A leading specialist on learning among college students is impressed with much of what he sees happening in Samford University classrooms.
"I'm taken with the way Samford seems to personalize education for its students," George Kuh said during pre-school faculty workshop Aug. 19. "I like the simplicity of what you're about, even though it's extremely complex."
Dr. Kuh also saluted the efforts Samford faculty take to make sure students graduate with the capabilities to perform successfully.
Kuh, chancellor's professor of higher education at Indiana University-Bloomington, based his remarks on statistics taken from Samford students' responses to the National Survey of Student Engagement.
He directs IU's Center of Postsecondary Research, Policy and Planning, which houses the National Survey of Student Engagement, the Institute for Effective Educational Practice and the College Student Experiences Questionnaire Research Program.
"Simply getting a degree today doesn't wash," he said. "In terms of learning, it's not who comes in the door, but what they do while they're here."
Faculty must actually engage the student, both inside and outside the classroom, in complementary ways, he said.
Samford does most things well, but has a few areas that may warrant attention, said Kuh.
He compared Samford student responses with those from five peer institutions: Berry College, Elon College, Furman University, Mercer University and University of the South. Samford students make more class presentations, more often work on papers with other students, and more often work in community based projects in connection with a class. They are on an even par when it comes to discussing readings with classmates and with faculty outside of class.
However, Samford students have fewer serious conversations with students of different race or ethnicity, and with those from different political and religious backgrounds. "These are areas that warrant consideration," he noted.
Samford students rank high in working effectively with other people, but less so in understanding people of different backgrounds.
Samford seniors gave their school high marks for helping them acquire job-related knowledge. "This is something to celebrate," said Kuh.
Noting that Samford has a "clear, well understood mission and philosophy," he challenged faculty to more often incorporate the community of Birmingham in their teaching plans. "There are many ways Samford can benefit from and make a different in Birmingham," he said. "
Faculty focused on the vocation of a Christian scholar during a talk by Valparaiso University dean Mark R. Schwehn, author of Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America. Dr. Schwehn is also project director of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts.
To be a Christian scholar, Schwehn said, "Is simply to demonstrate again and again, both through one's own pedagogical practice and example, and through the kind of community one strives to create, that Christianity and liberal learning are mutually interdependent, and that they together make for a life of human flourishing. "Jesus says to his disciples and of course to us all, 'If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth. And the truth shall make you free.'"