Considering the ‘Academically Adrift’

A newspaper headline caught my eye this morning, and had me searching around for information about this book, Academically Adrift, which seems to indicate that for many students, the University is not all that rigorous nor is it enhancing their learning. I don’t confess to know all the ins and outs of the study, and the newspaper article did note that some had called some of the methods of the data collection into question.

But (according to an article in Inside Higher Ed) the study finds that:

  • Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge — while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
  • Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
  • Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.”

The result?

According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college. — from the book blurb.

So, what are we to make of this?

It seems to me that critical thinking and pushing students to solve problems, as opposed to rote learning, is one way to increase the rigor of our academic environments. I suppose we, in the public school field, have to wonder if we are doing what we need to do to prepare our students for the University. Is too much of the first part of the college experience just bringing students up to a certain standard?

I think the data also indicates that our push for social engagement (online or not) takes away from academic engagement, and is that good or bad? I remember many benefits from the social elements of college (connections that are still strong) but I surely rushed through some assignments or did not go as deep as I should have in order to have time for the non-academics.

Lots of questions emerge from this kind of study, I think, particularly as we think about how we are strengthening our educational system from top to bottom, and everywhere else. I often feel as if there are too few conversations between professors in the University systems and teachers in the high schools, although the National Writing Project has consistently been a place where I HAVE heard those conversations taking place.

Peace (in the successful student),

One Comment
  1. Thanks for the interesting post. The news about college students not learning is very troubling. I agree with you that increasing the amount of critical thinking and project-based learning can help students learn, but I’d also say students need to know the “fundamentals” of a domain to make the activities that require higher-order thinking skills more valuable and helpful. So there’s still a place for “rote” learning, but there is need to improve how rote learning happens: Start with what students are already doing and then make that process easier.

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