Education, ideally, is the transformation of knowledge rather than the transfer of information; what I have termed an "apprenticeship into democracy" rather than an "apprenticeship into Wikipedia." Yet accomplishing this -- helping our students develop the habits of mind and repertoires of action to become engaged and thoughtful citizens in a complex and contested pluralistic democracy -- is extremely difficult. In fact, there are numerous pedagogical, structural, and cultural roadblocks to allow faculty to transform their teaching and their students' learning. My work focuses on these issues to support faculty buy-in to high impact pedagogical practices and enhance student engagement.
Community engagement -- the umbrella term I use for a host of distinct yet interrelated practices such as service-learning, participatory action research, civic engagement, public scholarship, and community-based research -- has become one of the most common and most powerful models for engaged teaching and learning in higher education. Yet I have long argued that we have reached an "engagement ceiling" in that our practices are all too often "a mile wide and an inch thick." My work thus focuses on fostering powerful models of community-based teaching, learning, and research. I do so through a variety of conceptual and pragmatic strategies that have been used and replicated nationally and internationally: I highlight "the four Rs" of community engagement: respect; reflection; reciprocity; relevance; I explicate the distinctive ways that faculty can make use of service-learning: technical; cultural; political; antifoundational. I suggest that community engagement should be seen as a distinctive academic endeavor (much like Boyer's Scholarship of Engagement) that requires substantial individual, disciplinary, and institutional investment and support.
Digital Learning Technologies & The Future of Higher Education
We are in the midst of the irreversible splintering of higher education and the unbundling of faculty work. The rise of powerful digital learning technologies will therefore, whether we like it or not, intrude upon and displace many of the traditional roles of the faculty in the college classroom. If we are to be able to truly articulate the value proposition of higher education – of incorporating digital learning technologies rather than being ravaged by them – we will need to re-envision and recreate the role of the professor as one who helps students transform knowledge rather than transfer information. To do so, I argue, we will need to temper our expectations in order actually strengthen them; we will need to figure out what we are good at, and what we are not, the limits and possibilities of the power of faculty work and the value-added of higher education, in order to revise the form and function of higher education.
Teacher preparation -- whether through traditional programs within higher education or through "alternative" pathways -- is usually composed of two key components -- academic coursework and field-based experiences such as student-teaching. I refer to the former -- which is usually a combination of subject matter content knowledge, pedagogical preparation, and pedagogical content knowledge -- as the opportunity to learn; the latter I refer to as the opportunity to practice. My academic work focuses on an all-too-often missing component: the opportunity to change. Namely, teacher preparation offers one of the few opportunities for future teachers to think through the assumptions and implications of their educational experiences and goals and begin to develop, articulate, and implement a more robust model of what engaged teaching and learning would look like. We have all been shaped by an implicit "apprenticeship of observation" that normalizes and routinizes a passivity that privileges shallow learning and undermines our attempts to create exactly the kind of engaging experiences we all claim to want to create in our classrooms. This "opportunity to change" is especially critical given the demographic changes in our society, deep civic divides, and changing societal notions of what it means to be educated.
A major strand of my research on service-learning in higher education found that there is a shallow institutionalization of community engagement; a notion of service-learning as “a mile wide and an inch deep,” or what I have termed an “engagement ceiling.” My research has thus focused on ways to institutionalize service-learning in powerful and sustainable ways through academic programs such as certificates, minors, and majors. I founded a research center – the Center For Engaged Democracy – that found dozens of such programs in the United States and internationally. These programs, I argue, provide a complimentary vision for the deep institutionalization of civic and community engagement in higher education. These programs, moreover, demonstrate that there are conceptually rigorous and practically feasible means by which to create such sustained, sequential, and scaffolded academic programs. My research center offers a wide variety of resources, research, and consultancy that has supported the development and expansion of dozens of such academic programs in colleges and universities.
Kurt Lewin is credited with saying that there is nothing so practical as a good theory. To that end, I use pragmatist, feminist, and poststructuralist theorists -- such as John Dewey, Robyn Wiegman, Stanley Fish, and Michel Foucault -- to help "clear away the underbrush" of complex issues. I think of these theorists and their numerous overlapping (and, yes, oftentimes contradictory) perspectives as heuristics to guiding my own analyses of the "wicked problems" of education.
My consulting includes individual topic-centered workshops, focused projects, and long-term consultancy. This includes working with faculty to support "high impact" teaching through one-time workshops or up to year-long initiatives and working with senior administrators through a combination of idea generation, project report development, and strategic planning. Consultancy topics include my areas of research expertise (e.g., service-learning; high impact teaching practices; teacher preparation) as well as my expertise in academic program development (e.g., I have developed and launched over a dozen successful face-to-face and online academic programs, including undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in education, educational leadership, higher education, and community engagement.