MITZEL: Learning happens in and out of the classroom
William James, an American philosopher and psychologist once stated, "Learning is overcoming your own blindness and being to make sense of the world not by some "bottom line" but through the allegorical nature of learning through others viewpoints of their and our lives." His statement decrees that students come together with their faculty members, fellow students, and surrounding campus community to learn fully during their time on campus. Connection and interaction with others is a critical component of education. Learning is not just the ingestion of material from a classroom setting, but the discussion, taking of sides, and listing as well as arguing for best purposes one's viewpoint toward the information gleaned from many sources. It is a type of learning that is best accomplished in groups and that best allows a student to encompass the varieties and complexities of today's workplace and future societal needs.
In his book "How College Works," Daniel Chambliss is able to highlight the importance of group learning as students strive to reach the goals set forth by James. In studies and surveys covering a 10-year period, Chambliss delineated much about how students learn, and in what type of environment they best succeed. He discusses the "Dynamics of Belonging" where the key to student success was grouped into four major areas: physical co-presence of people; shared focus of attention; ritualized common activities; and to some extent exclusivity.
The dynamic of physical co-presence is witnessed in many areas on campus. Early in fall 2017, the city's First-on-First event was combined with Dickinson State's first football game of the season. This event brought the entire community onto campus for much more than just an athletic event. It was a true gathering of the "family" where ideas were shared, fun was had, and community was built. We also witness this physical co-presence when students participate in undergraduate research over a multitude of disciplines. The yearlong focus on real-world issues, in which a student works under the tutelage of a faculty member, culminates in the Celebration of Scholars event where the work is presented to an external audience. Many of these students are presenting to large groups, a daunting task which is made more palpable with the support and encouragement of their friends and fellow group of learners. These events teach our students that education is not just for individual benefit, but ultimately individual and group work must coalesce to help improve society at all levels.
Ritualized common activities ensconce the student within experiences that integrate them into the larger community. The academic year at DSU begins with Convocation, officially welcoming our students in the Blue Hawk family. The myriad club, academic, athletic, and outreach events continue throughout the year, and commencement brings the students together to celebrate their accomplishments. From their first to final experiences, DSU students are part of something larger than their individual existence, and these activities bind them to the educational community and campus.
Student learners also require some exclusivity, some method to feel special within the larger organization. This belonging is often found through association with student clubs, organizations and athletics. The DSU's Theodore Roosevelt Honors Program illustrates this principle by gathering student participants from various academic disciplines, athletic teams, campus clubs, and diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. These participants engage in rigorous academics, community outreach events in a variety of ways and projects, volunteerism, and co-curricular academic experiences. Creation of these micro communities imparts a feeling of belonging and motivates students to explore new viewpoints, challenge areas of personal blindness, and establish identity. In a sense, these micro communities tie the student more emotionally to the educational pathway, leading to much higher success rates.
The economy is evolving quickly. Nearly four in 10 jobs in today's government list did not exist in 1990. Educating our young adults is the most precious investment on which we as a society can focus. What Chambliss and others have shown, however, is that higher education is less a collection of programs than a gathering of people. Bonds to the institution and community are forged during an undergraduate students years of study that last for a lifetime. Fifty-year reunions are quite common in higher-ed. but rarely witnessed in any other part of society. Technology will have its place in education but it has shown to work best when it enhances, not replaces, face-to-face communication.
This month we will celebrate the accomplishments of another graduating class. Since 1918, Dickinson State has been challenging students and preparing them for the future. The time they have spent at Dickinson State has been a time of learning to identify and overcome areas of personal blindness, engaging in interactive experiences to learn about the world, and learning to appreciate the viewpoints of others. The statement of Samuel May, DSU's first president, of "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve" has represented the values of this institution well for the past 100-years and shall for years to come.