North Central College - Naperville, IL

Student Learning in the 21st Century

North Central College today is fertile ground for collaborations across disciplines and experiments with curriculum, facilities design and technology. It adds up to better opportunities for student learning and liberal arts education relevant to the 21st century.

Students arriving at college today have grown up with Google and smart phones, in a world where the boundaries which once defined fields of knowledge have been
obliterated. Across campus, professors are inventing new ways to engage those students, who embrace technology, prefer active learning and need multidisciplinary connections to prepare for their futures.

Jennifer Jackson, associate professor of English, ponders how writing instruction might change in the future to adapt to new community forums consisting of Internet blogs, Twitter messages and Facebook posts. There’s also the issue of “multimodality,” which means incorporating graphic design, sound, animation and video with text. She knows that alumni of the English department are working in social media and finding new ways to teach in the growing field of the “digital humanities.”

“What I think about is how do we combine multimodality with teaching the rhetorical traditions of argumentation and persuasion?” she asks. “I get excited at the thought of the connections we could make among English, speech communication and interactive media studies (IMS).”

On another front, Jackson embraces the concept of service-learning, which combines instruction with community service and reflection. Jackson connects students in Writing Theories and Practice (which prepares English majors for secondary education careers) with refugee students through World Relief. Her students tutor writing to young people with a range of academic needs. “In the wider world, it’s about helping people become more literate,” Jackson says. “By the end of the term, my students didn’t want to leave.”

New collaborations across academic disciplines have resulted in shared experiences for theatre and psychology students (p. 7), lessons of democracy from Athens and India and potentially, the study of environmental science from the perspective of East Asian nations. “When disciplines talk to each other, new ideas flow out that benefit all of us,” explains Brian Hoffert, associate professor of religious studies and history. “As a liberal arts college, one of the strengths we have is our interdisciplinarity.”

In the sciences, a liberal arts foundation allows exploration of topics like ethical issue in research, says Stephen Johnston, Roger and Nadeane Hruby Professor of the Liberal Arts and professor of biology. In a biochemistry capstone course, Nancy Peterson, professor of chemistry, teams up with Johnston, Jonathan Visick, associate professor of biology, and Chris O’Connor, visiting professor of biology, to discuss medical research issues, grant funding and drug trials. Students in the course read the book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

“These are topics we didn’t talk about when I was an undergraduate,” says Johnston. “But concepts of leadership, ethics and values are critical to scientific careers today.”

North Central NOW Spring 2012