KAIZEN AND KALAMAZOO


All alumni should be mindful of the College's performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). Many experts consider that assessment instrument to be the best direct measure of students' development of critical thinking, reasoning, problem solving, and writing-capacities one seeks from higher education. "K" students' CLA results show that the College's curriculum adds value well above expected to the development of these higher order skills.

But what curricular elements are especially effective in this development? Can they be augmented with curricular innovations? By looking at the variability of CLA performance among "K" students, a group of professors have sought to learn the curricular attributes that account for our overall outstanding CLA performance.

Now the Teagle Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have awarded two unrelated grants that the College will use to continue to elucidate the factors that make its learning experience so effective and to create (and assess) curricular improvements that engage all students more fully with these factors. The Teagle Foundation has provided a four-year $150,000 grant. The Mellon Foundation grant provides $350,000 over three years. The curricular improvements will be incremental and continual-think "kaizen" - and guided by what the College has learned about its remarkable CLA performance.

Some time ago a group of researchers (Paul Sotherland, Biology; Robert Grossman, Psychology; Kiran Cunningham, Sociology and Anthropology; and Anne Dueweke, Institutional Research) began to examine the features of the "K" curriculum most germane to CLA performance. The examination was guided by two questions, wrote the quartet in "Multiple Drafts of a College's Narrative:" What attributes of a Kalamazoo College education might account for the overall performance? What variations in students' educational pathways might account for differences in their CLA performance? Their preliminary conclusions suggest the importance of several factors: the academic division in which one majors; level of academic challenge; foreign language proficiency; interdisciplinary exploration, and experiences of high-intensity dissonance as well as the opportunity to formally reflect upon, process, and share such experiences.

With these two grants, faculty will make (and assess) curricular improvements that enhance these factors and thus the development of critical and analytical thinking and problem solving skills. The improvements will likely include such options as an interdisciplinary minor, a global studies minor, bridge programs, pedagogical training opportunities for new faculty, and closer integration of coursework and the guilds program. In particular, faculty will apply these grants to develop globally focused core seminars. Such seminars will help students synthesize their explorations in and out of class, many of which-in particular study abroad and classes in disciplines other than the major-involve the high-intensity dissonance responsible for progress in critical reasoning and analytical thinking, problem solving and writing.

So, alumni, take note. Your alma mater provides an experience distinctive and excellent in terms of its effect on the skills of mind higher education
All alumni should be mindful of the College's performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment
should develop. And it's the kind of place where professors always ask more questions-such as, what parts of our experience are most important to the development of those skills? Kaizen! Progress, incremental but continual. Should we feel proud of our College's CLA results?

"Pride" is the right word for an education that, if it has worked, inspires the humility that derives from the awareness of all we don't know. Aleksandr Hemon, who received an honorary degree and delivered the address at the 2008 Commencement, sounded very much like a "K" grad when he said to the graduates, "I would like you to understand that the ideal outcome of any learning process is not a hefty bulk of useful information but amplified curiosity. I want to encourage you to think that what you have accrued here at Kalamazoo College is not information nor knowledge, but a thirst for knowledge; a willingness, hopefully uncompromising, to pursue it forever and, perhaps, beyond; an eagerness to ask questions for which there may not be answers. All the books you have read here in the past few years are part of that great human pursuit. They belong to you and to all of us. They contain what we know, because they know what we don't know."

An amplified curiosity is great. Even better when it's in tandem with the ability to think critically. Kalamazoo College provides both. It stands for authentic liberal arts and thoughtful leadership on the combination of classroom and outside-the-classroom experience. So, after four years, its graduates can think critically, write well, solve problems, provide leadership, and act as citizens. Of course, we need to get better...ask more questions...seek more answers...and then use what we learn to improve on what we already do well. Kaizen!

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