The IDEA Blog



Read the thoughts and impressions on a variety of topics written by IDEA staff as well as occasional guest bloggers.

Student Engagement in Civil Society
February 29, 2016
By Ken Ryalls, Ph.D. President, @IDEAprez  A recent blog in the Huffington Post written by Denison University president Adam Weinberg called out the responsibility of colleges to prepare students to participate and thrive in a civil society. In his words, “At the core, we need colleges to prepare students to work effectively with others—across differences—over long periods of time, and to build and sustain healthy communities, while also providing space for faculty and staff to do the same within their own communities.” Weinberg goes on to note three areas of focus necessary to make this happen 1) weaving “the civic” throughout the student experience, 2) creating spaces for faculty and staff to engage in public work, and 3) imagining ourselves as part of the local community around important narratives. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping you achieve critical learning outcomes, we recognized the emerging importance of civic engagement several years ago when we began the process of revising our Student Ratings of Instruction (SRI) instrument. Utilizing an exhaustive analysis of focus groups, expert panels, accreditation bodies, higher education organizations, university faculty, and IDEA staff, and further supported by literature on teaching and learning, we knew that our existing tool could be improved. In response, we added learning objectives to our SRI instrument that do the following: measure the student’s developing knowledge and understanding of diverse perspectives, global awareness, or other cultures; and, assess if they learned to apply knowledge and skills to benefit others or serve the public good. Additionally, IDEA added three new measures of teaching methods that address self-reflection, diversity, and service learning:  Did the instructor encourage students to reflect on and evaluate what they have learned? Did they help students to interpret subject matter from diverse perspectives? And, did they create opportunities where students can apply course content outside the classroom? I agree with Dr. Weinberg in his assessment that “if colleges do not instill the skills, habits and values to do this work, while also fiercely protecting the principles required for this work to occur, we will have far less civic capacity than we need in order to address the challenges and opportunities we face.” And if we at IDEA do not provide you with a feedback instrument that measures learning objectives recognized as essential, we are not supporting you as we should. As passionate as Dr. Weinberg is in his desire to create effective citizens of the world, we are equally passionate in our desire to support teaching and learning in higher education and to champion continuous individual and institutional improvement and achievement.
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