For two Fridays during November, I witnessed second year students in the College Student Personnel program at Western Illinois University (WIU) present their Internship Learning Experience (ILE). This is an experience they work on requiring them to bring transformative learning to the project. This includes learning outcomes, shaping the environment to reach the outcomes, and assessing the outcomes. The presentations are of high quality and quite creative. Furthermore, they are valued by the students, their assistantship sites, and many others at WIU, all of whom are encouraged to stop by and watch, t00. The presentations run like a mini-conference.
One aspect of the process that the students and I’ve considered all semester is a point even more clear to me after watching their presentations:
Despite the belief that we (student affairs professionals) are sometimes second class citizens within the higher education environment, we are quite a privileged group.
Please note, I’m not talking about privilege in terms of race, gender, etc. Specifically, I’m talking about the response sometimes given to the use of learning outcomes and assessment.
I often hear student affairs professionals think that such processes take too much time, more resources, etc. Yet, without them:
- I can’t help but wonder what we are doing?
- What it says if we consider ourselves beyond using these tools in our practice?
Even if I apply the business model to higher education, which I don’t prefer but certainly hear the argument for, I see that we need to identify what we want students to learn. We then need to shape the environment to work toward that.
After all, learning is our business.
Yet, somehow, the idea persists that our role within higher education as educators is controversial. If we are not about learning and do not see ourselves as educators, then we need to own that. We need to outright claim what we are about as a field. Also, we then need to recognize that we are abandoning our history. We started out as educators. The belief that we are not is a large myth that we often perpetuate (Schelin, 1969).
Saying that we are about learning does not ignore reasons that others seek by coming to college. For example, if others attend college to get a job, it certainly seems to me that we would want to focus even more on student learning and our contributions to it. If on the other hand, we want to appease those who seek college to acquire a liberal education, we need to explore how an interdisciplinary focus can be brought to our practice. In fact, this is what is meant by the term liberal education. It is complimentary to the idea of general education or liberal arts at institutions of higher education.
Furthermore, it seems only ethical that we share what we want students to learn; not to feel anxious about the future of our positions, but in an effort to be authentic in our practice. Additionally, sharing with students what we aim for them to learn assists in the process of considering what they are going to learn from an experience before they select to have said experience. Doing so also builds relationships with our stakeholders. They can see the value of the various experiences we provide, and partner with us as we work toward them. At the very least, using learning outcomes and assessment to shape our practice teaches students to be good consumers, responsible citizens, and allows them to make informed decisions. All outcomes I believe are quite necessary in today’s society.
Schetlin, E.M. (1969). Myths of the student personnel point of view. The Journal of Higher Education, p. 58-63.