GOAL I: Integrative Learning and Education
To Develop Students’ Capacities to Create, Imagine, and Change the World, and to Enhance
the Work of the Faculty as Teacher–scholars: We will invest in pedagogical and scholarly programs and educational strategies that
develop the capacities of students and faculty members to achieve, model, and demonstrate
excellence as scholarly, creative, and integrative learners.
This Plan reaffirms the College’s belief in the intellectually rigorous and transformative potential of a Skidmore education, as well as in the personal and social values it embodies. A liberal arts education certainly represents a personal good for our graduates, preparing them not only to make a living but also to create a life worth living—a life that truly matters for themselves and others. But a Skidmore education also represents a broader social good that is seldom remarked upon in contemporary discussions of higher education. We highlight this value in our expressed determination to prepare our graduates to live as informed, responsible, and globally and interculturally aware citizens who are not only capable of bringing their personal plans to fruition but who also strive to make the world a better place for all.
Integrative learning and education reside, first of all, in the work of the faculty as engaged and committed teachers, mentors, and scholars. Skidmore has always endorsed the teacher–scholar model as the quintessential expression of the liberal arts faculty and the sine qua non upon which our educational aspirations rest. Teaching holds pride of place, as the faculty strive to inspire their students to transform their aptitudes and interests into engagement and achievement. But our professors’ scholarship and creative work matter, too. For liberal arts colleges everywhere, the model of scholarship is distinctive—suited especially to an educational context whose ultimate goal is to inculcate a passion for learning that is rigorous, integrative, and socially useful. In short, faculty research and creative endeavor, in which students frequently are involved as well, enrich our teaching and are essential to instruction of the highest quality.
To realize our creative imperative, it is necessary for us to be more intentional about incorporating these fundamental values into all our educational endeavors. The ongoing revision of our general education program presents an important opportunity to do so, and we must seize that opportunity to invite our faculty, staff, students, and others to explore how we might push the boundaries of creativity in our students’ work. Following the lead of the Committee on Educational Policy and Planning (CEPP), we will begin by infusing the concept of integrative learning throughout the curriculum, which the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recognizes as one of the most important goals and challenges for higher education.4 It is foundational to liberal learning that an educated person understands not only the complex, nuanced, and multidimensional nature of the issues and problems most worth addressing, but also the various ways they interconnect. Such understanding requires learning across disciplinary boundaries, across time as students progress through their education, across the boundaries that traditionally separate the curriculum and cocurriculum, and across the border between the campus and the world beyond. Indeed, we understand this concept to encompass our students’ abilities to make connections from the moment they are accepted into Skidmore on into their lives after college. An integrated learning approach pushes students to identify and connect theoretical concepts from diverse disciplines and experiences and, where appropriate, apply them to unscripted, real-world challenges. It includes a capacity for hindsight and forethought: the metacognition involved in reflecting on the past and projecting into the future. In sum, we expect students to integrate learning from many different disciplines, moments, and sites—drawing upon everything the College offers to create the meaningful and ongoing process that is their Skidmore education.
Many parts of our curriculum, of course, already encompass integrative learning. Our decades-long interdisciplinary emphasis—epitomized in the Liberal Studies curriculum and carrying through to the current First-Year Experience—is a form of integrative learning. Many of our students complete double majors, self-directed majors, and combinations of majors and minors. Course-level interdisciplinarity, too, is a microcosm of the broader commitment to integrative learning, as are our many successful interdisciplinary majors and minors. Planning carried out by faculty members from the physical and life sciences in anticipation of the projected Center for Integrated Sciences produced many ways of strengthening instruction within and across disciplines and programs. Skidmore also has a proud history of bridging theoretical and applied learning. Integrative learning through praxis arises in students’ pursuit of international study; independent study, senior theses, and collaborative research with their professors; the making and performance of art; and the diverse opportunities for leadership and civic engagement made possible through Campus Life, Athletics, and Residential Life, among others.
Our students come to us increasingly experienced in using technology, both in their personal lives—where they are accustomed to being constantly connected electronically to their peers and the world at large—and, for some, through their high school experience, where technology is now a pervasive presence in teaching and learning. The combination of prior experience and the incredible pace of technological development constantly offers new ways for us to connect students to opportunities beyond our physical boundaries and enhance pedagogy in the classroom in ways unimaginable even a few years ago—yet another form of integrative learning. Technology is increasingly important in the research and creative work of our faculty members, as well. So determining how best to support—and afford—investments in this area that enhance the achievements of both students and professors will take on greater strategic importance in our short- and long-term planning.
