Academic Rigor – A Discursive Essay

Academic rigor is often a mistaken term. The meaning is related to the quality of teaching and learning. Academic rigor by definition means, setting high/rigorous academic standards for the students. This helps students to develop skills like critical thinking and practical application and more. Academic rigor is of the utmost importance when it comes to applying for colleges for higher education.

There lies a thin line between challenging and frustrating the students. This term is very often wrongly interpreted as loading students with larger assignments, homework, more math, and science. However, it has got nothing to do with these. An academically rigorous school focuses both on success and challenge. This is achieved by raising the bar with high academic standards. One reason that justifies its importance is, it helps students to stand out from the crowd.

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:287244

Academic Rigor – A Discursive Essay

How is academic rigor defined? As part of the PRISM Project (Partnership for Reform in Science and Mathematics), I have been involved in discussions of this question as it relates to challenging courses and curricula in the natural sciences and mathematics. Not surprisingly, there are numerous viewpoints on what constitutes rigor, what are the most effective methods for delivering instruction, and how success should be measured. Below I share the consensus viewpoint reached after many months of deliberation by a committee whose members were drawn from several institutions within the University System. Three aspects of the learning experience were highlighted: content, instruction, and assessment.

Content Components (what is taught)

Organize major concepts into a limited number of units that are framed with essential questions, problem statements, or compelling issues.

Integrate and connect ideas across courses to form a coherent curriculum.

Instruction Components (how teaching is structured)

Support a variety of instructional strategies that engage all students in inquiry-based and problem-solving activities.

Offer experiences that are designed to stimulate higher-order thinking skills.

Assessment Component (what students learn)

Regularly monitor student achievement using a variety of assessment strategies.

While this characterization of what constitutes challenging courses and curricula was designed within the context of science and mathematics courses, it precepts are generally applicable to other disciplines.

Taking a more operational look at the question of academic rigor brings me to a topic that created a mini-furor last Fall – namely, student attendance (or lack thereof) the day before Fall Break. I drafted a memo on this topic that I reprint below.

The underlying problem is easy to identify – the coincidence of Fall Break and the Georgia-Florida football game. If UGA is truly serious about enhancing academic rigor, it should consider implementing one of the following options (there may be others). 1. Decouple the timing of Fall Break and the Georgia-Florida game. 2. Move the football game to Athens and Gainesville on a rotating basis. 3. Do away with Fall Break altogether. I can defend #1 on academic rigor grounds, while I find arguments against it as shaky. For example, the excuse that students simply will skip class the day or two before the game and thus, in effect, take two Fall Breaks smacks of rewarding bad behavior. If students choose to miss class, they do so at their own peril if the faculty shows some backbone and does what it is supposed to be doing – hold class, give exams, collect homework assignments, etc. Adopting #2 has monetary implications (Jacksonville businesses will scream, while their Athens and Gainesville counterparts will rejoice), alumni implications (Jacksonville alums will grumble), and perhaps athletic implications (football recruiting in South Georgia and North Florida may suffer). My response to these is – sorry, but academic considerations are paramount. Option #3 probably would be viewed as punitive, and, in support of students and faculty, I believe that all of us need a mid-term break. We need a serious campus discussion of this issue that involves representatives from the faculty, administration, student body, and Athletic Association. Until we are prepared to acknowledge the real cause of the problem, the academic image of UGA will continue to be affected negatively.

Finally, I raise an issue contained in the Task Force Report. A recommendation on page 20 states: Channel more resources toward hiring additional faculty, so class size and student/faculty ratios decrease. Immediately preceding this recommendation is the statement: “Everything the Task Force wants to accomplish – more learning, more interaction, more thinking, more reading, more writing, better mentoring relationships – is contingent on this recommendation.” I agree most wholeheartedly, and thus I am deeply concerned that the issue of faculty hiring is not high on the University agenda for the coming year. Without additional faculty, any attempt to enhance certain activities comes at the expense of diminishing others. We are, in essence, robbing Peter to pay Paul.