Why faculty are critical to student success

'Bridging the gap between possessing information and gaining understanding is what higher education is all about'

Even a wealth of modern technology can't replace the need for highly engaged faculty in promoting student success, Sue Henderson and James Muyskens write for University Business.

Today's students have endless technological tools at their fingertips and can access information that was once challenging to obtain in a matter of seconds, the authors write. But the ability to look up information online doesn't translate into critical thinking or creativity.

"No matter how readily relevant information can be obtained, the gap between possessing information and understanding, between passively receiving information and creatively using it, remains," Henderson and Muyskens write. "Bridging the gap between possessing information and gaining understanding is what higher education is all about."

Students still need instructors who can help them engage in a "high-touch" educational model, which emphasizes collaboration and active learning. Under this form of instruction, students are encouraged to make connections between disparate pieces of information. Such education requires dedicated faculty who push students to analyze information as opposed to simply collecting it.   

See also: Student success efforts can't succeed without faculty

High-touch education is particularly important to at-risk and first-year students who need in-depth instruction to keep them on the path to graduation. Learning technologies designed to displace traditional teaching methods won't suffice.

First-year freshmen and sophomores, Henderson and Muyskens explain, "have yet to learn how to learn, to be able to follow and generate an argument, to witness the serendipity of discovery and the rigors of confirming a hypothesis"—skills that few individuals could learn on their own.

These students need to participate in general education programs that foster skills gained through high-touch learning. However, general education at many institutions has fallen by the wayside and is often taught by less seasoned faculty. Full-time and tenure-track faculty, meanwhile, focus on discipline-specific curricula.

The authors argue that general education must be restructured so that it is comparable with instruction for majors, graduate students, faculty research, and professional service. Otherwise, Henderson and Muyskens warn, "It will be nearly impossible for the general education program to attract the cadre of highly skilled and dedicated faculty needed for general education to achieve its transformative goal."

Contingent faculty who teach general education programs must also have enough time and support to effectively carry out high-touch instruction. While overhauling the system of general education will cost money at a time when many schools' budgets are already stretched thin, it is necessary to improve retention and graduation rates, the authors conclude (Henderson/Muyskens, University Business, accessed 7/14).


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