Strong Educational Reforms at the University Level

June 24, 2013

At Washington and Lee University, they have developed new programs with unique opportunities for students. These programs provide short intensive courses for students, says Robert A. Strong, interim provost and the William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University.

A few years ago, the faculty at Washington and Lee (W&L) adopted a plan to revitalize the short term at the end of its regular academic year. For many years, W&L had a six-week spring term with students taking either two courses on campus or one six-credit course off campus.

The revitalized spring term is shorter and more intense. It now expects students to take one four-week course each spring that will fully engage them. The faculty developed new courses with innovative pedagogies and course enhancements that often involve travel, guest speakers and special activities outside the classroom. For example:

  • A philosophy course studying the abortion controversy went to Washington to hear oral argument in the Supreme Court.
  • History students studying the civil rights era traveled to some of the landmark locations where demonstrations and assassinations shaped the national agenda on those issues.
  • An economics class on the auto industry included a trip to Detroit to meet with executives of the Ford Motor Co.
  • Students in a geology course stood next to lava flowing from a Hawaiian volcano into the sea.
  • A class on Shakespeare traveled to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton and did a performance of "Hamlet."

The idea behind the new intensive and innovative spring term is to break free from the bonds of regular classroom learning and to overcome the tendency of students to spread themselves thin across a variety of academic activities

Intensity and innovation are just as important as openness and accessibility. Schools should not allow themselves to overshadow and overwhelm other worthwhile educational reforms that happen to lack a patina of revolutionary change.

Source: Robert A. Strong, "Strong: MIICs, not MOOCs, at Washington and Lee," Richmond Times Dispatch, June 19, 2013.

 

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