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Promoting Intellectual Engagement

 

In our December interim report, we noted that the three themes of community, climate, and coherence arose repeatedly and in various forms in our discussions.  Those themes have helped to shape a series of potential initiatives that would contribute to the intellectual vitality of the campus.  In that report, we presented a set of proposals to promote intellectual engagement and focused primarily on residential and co-curricular life.  In this report, we put forward a number of possible initiatives to promote intellectual engagement in the classroom, in students' independent or group study activities, or in research opportunities that connect students with faculty.  These initiatives focus on what might be termed the traditional activities of a college; we will use the term engaged learning to refer to this collection of initiatives.

 

The idea behind engaged learning is simple but powerful.  We aim to engage students in the learning experience such that they become active creators and critical communicators of knowledge rather than passive receptors of unexamined information.  We want our undergraduate students to take full advantage of Tufts’ unique position as a liberal arts college embedded in a research university, both by connecting with faculty who are scholars as well as teachers and by exploring their own interest in and capacity for research and other academic activities.   In short, we wish to provide an environment in which students will become enthusiastic life-long learners, creative producers of knowledge, and effective communicators.  The richness of dialogue, instruction, experimentation, and experience that Tufts provides will enable our students to become leaders in the diverse and increasingly interconnected world they will inherit.  This is an ambitious aspiration but the intellectual transformation of young adults is itself the ambitious enterprise at the heart of the mission of the university.

 

As noted in our December report, we have found it valuable to consider a developmental model to complement the model of breadth and depth embodied in a liberal arts education.[1]  The chief purpose of the developmental model is to provide increased coherence in the intellectual formation of our students from the time they are accepted into the university until the time they become alumni.  From their first meeting with their advisors until their graduation, we wish to provide our students with a sense of the institution’s central focus on their continuous intellectual development and growth.  Currently, Tufts, like many colleges and universities, embodies an implicit vision of the development that should occur during an individual's undergraduate years, but this vision is rarely articulated to the students by the University and is therefore often left to the students – fresh from high school –  to discover on an ad hoc basis.  In this context, it is more often than not the case that a student views distribution and foundation requirements, as well as the search for and completion of a major, as a series of items to be checked off a list.  By articulating our educational goals for our students within a developmental framework, we hope to lend deeper meaning to these activities as developmental milestones in their intellectual lives rather than as empty or random obligations.    Specifically, we not only wish to articulate a clearer vision of intellectual expectations across the four years at Tufts at every level of the University, but we also wish to suggest several ways that we can visibly mark and celebrate these milestones with year-specific annual events.  

 

Within this model, we recognize that individual students learn in different ways and at varying paces.  Therefore, we do not desire a prescriptive, lock-step path for students but rather a shared sense of intellectual growth across disciplines that is variously addressed and visibly provided for at every phase of our students' development.  In so doing, we wish to ensure that every undergraduate at Tufts has encountered a series of intellectual milestones and academic experiences across the disciplines which will help to achieve the desired outcomes of a Tufts education as enumerated in our December report.

 

            As is the case with our earlier co-curricular and residential proposals, our curricular proposals are “cast in sand,” presented here to generate discussion.  We offer our proposals, grouped into five categories, as scenarios, which simply means the ideas we have identified in each section should be understood neither as mutually exclusive nor as indivisible components of a larger unit.  These proposals are intended to initiate the community dialogue necessary to enable the Task Force to produce a final set of recommendations at the end of the Spring term which the community has not only fully considered but also collectively endorsed.


 

[1]   We recognize that the School of Engineering is not a liberal arts institution but note that it embodies many of the principles of a liberal arts education, including an emphasis on breadth and depth.

 

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