Leading Campus Change

As the participants in the AAC&U-Carnegie Foundation Integrative Learning Project can attest, a great deal can happen, and fail to happen, in three years. On the one hand, three years feels scarcely long enough for a new agenda to identify leadership and establish the momentum necessary for lasting change. On the other hand, three years is more than sufficient to encounter the full array of obstacles to campus change: departure of key faculty, shifting administrative priorities, or declining funds, to mention just a few. In light of these stubborn facts, what lessons can we draw about leading campus change? How can we best make sense of the complex relationships between intention, practice, and result that played out on each of the ten participating campuses, as they worked to create more and better opportunities for students to put together the various pieces of their undergraduate experience?

While the quotations on this page capture something of what the different teams experienced over the course of the project, it may be useful to consolidate from their reflections a set of suggestions for leading campus initiatives to strengthen integrative learning. For further information about the nature, varieties, and development of integrative learning; ways to foster integrative learning through the curriculum, pedagogy, faculty development, and assessment; campus reports and recommendations; and the project itself, see the Integrative Learning Project's public report at: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/elibrary/integrativelearning

Make Integrative Learning a Campus-Wide Concern

Individual faculty members can do much to strengthen integrative learning through decisions about course design, pedagogy and assignments. But individual efforts, by themselves, cannot create and sustain the opportunities students need to develop as integrative thinkers over the full arc of their college careers. For this to happen, collaborative efforts at the campus, program, and departmental levels are needed, both to introduce new practices where necessary, and to ensure that programs already in place reinforce and build on one another. It may be necessary to start with a small group of colleagues in a relatively modest way, while keeping one's eyes open for larger opportunities. Articulating a vision that connects integrative learning to important institutional goals can attract people from different walks of campus life, obtain "buy-in," create alliances, and marshal resources for successful initiatives.

We understand that study abroad by its nature can be an integrative learning experience. But students don't experience integrative learning in another country just because they're there. They need opportunities that get them to interact with the environment; preparation before, during, and after to help process the experience; and guidance through multiple levels of learning and perspective. (Julie Friend, Michigan State University)

Design Initiatives Strategically

There are many ways to strengthen the integrative potential of the undergraduate experience, from approaches that focus on the structure of the curriculum to those that give students the tools to connect their academic learning with their lives. Which ones make the most sense for any particular institution depends on what is already happening there, as well as on the strength of campus commitment to integrative learning as an educational goal. Finding out where and when integrative learning is (and is not) currently taking place can help identify strategic sites for new initiatives, reveal points of overlap to nurture, and discover gaps to fill. Examining successful work in these areas at your own or another institution can provide "existence proofs" and design principles for your own initiatives.

Reflection had been an important piece of our work before we came into the Integrative Learning Project. Our collaboration and our conversation here deepened that. So reflection has emerged as a really crucial theme, and something that we need to be very intentional about. We need to be developing the structures and the culture that support it. Reflection is not something that just kind of occurs naturally: you have to really pay patient attention to it if you want it to happen. (Bret Eynon, La Guardia Community College)

Support Faculty Creatively

Most educators are intrigued by the concept of integrative learning but have different ideas about what integrative learning means, how it develops, and what it looks like in practice. Establishing more and better occasions to talk about integrative learning can help to develop a more widely shared understanding about its nature, varieties, and value, and about how, when, and where it can best be fostered. Such discussions can be particularly productive when grounded in a common text or project that involves analyzing actual student work. Venues can include ongoing campus deliberations--about general education or assessment, for instance. But there should also be a sustained, connected set of faculty development experiences to build the necessary level of skills, commitment, and community. Faculty should, of course, be recognized and rewarded for this work.

I think what's good for our students is also good for us as educators and for the faculty we're working with on strengthening opportunities for integrative learning. It's exactly the same principle: having a real problem in front of you, one of those messy, ill-structured problems of the kind we want our students to work on together. (Elizabeth Ciner, Carleton College)

Make a Commitment to Knowledge-Building

Integrative learning initiatives should be accompanied by a commitment to inquiry that can first build knowledge about the depth of student learning that results (or not) from participation in integrative opportunities, and then suggest what aspects of the curriculum, co-curriculum course design, and pedagogy foster and improve students' capacities for integration. This means asking interesting and important questions at each site where reform takes place; gathering and exploring evidence; trying out and refining the new insights that have been gained from this process; and finding ways to make results public, so that they can inform and inspire further work. Keep in mind that when assessment instruments, such as assignments or surveys, are well designed, they can serve as pedagogical tools as well.

So how do we decide what is an appropriate level for freshman integration? What is an appropriate level for integrative thinking on the part of the freshmen? If we're building this process of integrative learning, how do we know what's enough? And how do we decide whether a student has actually moved from being a freshman to being a senior, in regard to integrative learning? (Tom Schrand, Philadelphia University)

Recognize that Institutionalization is a Long-Term Process

Strengthening integrative learning on campus is a long-term process, requiring leadership, creativity, and flexibility on the part of everyone involved. To sustain the work, leaders should think of themselves as teachers, working with others to transform their understandings, their commitments, their beliefs, and their skepticism. It is important to create opportunities for people new to the initiative to get involved. And, to maintain momentum, it helps to focus on the goal--integrative learning--rather than the parameters of any particular initiative. If one design runs up against bureaucratic, political, or financial roadblocks, it may be possible to create new ones that skirt the problems, while allowing time for a solution to be found.

The result of the way courses were listed was that our learning communities were very, very under-enrolled. It was a time of budgetary crisis. At that time, too, we had lost a vice president of instruction who was very, very supportive, and we weren't sure who the new vice president of instruction would be, and whether that person would be supportive or not. So we really felt like we were in limbo. And we thought we were getting ready to go into a brick wall at about 50 miles an hour. We were pretty sure the whole program would die. But these problems forced us to find creative solutions that we now think are better than our origninal plan for integrative learning, solutions that fit the particular conditions on our campus. (Jeremy Ball, College of San Mateo)

Build Networks Beyond Campus for Collaboration and Exchange

An important lesson from the Integrative Learning Project is that campus efforts are strengthened by working with other campuses, sharing their discoveries about integrative learning, developing new ideas about assessment, and learning from each other's designs. Local efforts can be reinvigorated through participation in a community of educators working toward similar goals, and that community, in turn, can contribute to building knowledge that can inform efforts to foster integrative learning at other colleges and universities. Securing support from external donors and associations can bring resources and recognition that can enhance the status and visibility of integrative learning initiatives on campus.

We sat at the bar and in the space of three hours, on a cocktail napkin, we designed our first-year experience. The ability to get an interdisciplinary group to go away for a few days, enjoy some camaraderie, enjoy some friendship, enjoy the pool, allowed us then to do some of those kinds of things. (Alan Belcher, University of Charleston)