Improving an Inclination toward Complex Thinking – Part III (AKA doing something with what we now know)

So far this year, the Assessment for Improvement Committee (AIC) and the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (IRA) have hosted two Friday Conversations to explore findings from our 4-year study of intellectual sophistication growth among Augustana students. The first conversation focused on how our students changed from Welcome Week (just before freshmen start their first fall term) to graduation and how different types of students (depending on traits like race, sex, or pre-college academic preparedness), although they may have started in different places, seem to have grown about the same amount over four years (I summarized that presentation in a blog post here). The second conversation examined the different student experiences that appear to influence that change, either positively or negatively (you can read a summary of that presentation in a blog post here). Clearly, our findings suggest that the degree to which students take ideas they’ve learned in one discipline and apply them or vet them in a different disciplinary or real-world setting demonstrably increases our student’s inclination toward complex thinking.

Although the findings we’ve discussed so far are interesting in their own right, they don’t do anything by themselves to help us improve student learning. In fact, without collectively committing to do something with our results, we end up just like most organizations – chock-full of data but unable to turn those insights into actions that actually make them better. If we’re being honest, the fact that we know so much about how our students’ growth and the experiences that shape that growth puts us in the unenviable position of being almost morally obligated to do something with what we know – no matter how daunting that might be.

I know all of that sounds a little heavy-handed (ok – more than a little heavy-handed), but in the 8 years I’ve been at Augustana, the times when we’ve been at our absolute best have been when we’ve let down our defenses, humbly looked in the mirror, and chosen to believe in the best of each other. Then we’ve all put our shoulders to the plow to make the education we provide just a little bit better than it was before.

And that is the focus of the third, and most important, AIC/IRA Friday Conversation at the end of this week. After we briefly review what we have learned from our data, we will organize into smaller groups to come up with 2-4 viable ways in which we can turn these findings into action. This might take the form of professional development sessions, policy for course design or pedagogical nuance, or co-curricular emphases to apply our findings to impact a larger proportion of students.

So please come to the AIC/IRA Friday Conversation this Friday, March 23rd. We will be in the Wilson Center. Food and drinks are available at 3:30 and the conversation will start at 4:00.

We are really good at getting better. I’ve seen us do it over and over again. I, for one, can’t wait to see what we come up with!

Make it a good day,

Mark

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