Bringing It

Bringing It #101: Two Great Articles, Two Important Conferences, and a Grant Opportunity

March 09, 2023

Dear friends,

Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that captures something important and surprisingly hopeful in the current state of higher education—so important and so hopeful that we decided to lead with it in this week’s Bringing It. Full disclosure: the story, “Teaching in an Age of ‘Militant Apathy,’” also features BT2P and the Paradigm Project. (More on that below.) But as much as we appreciate good publicity, it’s the larger import of the Chronicle story that we want to showcase here.

Author Beth McMurtrie reports on a proliferation of educational innovations she calls “immersive learning,” including experiential, engaged, holistic, interdisciplinary, and high-impact practices. The piece offers a wide scan of examples: a study-away launch semester from Lehigh University, Hamilton College’s community-based Justice Lab, Purdue University’s Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts program, Plymouth State University’s problem-based general education curriculum, James Madison University’s X-Labs (featured in an earlier issue of Bringing It), and social innovation courses here at Elon. These are wildly diverse exemplars, but as McMurtrie argues, they all call on students to make meaning, find purpose, and ground their academic learning in holistic personal development and engagement in the world.

Practices like this will be familiar to readers of Bringing It. What’s new is McMurtrie’s view that they represent a significant response to the current crisis of student disengagement, anxiety, and what one professor calls “militant apathy.” At a time of economic and emotional precarity for students—long simmering but worsened by the pandemic—McMurtrie finds that students themselves embrace “immersive learning” and are left cold by models of education focused only on credentialism and the first job. The article is filled with the voices of students excited by the programs she showcases, eager for experiences of meaning-making, exploration, and transformation.

It’s in this context that McMurtrie (who interviewed David for the piece) cites BT2P’s work as one of several initiatives aiming to ‘scale up’ immersive innovations into holistic change:

The most ambitious project is also the newest. The Paradigm Project, a seven-year, national effort…of Bringing Theory to Practice, wants to transform undergraduate education into a meaning-making enterprise where experiential learning is integrated throughout the system. Rather than a study-abroad program here, a civic-engagement class there, the curriculum would be organized around problems, project-based, and interdisciplinary…The project wants to accomplish this by creating a grass-roots movement of evangelists to shift the public narrative away from “instrumental vocationalism” toward a more holistic view of education that includes personal development and community well-being. 

We are excited that the Chronicle’s reporting situates BT2P and the Paradigm Project at the heart of these currents of positive change. What’s even more exciting is the evidence of student appetite for such change. Policy-makers, pundits, and even educational leaders often have a shrunken understanding of students’ needs and aspirations, assuming that the quickest, narrowest path to the degree and a job is the best answer to student anxiety and precarity. This article suggests the opposite: that instrumental vocationalism only disengages students more deeply, that they are hungry for the chance to make meaning, find purpose along with work, and exercise agency in a world of challenges.

“ChatGPT is Not the End of Writing”

Earlier in her career, BT2P friend and Paradigm Working Group member Elaine Maimon helped launch the writing-across-the-curriculum movement. In a brilliant article for the Philadelphia Citizen, she offers perspective and practical advice for educators in navigating this brave new age of ChatGPT. She reminds us that AI-generated texts cannot replace the core purposes of college writing programs: “to connect writing with thinking, enable students to find their own voice, and empower writers to achieve their own goals through written communication.” We know that our readers will be enriched by Elaine’s wisdom and insight.

CFP for Conference on Engaged Learning

We want to bring to your attention this call for proposals for the 2023 Conference on Engaged Learning here at Elon University, June 24-June 25th. Each summer Elon’s Center for Engaged Learning spotlights cutting-edge research and innovative practices. They invite your proposals for presentations, workshops, and posters on compelling themes, such as the role of trust and student voice in engaged learning and practices that foster engaged learning. Proposals are due March 31st. More information can be found at this link.

PHENND Annual Conference with ECAR

Our friends at the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND) invite you to their annual conference, March 24th, at Swarthmore College. This year’s theme is “Refugee Resettlement and Immigration,” with a keynote by Diya Abdo, founder of Every Campus A Refuge and Professor of English at Guilford College. BT2P is proud to support the great work of PHENND, Guilford College, and ECAR as part of The Way Forward initiative. Details and registration can be found at this link.

Civic Engagement & Voting Rights Teacher Scholars

The Humanities Hub at Clemson University is offering a compensated professional development opportunity for humanities faculty to integrate civic and voting education into general education courses. Faculty of all ranks can apply by March 15th to be considered for Cohort 1 of the Voting Rights Teacher Scholar Program, a three-year initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Details can be found here. Contact Dr. James Burns ([email protected]) or Dr. Bridget Trogden ([email protected]) with questions.

With thanks for all you do,
David, Grace, Paul, and Todd