March 29, 2004 Vol. VIII, No. 13

Speaker William Plater (second from left) at forum with Interim Provost Linda Bain (far left), President Jolene Koester and Vice President for Student Affairs Terry Piper. Koester, Bain and Piper will host dialogues on the "learning centered" concept.

Campus Begins Exploration of 'Learning Centered' Concept

Student-Focused Education Expert William Plater Addresses Packed Forum

Cal State Northridge began its exploration of the "learning centered university" concept at a packed March 19 campus-wide forum where student-focused education expert William Plater urged development of a system creating "coherence, integration and meaning" in the individual student's college experience.

President Jolene Koester had invited Plater, executive vice chancellor and dean of the faculties of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, to help launch a series of campus dialogues scheduled for the spring semester (see FYI section). The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has directed higher education institutions under its aegis to become learning-centered.

Sharing the stage with Plater was a panel that included Interim Provost Linda Bain, Vice President for Student Affairs Terry Piper, Faculty Senate President Michael Neubauer, College of Health and Human Development Associate Dean Marilynn Filbeck and assistant English professor Patricia Watkins.

Neither a "singular, lock-step curriculum" nor "random choices of the cafeteria system of learning" should pass for a meaningful degree in these times, Plater suggested.

"Instead," he said, "what is required is a system for creating coherence, integration, and meaning from the electives, major requirements, general education programs and co-curricular activities that make up the college experience."

Plater said universities can begin reform efforts with 1) learning communities, 2) active pedagogies such as service learning and research, 3) faculty development, 4) learning environments, 5) technology, 6) assessment, and 7) student electronic portfolios.

The work of faculty, he said, can be restructured to make better use of their talents, including the expansion of the roles and responsibilities of staff ranging from librarians and technicians to advisors and graduate students.

Professor Watkins cautioned that eliminating mentorship as a faculty task would militate against the faculty's responsibility to its diverse student body. "I believe that every person at CSUN has mentored students on some level," she said. "Still, only faculty can do certain types of mentoring."

The easing of committee assignments, she said, might clear the way for more "learning centered" faculty activities.

Faculty Senate president Neubauer said the concept is not "just the exercise du jour," but a worthwhile venture. Still, he offered serious questions. "How do we make sure as faculty that becoming a learning centered university is not just a faculty responsibility? How do we make sure that the whole university supports this enterprise?"

Students, said Vice President Piper, should be partners with faculty and staff as the concept develops on campus. "Becoming a learning centered university is something that we do with students, not to or for students."

For the full text of Plater's remarks, click the "Becoming a Learning Centered University" link on the campus Web site home page.

@csun | March 29, 2004 issue
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