LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) is a AACU (Association of American Colleges & Universities) campaign for a new framework to guide students’ cumulative progress through college launched in 2005. It calls on colleges and universities to engage students in Signature Work* that will prepare them to integrate and apply their learning to a significant project with meaning to the student and to society.
Thomas Carey, in his recent article in Inside Higher Ed claims that if properly incorporated into liberal studies curricula Signature Work could lead to the further advancement of the student learning types from the type T to a certain type K as the author names it. So far says Carey there have been:
I-Shaped Learners: strong depth in their major area but not much breadth or strength in essential learning outcomes.
T-Shaped Learners: depth in a particular discipline, ‘transferable skills’ that enable graduates to apply multiple knowledge perspectives in the workplace (and in their other roles as community members and global citizens) formally known as ‘epistemic fluency’, as in innovation capability and knowledge building capability.
Now, the key elements of:
- discipline depth,
- essential outcome breadth and
- documented capability in one or more emerging knowledge practices
intersect in Signature work and give rise to the
K-Shaped Learners: students with innovation capabilities and knowledge building capabilities, as in a desired mature epistemic fluency.
As much as I like listing types, I don’t think that K-Learners are an emergent type of learner. I think that all these types share a symbiotic co-existence since forever. I also think that there have always been students with a greater social awareness and systems thinking that have been able to connect elements from different ambiances no matter what discipline they came from. And that has happened despite Institutions’ aspirations and changes in hierarchies. Now, the current curricula for Liberal Arts may prioritize differently and promote this practice through projects such as Signature Work, however, the maturity of the students depends on their personal involvement with society. That awareness comes only through a constant observation and reflection on what is happening in the world and not just through an isolated experience as exciting as it may sound. Don’t get me wrong, I like Signature Work. I just happen to believe that all projects should have a signature. And by that I mean dedicated citizens who try to benefit society through their professional careers. Otherwise it takes a leap of faith to believe that a single shift such as this can create more K-Learners.
*In Signature Work, a student uses his or her cumulative learning to pursue a significant project related to a problem she or he defines. In the project conducted throughout at least one semester, the student takes the lead and produces work that expresses insights and learning gained from the inquiry and demonstrates the skills and knowledge she or he has acquired. Faculty and mentors provide support and guidance.