President's Notebook

President's Notebook

My View from South Hill

Posted by Thomas Rochon at 2:57PM   |  Add a comment
A portrait of hands-on learning in community with peers and teachers

“Life is lived in community, not sitting alone in a room in front of a computer screen. An Ithaca College education unfolds through interactions within a residential community of students, faculty and staff. It is authentic to the way a successful and happy life is actually lived.”

I read those words last week on a 3x5 notecard written by an unknown individual who works at IC. I had asked faculty and staff at our January all college meeting to summarize for me the traits that make Ithaca College a distinctive educational community, one that offers special value to students. Before asking them to do this exercise, I outlined in some detail the emerging web-based forms of higher education instruction. For example, MITx will offer course materials organized so that online students can read materials, complete exercises and develop competencies parallel to what one would receive as a regular MIT student. Although MITx does not offer college credit (yet) or lead to a degree, its self-paced navigation through a given topic represents a convenient way to gain information and develop skills. MITx plans for the service to be free.

Online options for higher learning are today in their infancy. It would be short-sighted, though, to believe that the quality and diversity of such offerings will not grow enormously within the next decade. Wait another ten years beyond that and we will likely see development of competency verification systems that are accepted as qualifying individuals for entry level jobs even in the absence of a traditional college degree.


Given all that, I asked the assembled faculty and staff, what is the purpose of Ithaca College? Do we provide services that will soon be rendered obsolete by less expensive and more convenient alternatives? What are the distinctive and valuable aspects of an education gained in residence on a campus, and how can we make sure we are maximizing those elements of distinctiveness and value?


Since it is my job to think constantly about the mission and focus of an Ithaca College education, I knew there were good answers to the questions I was posing. I wanted to be sure our faculty and staff were also aware of those answers, since after all they are the ones who actually create student learning environments in the curriculum, through co-curricular activities, and in the residence halls.


Thirty minutes later, I was holding a four inch stack of note cards and slips of

paper. The handwriting on these submissions was often scrawling, reflecting the urgency and passion of the writers. The insights expressed make clear that IC faculty and staff do not simply work here, committed to their jobs but uncaring of the bigger picture. Their responses were deeply thoughtful about what makes our learning community so rich and how everyone can contribute to making it even better. 


Don’t take my word for it; let our faculty and staff speak for themselves:


What sets us apart? Human interaction – creative critical thinking – experiential learning – the application of what you are learning – travel opportunities – becoming a global citizen – internships – opportunities for service – communal living – exposure to diversity.


Students who have the best IC experience are the ones who are more engaged. They are engaged in the classroom, co-curricular sports, and other activities. They learn to balance that with an active social life too.


Everything we do needs to be immersive. If course delivery can be filmed and have the same effect it is not good enough. Every class, everyday, needs to be unique to the needs of that specific group of students.


The sharing of successes and the management of conflict are integral to personal development in support of educational growth.


Students in the IC community learn public speaking, writing skills, social skills, resourcefulness and making connections with others in ways that can’t be done online.


Our students learn about themselves; they develop confidence and become leaders skilled in team building.


We offer students a comprehensive education (intellect, emotional support, spiritual, physical and social development) not just the transmission of information.  


How do you teach tolerance and empathy to isolated individuals online?  


In Health Sciences and Human Performance students are able to observe and participate in patient care. They see their professors not just as theoretical experts, but also as model clinicians and professionals.


In Music the community of learners is critical. You maximize your talent by having excellent faculty giving excellent interactive instruction to excellent students – all working together at the same time.


Because our students learn in community, they learn by doing: values, ethics, humanity, morals, meeting deadlines, the excitement of varied lives in close proximity, becoming independent thinkers, taking chances!


Wisdom and maturity come from direct human experience, especially in a diverse setting.


Our students have an opportunity to develop “environmental intelligence:” self awareness – self regulation – social skills – learning to work with and listen to others. These are 90% of the ingredients for success in life.


Our secret is the extent of peer-to-peer learning. Interaction, especially in a diverse community, creates positive peer pressure that encourages individuals to stretch their thinking. Interaction with faculty outside class has the same effect: deep conversation advances the ability to question knowledge and gain deeper understandings. 


The core values at IC are to create opportunities for personal growth, intellectual discovery and leadership capabilities – and these will keep us relevant in years to come.


Anyone sitting alone with their computer doesn’t learn body language, non-verbal cues and a social interaction to promote themselves and their ideas to others.


IC gets you off the couch!


Indeed it does. We live in a revolutionary time in which the potential of communication technologies to organize information and guide the development of competencies is only beginning to be tapped. But the word “education” means very different things in different contexts. Sometimes it means achieving a certifiable level of skill related to some body of knowledge or set of practices. However, in its richest sense education is the process of reaching as near as we can to our full human potential. 


At Ithaca College we are blessed with a faculty and staff who are fully aware of their obligations to create an environment that fosters education in this fullest sense.


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