions.) According to Arum, this misalignment of goals results in far less attention to teaching and learning than is necessary to cultivate higher order skills in students.

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College CampusesRichard Arum is professor of sociology and education at New York University and the program director for educational research at the Social Science Research Council. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.

He is the author of several books and articles about student achievement, social stratification, and the organization of schooling, including, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.

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