Sunday, January 21, 2018

My vision of an ideal university

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Having taught at different universities and having studied contemporary research on teaching and learning, my vision of an ideal university is now taking a concrete shape. No wonder, this vision is quite different from the ideas which I used to nurture before. In this paper I intend to highlight my vision of an ideal university

The purpose of education in my ideal university is to prepare the students in a way so that they can face the challenges of the 21st Century. The ideal university aims at providing global education in a local environment. In view of globalization and concomitant communication revolution, the nature of business and people's movement are undergoing unprecedented changes.

As a spin off, employers now want graduates not only educated in their respective disciplines, but with strong command over the 21st century skills. Moreover, they want graduates trained in a multicultural context so that they become tolerant and respectful to the beliefs of the other people. Any ideal university would ensure that the students are properly trained in every classroom. There would be culturally inclusive classrooms that would be free from "racism, sexism, and ethnic prejudice and provide equal educational opportunities for all students." (Hoy& Hoy, 2013, p. 55)

Faculty Members
Teachers' roles are very important in the ideal university. They are the executors of the planning and policies of the university through their teaching and learning strategies.  Teachers would not only motivate, but they would also stimulate and maintain high level of engagement in the class.  Their activities should be backed up by their studies on the recent developments in the concepts and theories of leadership studies and clinical supervision.

Faculty members would be professional and would be equipped with sound knowledge in their respective disciplines. Not only that, they would be trained on teaching and learning to know the techniques of class management. They should know the art and science of teaching and would be engaged most of their time in teaching, doing research or counseling work.

Teachers must have love and sympathy for the students. Not all the students are same as far as their intelligence is concerned, they should give more time to the students who are laggards in the class. They would teach from their heart. On the other hand, they would share the vision and common goals with other stakeholders of the university.

They must have the following traits to excel as outstanding leaders of the university:   
Action Oriented (conscientiousness)
Emotional stability
Cultural Empathy (cultural sensitivity, cultural intelligence)

The students are the principal clients of all educational organizations and only for them the organizations are all about.  The students will be highly motivated and talented. Diversity of students would be considered as an asset for the university and an ideal university would welcome students from different cultural backgrounds.  The students would be trained in a way so that they can show their potentials as the future leaders of the country.

The students must show their passion for fruitful and creative learning. They must be analytical as well as result oriented. The assessment methods would focus on their creative and reflective skills.

Instruction would be sophisticated and suited to the needs of the students. Research shows that "organization and clarity in presentation, warmth, and enthusiasm all play important parts in effective teaching." (Hoy& Hoy, 2013, p. 218)

We have seen that education, traditionally, has not required thinking deeply beyond the facts. Teachers generally have not been trained on the differences between factual and conceptual questions. In the university concept-based curriculum and instruction would be promoted rather than fact-based teaching and assessment methods. Having said that it is well-understood that there is a not any uniform way of instruction that can be applied to every class or every day.   

Learning is a complex process. We know that there are three general theories related to learning. In any university there should be the attempt to use all the three as the ways of learning. According to Hoy and Hoy, "Students must first understand and make sense of the material (constructive); then they must remember what they have understood (cognitive - information processing); and they must practice and apply (behavioral) their new skills and understanding to make them more fluid and automatic; a permanent part of their repertoire. (Hoy & Hoy, 2013, p. 11-12) In fact, we will have to accept that meaningful learning is dependent on learners' active cognitive processing while they learn.

I would prefer to apply science of learning because it has been proved that science of learning, if applied properly, "can contribute to improving instruction in subject matter areas: learning to read, learning to comprehend text, learning to write, learning to think mathematically, and learning to think scientifically." (Marzano, R. (Ed.) (2010), p. 109)

Parents and guardians are very important to the overall improvement of the school. When the relationship between the university and parents is based on trust and collaboration, the student gets benefited most.  Keeping the above in mind, the university should attempt to develop a very constructive communication with the parents. They need to be invited from time to time to convey their feedback, results would be communicated to home and the doors of university leadership would always be open for the parents.  

The University Environment
Universities should maintain an Open School Climate which is characterized by teacher relations that are professional, collegial, friendly, and committed to the education of students. Concomitantly, a Healthy School Climate should be established that would ensure institutional integrity -- teachers should be protected from disruptive outside forces. Morale must be high in the university and there would be a general pressure for academic achievement by teachers, parents, and students. (Hoy & Hoy, 2013, p. 332)

The Classroom Environment
Classrooms are considered to be very important. Teachers should carefully plan rules, policies and procedures for the classes. Techniques of class management are needed to be used. Kounin's theory on classroom management which he has written on his book, Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms (Kounin, J. S., 1977) may be applied in this context. Kounin developed theories about classroom management that were based around a teacher's ability to organize and plan in their classrooms while using proactive behavior and high student involvement. He believed that in order for a teacher to have an effective connection between management and teaching, there needed to be good Lesson Movement.

This Lesson Movement is achieved through:
Withitness (what is going on)
Overlapping (multi task)
Momentum (flow of lesson)
Smoothness (not distracting)
Group focus (community question)
(Kounin, J. S., 1977)

Teachers would follow the guideline and behave positively in the classroom and would not allow any disruptive behavior.   

Content and Nature of Staff Development

Staff training and development or Continuous Professional Development (CPD) should be given importance in the universities in order to maintain academic and professional standards. Contemporary teaching and learning strategies, classroom management, research methodologies, and technology integration into instruction would be the primary content of professional training. Expert opinion should be taken from time to time. 

It should be mentioned that staff development is a continuous process. Attempts should be taken for job-embedded learning. Networking with professional and peer groups, learning communities, writing articles for journals, portfolio development etc. should be promoted and encouraged.

In fact, establishing such a university requires cooperation from all the stakeholders. First of all, a strategic plan should be developed, outlining the short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. There should be clear-cut vision, mission, mission objectives, plan of actions etc.  

Secondly, there should be attempts to create an environment so that every stakeholder can share the same vision and objectives. The cooperation from the national policy makers and the community would be essential to ensure recognition and acceptance.

There are many obstacles to make such a university a reality. The most important one is that the attitude and mindset of all the parties involved. For example, at university level, teachers are used to applying traditional teaching and learning methodologies. Universities are considered places for academic freedom and teachers may resist any intervention.

To some extent education has become now a commodity; new experimentation may not be viewed positively by the students at large.  For example, students may not like the idea of creative assessment procedures, where their concepts and analytical faculty would be tested rather than facts inside them.

However, such obstacles are not very difficult to overcome if there is strong commitment and desire to reach the desired goals.   

(Hoy, A.W. and Hoy, W.K. (2013). Instructional Leadership: A Research-based guide to learning in schools. Boston: Pearson

Kounin, J. S. (1977) Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms, Florida: Krieger Pub Co
Marzano, R. (Ed.) (2010). On Excellence in Teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree)

The writer is Associate Professor and Chairperson, Department of Journalism and  Media Studies, Central Women's University

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