Column #45, posted February 26, 2008

Engaged Learning

I realize that I have been barking up the wrong tree. Here I am trying to fix education when I suddenly realized that all you need is a good marketing campaign. Why do real change when you can just say that have done it?

It was tonight’s Presidential Debate sponsored by Cleveland State University that taught me this. Behind the speakers there is a sign that says: Cleveland State University: Engaged Learning. I noticed it because NBC has been using it as a backdrop over the last few days.

Now I know nothing about Cleveland State but I am quite sure that it has boring lectures, absurd requirements, many professors who don’t care, and students who are just looking to get through the system by jumping whatever hoops are put in front of them, just as is the case at every university I have ever known.

So I wondered if they actually did anything different at dear old CSU and I went to their web site to find out. This is what engaged learning is:

At CSU, Engaged Learning means that whether you are a student, faculty member or staff, you can expect to be an active participant in your learning experience. You can expect to engage in ways that will differentiate your experience at CSU from older, larger, and less diverse learning institutions. You can expect your learning experience at CSU to be distinctive.

OK. Not bad. “How?” I wondered.

In four important ways I learned. From the university web site:

1. An engaged learning logo will be on all communications materials. CSU will unveil a new advertising campaign this Spring.
2. The $200 million-plus master plan is remaking the main campus of Cleveland State University
3. CSU offers more than 140 opportunities to be engaged on campus through a myriad of organizations formed around common interests.
4. A website for engaged learners where they can say what they like about their CSU experience.

And that’s it folks. No new kinds of courses. No new kinds of experiences so that courses and tests can be eliminated. No re-thinking of what college should be and what they students need to learn how to do. No change of any actual kind. Just money spent on advertising and buildings. Of course, this is real change from my experience. Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern don’t advertise (except for revenue producing programs.)

But the marketing phrase is so nice: engaged learning! I wonder how much it cost?

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