Our objective is both to deepen this emphasis on integrative learning through a range of curricular and cocurricular initiatives and to make students intentional partners in this enterprise. Realizing the full promise of integrative learning requires that students be self-aware and intentional about making meaningful connections across traditional and nontraditional boundaries. They must actively reflect on what it is that ties disparate subjects and ideas to each other; indeed, they must fully and dynamically participate in the intellectual enterprise by employing self-reflection, contemplative thought, and focused action. Our students must be information literate; they must understand the way information is structured, how it can be accessed, and how it should be used in decision making—both in their majors and more broadly—in order to integrate knowledge within and across disciplines. The College, in turn, must provide the context, space, support, and time for such activities, taking care that all students feel that they are invited to participate in this work. Our assignment, therefore, is to challenge all our students to be more self-reflective about their education and more purposeful in making the deep and meaningful connections that are a necessary part of the liberal arts experience. Only then will they fulfill their promise as students of the liberal arts and as citizens of the world.
Because we want Skidmore students to be inclined to turn their creativity on the problems of the world, fostering civic literacy and engagement will also continue to be of special importance. We see the necessary attributes of citizenship as precisely the qualities of mind and character found at the core of liberal education itself: critical thinking; a capacity to access the kinds of empirical and conceptual knowledge created by the different disciplines; awareness of the multiple social, cultural, and political perspectives we find in the world; cultivation of one’s creativity and narrative imagination so one can empathize with those in a situation one has never directly experienced; the capacity to talk respectfully in contexts marked by difference; and the like.5 To do this, we need to increase our own capacity, as an educational community, to engage in such discussions both critically and respectfully. A leading liberal arts college explores difficult questions and “dangerous” ideas. Our campus needs to be a place where discussion of difficult issues is commonplace. The objective of such conversations is not somehow to make everyone agree with everyone else. Rather, it is to create a framework of mutual respect, care, and dialogue, based on the recognition that each of us has value as a human being and that, ultimately, we share a common fate. On that basis we then seek agreement where we can find it, accept disagreement when we must, and continue to look for common ground on which to act.
The time has come for the College to consider a more intentional framework in which to situate this crucial project of developing informed, responsible citizens—one that more consistently emphasizes the relationship between the stated goals of liberal education and the requirements of democratic citizenship. Over the next five years, we will develop new ways to engage students and other members of our community in public forums for debating and disseminating ideas relating to contemporary local and global matters. In doing so, we will also create opportunities for members of our community to explore the meaning of social justice—to ask how issues of social justice affect our professional, academic, and personal lives, and to interrogate whether this concept should play a more prominent role in our collective understanding of the mission of the College. We will seek ways to link such conversations to course content. In short, we will model the good polity. Going forward, we will also expand our efforts to invite to campus outside scholars, filmmakers, diplomats, policy analysts, and activists who represent a broad range of political and social viewpoints, encouraging students and others to engage them in critical but respectful discourse.
To achieve the stated objectives for our students—to make good on the promise to achieve higher levels of excellence throughout the College—we will need to be intentional in supporting the work of our faculty in new ways: empowering them to be even better teachers, scholars, artists, and leaders. We will encourage and reward alternative teaching methods, pedagogical risk taking, and innovation; and we will increase our tolerance for failed pedagogical experiments. We will seek new ways to support the scholarly and artistic lives of our faculty. And we will reconceive the notion of service to better reflect what it truly is: institutional leadership. In sum, the principle of creativity that guides our efforts on behalf of our students should also help us find new ways to sustain the work of our faculty.
Marshaling the resources to deliver on these promises will not be a trivial undertaking. Although many of the objectives envisioned here simply require us to be more deliberate in incorporating new insights into work we already are doing, the extraordinary education we envision for our students must also include additional forms of integration, especially across the dimensions of time and space. Some of these are expensive. Consider connectivity as an example: greater technological connectivity and competence, both in and out of the classroom, offer the power to improve the intellectual and social experiences of our students and provide them with additional skills in this technological age. But there are costs associated with enhanced technology and connectivity. Therefore, finding innovative ways for all members of the community—faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and especially students—to connect is another imperative. We must increase our scope of vision and capacity in this entire area.
Our various partnerships—starting with the New York Six—hold the key to yet another
integrated and connected experience, and we will explore possible partnerships with
other institutions as well. Students should be exposed to the myriad possibilities
these partnerships afford. Long before 2025, it must become commonplace for students
to have access to experts at other New York Six schools and throughout the world.
