Traditional ideas about student success in higher education may conflict with values around supporting learning, equity, and well-being. For example, there is a widely held belief that a bell-shaped distribution of grades in a course is important because it helps future employers identify the truly talented students they want to hire. Another such myth is the fundamental attribution error where a faculty member may assume that poor performance is due to laziness. Likewise, students may interpret an early set back in class as evidence that they aren’t cut out for a particular major/career. While there may be some positive elements of the ideas above, for example, students being able to recognize their comparative strengths, these ideas also set up a learning environment that doesn’t allow room for learning from failure and recovering from setbacks.
What might happen if we started from the belief that with enough opportunities for practice with feedback, most students with the motivation to persevere can succeed? What if we believed that all of our students could meet that standard of excellence that will make us feel confident in certifying that they have learned what they need to move forward in their educations and into their professional lives? How might we encourage students to define their own life and career goals and how they define success for themselves? How might these beliefs change our approach to designing courses and curriculum? How might we need to rethink systemic elements of higher education that limit this more expansive approach to supporting student learning?
In this faculty learning community, we will explore alternative approaches course design, curriculum development, policy, and mindsets around higher education. Our goals are to critically interrogate some of the common myths of evaluating students that take a limited view of what it means to credentialize students. We will promote awareness of alternative approaches to teaching, testing some of them out in the context of the Georgia Tech educational culture. Finally, we will generate a white paper that contributes to the conversation about how Georgia Tech might document how its educators support student success—a key requirement in the new University System of Georgia’s promotion process.
Now is an opportune time to consider the questions above to set the stage for real transformation in the way that we engage our students in learning.