Productive Disruptions in Engaged Learning Practices
by Jessie L. Moore
In his 2013 book, Engaged Learning in the Academy: Challenges and Possibilities, David Thornton Moore writes that effective engaged learning pedagogies “induce the learner to look carefully at her experience, to question her own assumptions, to place the experience in relation to larger institutional and societal processes and discourses, to hear others’ voices, to grapple with the question of why things happen the way they do, to imagine how things might be different, to read her experience in terms given by major social theories and to critique those theories from the perspective of her experience – to engage, in other words, in serious critical thinking” (2013, pp. 201-202).
Note that this articulation comes near the end of the book. Moore reveals early on that – although experiential learning has the potential to be transformative for students and for university campuses – he believes these pedagogies should only be practiced if institutions make a “real commitment” to them. And he spends large chunks of the book explaining why that commitment is so difficult to achieve. He notes, for instance, that while admissions materials often tout engaged learning, university mission statements and curricula too often fail to reflect that commitment.
Moore’s description echoes another widely referenced work on engaged learning – George Kuh’s discussion of high impact educational practices:
“High-impact activities… Demand that students devote considerable time and effort to purposeful tasks… Put students in circumstances that essentially demand they interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters, typically over extended periods of time… Increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves… [Often lead to structures in which] Students typically get frequent feedback about their performance… Provide opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, on and off campus… [and] Can be life changing…
“Such an undergraduate experience deepens learning and one’s values and beliefs into awareness; it helps students develop the ability to take the measure of events and actions and put them in perspective. As a result, students better understand themselves in relation to others and the larger world, and they acquire the intellectual tools and ethical grounding to act with confidence for the betterment of the human condition.” (Kuh, 2008, pp. 14-17)
Both of these understandings of engaged learning practices emphasize the roles of metacognitive reflection and integration. It’s not enough to simply participate in study abroad, an internship, a learning community, etc.; students must have opportunities to think about what they are learning and to connect their new knowledge and experiences to prior knowledge and broader societal contexts.
Given the gains associated with high-impact educational practices, more universities are embedding them as graduation requirements and/or as part of experiential learning transcripts. (See the Winter 2016 issue of NASPA’s Leadership Exchange for a related discussion about cocurricular experiences.) Of course, embedding engaged learning requirements doesn’t guarantee the outcomes we see in Moore’s description. Four productive disruptions to engaged learning can foster a focus on these outcomes, though, as faculty, staff, and administers integrate high-impact educational practices into university curricula.
In management and leadership, productive disruption is about change thinking, calling out and addressing troublesome practices, and generating new practices and goals. At the University of Washington, the 21st Century Liberal Learning program tries to create productive disruptions to put students in positions where they have to think creatively to address challenges. At Bryn Mawr, the Toward Culturally Responsive Classrooms project seeks to create productive disruptions in faculty and student roles to challenge hierarchies and change faculty-student interactions.
These are two of several examples of productive disruptions in higher education that are coming from within the institution, and though these examples are classroom- and program-based, Randy Bass (2012) notes that experiential learning itself often provides these types of productive disruptions. Bass focuses on pressures on the formal curriculum, but I want to adapt his model to examine four productive disruptions that can put pressure on our understanding of engaged learning and our integration of it on our campuses: scaling access, building partnerships, thinking globally locally, and closing the loop with the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Over the next few weeks I’ll explore each of these productive disruptions to consider how they can push higher education communities to enact engaged learning practices that foster both integrative learning and metacognitive awareness of how that learning informs students’ current and future roles in society.
- Bass, Randy. (March/April 2012). Disrupting ourselves: The problem of learning in higher education. EducauseReview. 22-33.
- Glassner, Howard, & Powers, Maggie. (2011). Disrupting traditional student-faculty roles, 140 characters at a time. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, 3. Retrieved from http://teachingandlearningtogether.blogs.brynmawr.edu/archived-issues/spring2011-issue/disrupting-traditional-roles
- Kuh, George D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What are they, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, D.C.: AAC&U.
- Moore, David Thornton. (2013). Engaged learning in the academy: Challenges and possibilities. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Jessie L. Moore (@jessielmoore) is the Associate Director of the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University and associate professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric in the Department of English.