We also need to leverage these partnerships to achieve cost savings and, where possible,
cost reductions. Strategic partnerships, and the creative possibilities they present,
must become an essential component of our shifting mindset.
But above all, Skidmore will retain a sharp focus on our students—on helping them reach the highest levels of achievement possible in the work they do with us, and encouraging them to carry a commitment to the pursuit of excellence with them when they graduate. We will challenge them to think more deeply and self-consciously about how the ideas, hypotheses, theories, and data they encounter in one course can animate and inform the topics they explore in other courses. We will encourage them to apply the lessons around leadership and collective action that they learn on the athletic fields or in student organizations to their residence halls and, later on, to graduate studies and their workplaces. We will work with them to integrate knowledge and experience, to help them make the connections between what they learn at the College and what they want to accomplish across a life of productive work—serving them and their communities well into the future. In the end, our students are responsible for doing their own work, making their own connections across the different disciplines they have studied and the co-curricular experiences that have enriched their college careers, and then applying what they have learned. But the College will be more intentional in supporting them in this transformative project of seeking a liberal education that will enable them to make creative thought matter across the full arc of their lives.
PRIORITY INITIATIVES in support of GOAL I: Integrative Learning
Complete fundraising and construct the Center for Integrated Sciences.
- Provide the physical context to bring together all nine departments and programs in the physical and life sciences to support new approaches to integrative learning not just in the sciences but across other curricular areas as well.
- Develop a virtual prototype of the Idea Lab, in anticipation of its inclusion in the Center for Integrated Sciences.
- Bolster Scribner Library’s capacity to support integrative learning associated with the Center for Integrated Sciences. Develop infrastructure and expertise to improve data services (including data hosting, data management, data curation, and data literacy) on campus.
Create new structures to support student integrative learning, making that concept a regular part of Skidmore’s internal narrative.
- Complete the general education curriculum revision, including new ways to support scientific literacy (for all students, not just science majors, as is required of all responsible citizens in today’s world), intercultural competency, quantitative reasoning, information literacy, and visual literacy.
- Evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Center for Quantitative Reasoning and a Center for Entrepreneurship.
- Ensure the ongoing alignment of Library collections and services with curricular goals of fostering creativity and integrated learning.
- Partner with other New York Six colleges to expand opportunities for Skidmore students to study (in some cases via technology) with faculty members from those schools or to access programs sponsored by the other schools (e.g., study-away programs). Explore ways to partner with other institutions as well.
- Develop better, more consistent, and more effective assessment mechanisms for determining where and to what extent integrative learning is taking place at Skidmore.
- Secure dedicated resources to support the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery operating budget.
- Explore the possibility of expanding the Tang Museum, especially as our permanent collection increases.
Develop new ways to support faculty members across all three dimensions of their work: teaching, research/creative activity, and service.
- Evaluate the feasibility (both curricular and financial) of increasing the size of the tenure-track faculty by 15 over the next 10 years.
- Expand faculty development resources and initiatives through the Faculty Development Committee; the Center for Leadership, Teaching, and Learning; and the Dean of the Faculty’s Office.
- Explore the desirability and evaluate the feasibility (both curricular and financial) of implementing an alternating 2-2, 3–2 (18–15 credits) teaching load aimed at increasing teaching effectiveness and supporting even stronger connections between students and faculty.
- Interrogate the criteria for faculty promotion. Consider how to reevaluate the traditional emphasis on—and balance among—teaching, research/creative work, and service.
- Support new faculty development opportunities pertaining to the implementation of new curricular initiatives linked to the general education curriculum.
- Evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Center for Humanistic Inquiry.
- Partner with other New York Six colleges to form faculty collaborations and leverage resources to enhance teaching and learning.
Provide digital/IT resources for the development of new approaches to integrative learning and enhancing connectivity.
- Continue the process of renovating and refreshing classrooms to better support pedagogy and technology.
- Enhance resources of the Center for Leadership, Teaching, and Learning to assist faculty members in understanding, evaluating and, where appropriate, adopting new technologies and best practices in their teaching and research.
Build stronger and more coherent curricular and cocurricular programs to enhance civic engagement, social responsibility, and the connection between liberal education and responsible citizenship.
Identify specific ways to further enhance connections between the curricular and cocurricular lives of our students.
4 See “Interrogating Integrative Learning,” Peer Review, vol. 16, no. 4 (Fall 2014–Winter 2015).
5 See, for example, Martha Craven Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997) and Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).