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The Center for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment

Community of Practice on Engaged Learning

Frequently Asked Questions

How realistic is it to expect all students to become self-authored?

All students are capable of reaching self-authorship when they experience the appropriate balance of challenge and support that progressively fosters intellectual, personal, and relational growth. Yet, self-authorship does not happen automatically or easily. To become self-authored, students must undergo a journey in which they gradually let go of relying solely on others and viewing all knowledge as certain and instead embrace the ability to author their own knowledge, relationships, and identities.

Does self-authorship mean publishing original scholarship in national peer-reviewed journals?

No. Self-authorship does not refer to a specific accomplishment or skill. Rather, self-authorship is the developmentally based capacity to critically evaluate evidence, construct new knowledge, make informed judgments and act ethically. Thus, it is an overarching way of making meaning that underlies a broad range of college learning outcomes.

Are students that are the same age or at the same level of education at the same developmental point?

No. Self-authorship does not equate with age or level of education, so whether students are self-authored depends on a complex mix of individual and environmental factors. In fact, research shows that high school students who have faced and worked through particular challenges (e.g., being the first one in their family to apply to college) may enter college with self-authoring capacities. Regardless of how old they are or how much education they have, self-authoring students are able to reach conclusions and make decisions by consistently questioning and analyzing external sources in the context of their own beliefs and values.

How can I work with a group that has students at various levels of development?

The characteristics of generative educational experiences foster growth among students at any level of development, so focusing on learning, asking questions, and developing responsibility represent best practices for all students.

What do I as an educator gain from fostering self-authorship among students?

Fostering self-authorship among students can be as transformative for educators as it is for students. Using a discovery-oriented paradigm allows educators to reflect on their assumptions about teaching and learning and develop rewarding ways of connecting with students. As Rebecca Mills and Karen L. Strong, who initiated a re-organization of the student affairs division at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, state, understanding how to foster self-authorship “provide[s] a foundation from which organizations may humanize bureaucracy, deconstruct mechanical ways of working, and, ultimately, serve students more effectively.”1

Haven't we as educators at Miami already been using pedagogies and practices that promote self-authorship?

Yes, many faculty and staff have been using pedagogies and practices that are developmentally sound and that promote self-authorship. Their students have been the beneficiaries of a rich learning environment. Yet, there is always room to improve in our consistency and intentionally. If each educator works to more fully align his or her pedagogies and practices with a learning-centered philosophy, Miami as a whole could provide a richer environment for all students.

What can I do when students are frustrated that I will not simply give them the answers they are looking for?

First, be patient. Getting students to understand and accept some responsibility for their learning takes time. Second, try to get them to verbalize their frustration to you so that you can help them process it and discover the root of it. If you believe your students are ready to be challenged, you could even ask them why they just want the answers. Third, there might be times when you wind up “giving” the answer, but you do so by showing in detail how you arrived at the answer and inviting students to explore with you other viable ways to achieve the answer.

If I share authority with students in learning settings, will I lose “control” of what they are learning?

If by “losing control” you mean having students interpret some knowledge in ways that differ from you as the authority, then the answer is “yes.” However, if by “losing control” you mean jeopardizing the degree to which students learn, then the answer is “no.” You will not lose control of the learning process; rather, you will be sharing the responsibility for learning with students; in essence, you are letting go of some control so that students can gain some control—or ownership—and thereby take more responsibility for their own learning.

Will engaged learning work in my discipline where I must ensure students gain enough information to advance to the next level and/or take a standardized exam?

Yes, it will work. Engaging in learning-centered education does not mean you are not providing students with information about your discipline. Students still need to learn how to conduct an experiment, what a sonnet is, take a derivative, learn German words, and so forth. Students need requisite knowledge in order to take future courses. Engaged learning allows students to more effectively synthesize, apply, and evaluate this information—which ultimately leads to informed judgments, new knowledge construction, and critical thinking about the subject matter.

What if I do not teach courses? Do I need to be concerned with engaged learning?

Yes. Learning does not just take place within the traditional “classroom.” Learning takes place outside the classroom as well, and those with responsibilities outside the classroom can apply the principles of engaged learning to these educational efforts as well. For example, administrators in a variety of settings can frame student employment as an opportunity for engaged learning.

Aren’t “co-curricular activities” just for fun? How do they relate to engaged learning?

Certainly co-curricular activities have aspects that are considered “fun” such as meeting new people, learning new skills, and so forth. However, even though activities might be labeled “fun” (just as courses may be labeled “interesting”), co-curricular efforts are designed to help students make connections between what they are learning in their courses with how this material applies in their communities, their relationships, and their personal development (i.e., who they are and who they are becoming). “Fun” may be a characteristic, but it is not the main purpose, of co-curricular efforts.

Footnotes

  1. Mills, R., & Strong, K. L. (2004). Organizing for learning in a division of student affairs. In M. B. Baxter Magolda & P. M. King (Eds.), Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educator for self-authorship (pp. 269-302). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

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