Academic Rigor in Teaching & in Learning

2006 Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium Unicoi State Park and Conference Center April 14-15, 2006
TASK: In preparation for the Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium, the organizers invite you to share with fellow participants some brief reflections on the concept of academic rigor. We would appreciate receiving by Friday, April 7th, your perception of academic rigor, your personal experience with academic rigor as a teacher or student, and/or your thoughts on what faculty and the University should do to promote rigor in our academic programs

Essay ID:283460

Academic rigor requires a dynamic approach to honouring the value of teaching, knowing, and learning as communal acts that cannot occur in a vacuum. There must be a shared vision of excellence that is supported by policy and practice at all levels of the university and that extends into both private and public realms of activity. When we embrace, encourage, and maximize academic rigor, we must make clear to all involved that there is an expectation of excellence—in teaching, learning, administration, research, outreach, and support.

Academic rigor has two commingled components: rigor in teaching and rigor in learning. The first, rigor in teaching, involves my own professionalism, skills, attitude, and preparation so that the teaching environment is structured to encourage students to become actively engaged participants and to move beyond memorization of facts toward critical skills for thinking about and applying their knowledge to real-life situations. It also includes bringing students my own and others’ current research so that students are able to see how knowledge is applied. The second component, rigor in learning, rests within the powers of students. They must be sufficiently engaged so that they will have the desire to learn, be prepared, and treat the experience with as much dedication as they would be expected to apply as a professional. Both components require the development of a relationship founded on mutual respect, flexibility, and a willingness to collaborate to maximize the efficacy of both teaching and learning.

My classroom experiences have revealed that students are willing to discover and apply new information if it is presented in an interesting and relevant way. I strive, therefore, to apply rigorous teaching methods across a broad range of informative, innovative, and interactive assignments. I structure my syllabus and my classroom in ways that take into consideration students’ diversity—as a class, as learners, and as individuals—and encourage collaboration and active learning experiences. My syllabus is a comprehensive guide for academic and personal growth and success in my courses. I also have discovered, however, that many students are ill-equipped to respond to rigorous learning. Many students state that they have not been required to conduct research, complete a literature review, or write a scholarly report. Many have not experienced an environment that provides space for them to apply their knowledge or critique its relevance. They are unaccustomed to synthesizing information and often prefer to recite “facts” without considering how those “facts” were discovered or how they might apply within a particular bio-psycho-social milieu.

Because each course has its own challenges, methods such as journaling, classroom discussion, daily written comments, essays, and integrative papers are evaluation tools suitable for my own courses and may be useful for others. These methods facilitate academic rigor and relevancy through strategies that allow students to integrate the information they have acquired with the information they already own. At the same time, these methods challenge me to continually strive to make my teaching simultaneously accessible, challenging, relevant, and rigorous.