Many of you have seen this rather famous diagram before. I found it helpful as a graduate student and researcher because it gave me direction. I felt less wobbly and adrift. Now that I am paid to be an educator, the same diagram offers more help.
A diagram like this stirs the memory of our shared experience as faculty. Divergent interpretations of it are inevitable and may be rich soil for conversations to grow. As a graduate student several years ago this diagram spoke to me of courage. I saw this as a call to heroically pursue knowledge like Odysseus returning home after the conflagration. Today I also see the need for values like dependability and persistence, like Volodya the bus driver wonderfully described by Jane Gottlick.
There are some fundamental values and skills that students must learn at different stages of their respective journeys, and I count myself as a student still. The academic journey is always something like Blind Man’s Bluff, an old game where one is blindfolded and so must listen carefully for cues and clues to tag others, reaching forward for the unknown while also trying to keep oneself steady.
At this stage of my academic life the emphasis shifts to the facilitation of knowledge. As an educator, my task is to help students and peers in their journey as well. Difficult because we all have incredibly hectic schedules that make remembering our unique contribution to knowledge increasingly difficult. Continuing one’s research is crucial to stay current but maybe more important is our task of remembering and reflecting upon our journey to that knowledge. I think most every educator remembers their best teachers and so desires to pay in kind.
How can I pay it forward? In the book Academically Adrift, it states that an important goal for institutional improvement is “to take greater responsibility for shaping the developmental trajectories of students…”(127) The book cites studies that report 35 percent of the students sampled spent five hours or less a week studying alone; the average for all students was under 9 hours. Basic habits and a commitment of time, a valuing of academic work, are simple and yet important steps on the path toward knowledge. The beauty of Jane’s journal assignment is that it enculturates students into an academic life. She is making routine expectations on student time in reading, reflection, and writing.
This diagram of the academic life has stuck with me. Maybe it can serve us as a conversation starter about the grand narrative and values necessary to an academic life. I am finding the LEAP Principles of Excellence to be noble aspirations. These are a strategy for helping students journey toward knowledge, a journey that still calls for a type of heroism. As I have mentioned, less Achilles and more Odysseus than Odysseus, less star system and more collegiality, courageous enough to make demands on student time and generous enough to give up our own time, wise in giving direction and looking for ways to create win-win outcomes.
I am looking to learn some of this from students. Michael Hais, co-author of Millennial Momentum says, “They are different because, unlike earlier generations, they are oriented toward one another, toward the group, towards society. They are not driven by individual desires or individual values.” Our students are part of the rising millennial generation that learns by collaboration and are driven by a desire to find win-win solutions. What does that mean for our diagram? I hope to see.