Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#206 Transforming Departments Into Productive Learning Communities


The excerpt below looks at seven approaches department chairs can
take to make their departments more productive, scholarly learning
communities. It is from, "Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles
for Department Chairs, Ann. F. Lucas and Associates, pp. 76-80.
Jossey-Bass Publishers, copyright ? 2000 by Peter M. Senger,
reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
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Tomorrow's Academy
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Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs, Ann. F.
Lucas and Associates, Chapter 4, pp. 76-80.


This chapter draws together a diversity of perspectives, theories,
concepts, terms, and strategies from a range of literatures-among them
cognitive science, higher education, psychology, and management. It
distills seven transformative ideas: the social construction of knowledge,
mental models, the learning paradigm, learning productivity, learning
communities, the scholarship of teaching, and assessment. Taken seriously,
these ideas have the potential to help us transform our mental models and
standard practices. They can help us construct a new and transformative
vision, or metaphor, of academic departments as productive, scholarly
learning communities. In this vision, a productive department is one that
helps students and faculty to produce demonstrably high-quality learning.
The scholarly aspect of the vision is well-expressed by Ernest Boyer (1990,
p. 24): "What we urgently need today is a more inclusive view of what it
means to be a scholar-a recognition that knowledge is acquired through
research, through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching." In a
learning community, students and faculty collaborate to achieve shared,
significant learning goals (Angelo, 1997, p. 3).


Simply put, the constructivist view of learning is that humans learn not
primarily by receiving and copying impressions and information from the
world but rather by constructing and reconstructing our own mental
conceptions of the world. As Jean Piaget (1975) and many others have noted,
we often force and distort new information and experience to fit our
existing conceptions-or reject them outright if they do not fit. Social
constructivists agree that meaning is largely internally constructed, but
they stress that shared meanings--socially constructed and negotiated-are
necessary for human communication and society. An academic discipline, with
its (largely) shared concepts, dialect, and culture, is a paramount example
of socially constructed and continually reconstructed knowledge.

Constructivism is arguably the dominant model of human learning in
educational psychology today. The transformative power of social
constructivism inheres both in its rejection of the traditional
"transmission of knowledge" and "banking" metaphors and in its assertion
that learners must construct knowledge and understanding for themselves
through interaction and negotiation with the world and other
humans-including faculty, other students, and authors living and dead. (See
Chapter Seven in Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule, 1986.) For
faculty, this means that students, in order to learn deeply, must become
active partners in the construction of their learning. Similarly, chairs
intent on change must engage their colleagues in constructing or adapting
new, shared, contextually relevant concepts rather than presenting faculty
with imported, prefabricated mental models for adoption.


In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge (1990, p. 8) defines mental models as
"deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images
that influence how we change the world and how we take action." Senge
argues that building a "learning organization" requires us to reflect on,
make explicit, reconsider, and sometimes redesign these implicit mental
models (1990, pp. xiv, xv).

The transformative implication here is that our existing mental models must
often be socially deconstructed before change can occur. In relation to the
corporate world, Senge notes, "Many insights into new markets or outmoded
organizational practices fail to get put into practice because they
conflict with powerful, tacit mental models" (p. 8). For the department
chair as for the classroom teacher, acknowledging and making explicit these
implicit mental models is a necessary first step toward new learning. For
example, many teachers and students still tacitly believe that learning
occurs by transmission-thus the continuing appeal of the non-interactive


In a widely read and discussed article, Robert Barr and John Tagg (1995)
argue that American higher education is undergoing an industry wide
"paradigm shift," a transformation from a faculty-and teaching-centered
model to a student-and learning-centered model. As Barr and Tagg see it,
the primary purpose of higher education and by extension, of academic
departments-in this new

paradigm will be to produce learning, not to provide instruction. By
shifting the
focus from a means (teaching) to the intended end (learning), Barr and Tagg
redefine classroom teaching as only one of several possible means for
producing learning.

Inherent in the learning paradigm is a radical shift from the usual
quantitative, credit-hour, and head-count-based models of undergraduate
education to a more qualitative competency- and mastery-based view. If
institutions can be thought of as producing learning, then raising
questions about their levels of learning productivity-and not just about
numbers of graduates or credit units generated-begins to make sense.


The phrase Learningproductit4ty has multiple and overlapping meanings
(Poulsen, 1995), starting with the dreaded "doing more with less." In this
chapter, however, learning productivity means promoting more, deeper, and
better learning with the resources available. It requires that we work more
cost- and time-efficiently to the
extent that we can without sacrificing learning quality. To be useful, a
model of learning productivity requires that we develop clear goals,
criteria, and standards for learning production, as well as means to assess
and measure outputs. (See also Johnstone, 1993.)


Although there are various definitions of learning communities, most center
around a vision of faculty and students working together systematically
toward shared significant academic goals. Collaboration is stressed,
competition is deemphasized, and both faculty and students must take on
new, often unfamiliar roles. The faculty member's primary role shifts from
delivering content to designing learning environments and experiences, and
to serving as coach, expert guide, and role model for learners. In a
learning community, the student's role changes as well, from relatively
passive observer Of teaching and consumer of information to active
coconstructor of knowledge and understanding (see Angelo, 1997; Cross,
1998; Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews, and Smith, 1990; Tinto, 1997).


Although this phrase originally referred to only one of the four categories
of scholarship that Boyer (1990) promoted in Scholarship Reconsidered (the
other three were the scholarships of discovery, of integration, and of
application) it soon became shorthand for expanded and diverse visions of
faculty roles. The transformative thrust of the idea comes both in valuing
a broad range of activity (Rice, 1991) and in finding ways to assess and
evaluate scholarly contributions that cannot simply be counted-as
publications and grants usually are (Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff, 1997).


Catherine Palomba and Trudy Banta (1999, p. 4) define assessment as "the
systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational
programs for the purpose of improving student learning and development."
Central to this model is the belief that assumptions about learning
outcomes should be empirically tested and that claims should be based on
evidence. Take a look at the unsupported claims made in almost any
college's or university's public relations material and you will see how
far institutions are from this goal.

REFERENCES (for entire chapter)

Angelo, T. A. "The Campus as Learning Community: Seven Promising Shifts and
Seven Powerful Levers." AAHE Bulletin, 1997, 4 9(9), 3-6.

Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook
for College Teachers. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Barr, R. B., and Tagg, J. "From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for
Undergraduate Education." Change. 1995, 27(6), 12-25.

Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., and Tarule, J. M. Womens
Ways of Knowing:The Development of Self, Vince, and Mind. New York: Basic
Books, 1986.

Boyer, E. L. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate.
Princeton, NJ.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990.

Cross, K. P. "Why Learning Communities? Why Now?" About Campus, 1998, 3(3),

Ewell, P, T. "Organizing for Learning: A New Imperative." AAHE Bulletin,
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Gardiner, L. F., Anderson, C., and Cambridge, B. L. Learning Through
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Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T., and Maeroff, G. I. Scholarship Assessed.
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Johnstone, D. B. "Enhancing the Productivity of Learning." AAHE Bulletin,
1993, 46(4), 3-5.

Lucas, A. F., Strengthening Departmental Leadership: A Team-Building Guide
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McKeachie, W. J., and others. Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and
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Palomba, C. A., and Banta, T W. Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing,
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Piaget, J. The Development of Thought: Equilibration of Cognitive
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Poulsen, S. J. "Describing an Elephant: Specialists Explore the Meaning of
Learning Productivity." Wing-spread journal, 1995, 17(2), 4-6.

Rice, R. E. "The New American Scholar: Scholarship and the Purposes of the
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