The first was by a professor in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He discussed ideas about student success from the vantage point of metacognition and girt – not the new notion of Grit from the very popular book by Angela Lee Duckworth – the tenacity definition of grit that most people recognize. His premise is that the technology revolution has dramatically decreased our ability to learn (“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams). Although, as seen in the previous quote, this is not a new idea, it is a powerful idea that needs more recognition. He insists that we, as college-level educators, must do more to teach students how to learn. This is a sad statement, for what were their first 13 years (i.e., K – 12) of formal education for?
The second presentation was two administrators/faculty from Lone Star College. They spoke on how they overhauled a struggling honors program by turning it into an international program. In three years, they went from serving a little over 60 students to serving nearly 250 students. They performed this miracle with substantial help from administration (i.e., increasing a budget from $12,000 per year to more than a million dollars per year) and being forerunners to a possible national paradigm shift: free community college. Although I’ve written that I disagree with a blanket policy on free tuition for all community college students, I see where this system has merit. But as my colleague and I discussed after the presentation, the majority of these students are going to receive “free tuition” anyways (e.g., Bright Futures or dual-enrollment in Florida). Where the significant result occurred, is in providing students a free study abroad experience, which also required a research project. That is an incredible carrot to offer, with the only stick being “do your work or loose honors status (and the free trip…).”
Besides going to share and learn, the real reason for going on these trips is to meet with colleagues who share the same challenges that we do, so we may feel empathy. Unfortunately, after this conference (with at least five Florida colleges represented), I still feel like the Lone Ranger on many issues facing our faculty.